Learning To Chill

The late Fr. Thomas Merton was a Trappist monk, author, poet, theologian, and scholar who embraced Christian mysticism but was heavily influenced by Eastern religion and philosophy.   

He has also been one of my great spiritual mentors for nearly two decades, and his work still informs my own in so many ways.  

In his translation of the work of the 4th-century Taoist philosopher Chuang Tzu, Merton included the following poem about the kind of person who has achieved the correct balance in life: 
He takes in past and present, 
Without sorry for the past 
Or impatience with the present 
All is in movement. 
He has experience 
Of fullness and emptiness. 
He does not rejoice in success 
Or lament in failure 
The game is never over 
Birth and death are even 
The terms are not final. 
In Chuang Tzu's mind, a life of ambition and prosperity is a life of servitude and perpetual longing for the next best thing.  

According to Tzu, one could be rich or poor and choose to live an open-handed, abundant life by genuinely seeing the absurdity of living life with a scarcity mindset.  

It didn't matter what state you were in as long as you got the joke. 

I use the term "joke" because that's how Tzu would have seen finding one's identity: how far up the corporate ladder you could climb, how many cars you could own, which prep schools your kid got into, and the like. 

The type of person Tzu describes in the above poem could best be described as "sanguine," "even-handed," or, to use a term my 13-year-old coins daily, "chill." 

I can see why Merton was drawn to this thinking and found so many connections between Tzu's and Jesus' teachings. 

Jesus taught his followers that constantly worrying about one's status, material possessions, riches, or power were futile exercises and would lead away from God's purposes and peace.  

He taught his followers to look to nature for inspiration---to "consider the lilies" and how beautiful they were because God sustained them.  

Jesus urged them to watch the sparrows and realize that even those tiny birds were known by God, and it grieved God when even one of them died. 

"How much more," Jesus asked his followers, "do you think God cares for you?"  

The kind of surrender that Jesus encouraged his followers to embrace was not a halfway surrender. It was a complete surrender to God and God's purposes, knowing that they were loved and cherished no matter what befell them.  

Like the man in Chuang Tzu's poem, they could become at peace in the ebbs and flows of life.  They could, for all intents and purposes, chill.  

May each of us find within us the strength to trust and surrender to God today and every day from this day forward.  

And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us all, now and forever. Amen.  


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