In today’s world of blatant self-promotion and scrum to have one’s qualifications stand out from the rest of the crowd, Thomas Merton’s writing resonates. Critiquing his own early fervor, he said he unconsciously sought to have it ‘become spectacular’ and ‘draw attention to itself.’
In much of my world outside this virtual space, where with all of you I’m coming to understand a different way, self-promotion is often a default way of presenting oneself. Advice like, ‘if you don’t sing your own praises, who will?’ and ‘you have to be your own advocate if you want to succeed,’ are standard in many professions.
As we all become increasingly familiar with the mechanics of communicating online through various social media, there are growing numbers of folks seeking to teach us how to maximize our ‘hits’ and grow our network of friends and followers, to get the word out.
Many have worthwhile advice. But I long for there to be greater value placed on humility; for acknowledgement of the shoulders we all stood on to get where we are; for some appreciation of God’s work through each of us; for less grasping to ourselves and more embrace of shared recognition.
Merton described it this way:
The fervor of those days was special and young. It can inspire me to seek a new and different kind of fervor, which is older and deeper. This I must find. But I cannot go back to the earlier fervor or to the asceticism that accompanied it … What has begun now must grow but must never seek to become spectacular or draw attention to itself—which is what I unconsciously did in those days, proclaiming that I was a poet and a mystic. Both are probably true, but not deep enough, because then it was too conscious. I have to write and speak not as an individual who has cut himself off from the world and wants the world to know it, but as the person who has lost himself in the service of the vast wisdom of God’s plan to reveal Himself in the world and in man. How much greater, deeper, nobler, truer, and more hidden. A mysticism that appears no longer transcendent but ordinary. December 11, 1958, III.237–38
Merton, Thomas (2009-10-13). A Year with Thomas Merton (Kindle Locations 5833-5835). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
Would that the small seeds of love and appreciation that we share here as witness to God’s transcendent power in our lives were ordinary.