Merton, in his “classic book” The Seven Storey Mountain, An Autobiography of Faith” ( a “classic,” as defined by Mark Van Doren is a “book that remains in print,” and if I may add, correctly so, for the Merton book that had sold in multiples of millions and in many languages, remains popular today, describes in the first few paragraphs of his book, what we Catholics call “original sin,” or that stain of imperfection imprinted in our souls at birth:
“I came into the world, free by nature, in the image of God. I was nevertheless the prisoner of my own violence and my own selfishness, in the image of the world into which I was born. That world was the picture of Hell, full of men like myself, loving God yet hating Him, born to love Him, living instead in fear and in hopeless self-contradictory hungers.”
If one were to abide by the Catholic saying, that the “reason” a human is born into this world is for him/her to “know God, to love God, to serve God and to be happy with God forever in heaven,” then one would or could be led to believe that the path to unity with God is simple and direct and straightforward enough
But not so, really. For life and living is much more complex and even sometimes labyrinthine, so it often takes grace from God, and sometimes a direct infusion of the same, a sort of a miracle, for one to be able to begin, even just to begin to understand the complex web which our fallen human nature, needs to be unknotted from.
Consider the story told by Merton on pages 25-26 of his book, and consider too, an almost seemingly direct, one-on-one correspondence of the same 1920 incident, which happened in Douglaston, New York, which involved Merton and his younger brother John Paul, with another similar incident in Ohio in 2019, involving me and another person, whose identity I will mask, to prevent him and me a greater embarrassment and complication than necessary.
In fact, after I would have reprinted Merton’s account, and his insight into the incident, I would just share with you my own, very real, but eerily similar incident, then allow you to draw your own conclusions; specifically on the workings of the Holy Spirit, in both cases.
So let us begin. First, Merton’s account: (pp 25-26 of his book, “Seven Storey Mountain.”
“I suppose it is usual for elder brothers, when they are still children, to feel themselves demeaned by the company of a brother, four or five years younger,
Whom they regard as a baby, and whom they tend to patronize and look down upon.
So when we made huts in the woods out of boards and tar-paper which we collected around the foundations of many cheap houses which the speculators were now putting up, as fast as they could, all over Douglaston, we severely prohibited John Paul and Russ’s little brother Tommy and their friends from coming anywhere near us. And if they did try to come and get into our hut, or even look at it, we would chase them away with stones.
When I think now of that part of my childhood, the picture I get of my brother John Paul is this: standing in a field, about a hundred yards away from where we have built our hut, is this little, perplexed 5 year old boy, in short pants and a kind of leather jacket, standing quite still, with his arms hanging frown at his sides, and gazing into our direction, afraid to come any nearer on account of the stones, as insulted as he is saddened, and his eyes full of indignation and sorrow. And yet he does not go away. We shout at him to get out of there, to beat it and go home, and wing a couple more rocks in that direction, and he does not go away. We tell him to play in some other place. He does not move.
And there he stands, not sobbing, not crying, but angry and unhappy and offended and tremendously sad. And yet he is fascinated by what we are doing, nailing shingles all over our new hut. And his tremendous desire to be with us and to do what we are doing will not permit him to go away. The law written in his nature says that he must be with his elder brother, and do what he is doing, and he cannot understand why this law of love is being so wildly and unjustly violated in his case.
Many times it was like that. And in a sense this terrible situation is the pattern and prototype of all sin: the deliberate and formal will to reject disinterested love for us for the purely arbitrary reason that we simply do not want it. We will to separate ourselves from that love. We reject it entirely and absolutely, and will not acknowledge it, simply because it does not please us to be loved. Perhaps the inner motive is that the fact of being loved disinterestedly reminds us that we all need love from others, and depend upon the charity of others to carry on our own lives. And we refuse love, and reject society, in so far as it seems, in our own perverse imagination, to imply some obscure kind of humiliation.”
To Merton’s account of his childhood and his drawing from it an analysis of the nature of sin, I can say, “how true.” I am tempted to say “Wow,” but what good good would such type of a reaction do?
It should be enough if we were to pause and give his words time to sink into our psyche and being.
In my little case of de ja vu, this little account I give now, is based on an actual happening which I experienced since I read the above quotes from Merton. I couch it in the form of a “tale”.
“One morning, a daughter and his younger sister, together with their father, hatched a plan to “surprise,” the young children of their other sister, who they thought were alone in their home, since one of these kids was old enough to babysit the younger siblings.
And so it was decided to pay these young children, nieces and nephews and grandchildren, a visit to surprise them in the hope and expectation that they would be happy to see their relatives, whom they had not seen, for the reason that their father had not been allowing them to connect with their relatives, for reasons known only to the father.
To get to the point of this tale, lo and behold, who opens the door of the house but the father who was not expected to be home but because he was not feeling well, decided to stay home.
It was indeed a “surprise,” and after saying hello and goodbye, the grandfather and the sisters were politely given the goodbye and the door shut to their faces.”
End of tale.
As my reader, I could ask you a few questions to elicit any clue which would could confirm that you see some parallels in the two stories quoted above.
But no. I would leave you to your own conclusions and allow your imagination to wonder if indeed there is a parallel to these two stories, both true.