I have just finished reading Monica Weis’ book, The Environmental Vision of Thomas Merton. The book is thoroughly researched and gives great insight into Merton’s growth into ecological consciousness. Careful study of Merton’s journals charts his progress.
Weis makes a distinction which is critical for us today. Merton thought about millennial consciousness and ecological consciousness. To me, millennial conscious is the old “eat, drink, and make merry for tomorrow we die” approach. A contemporary iteration of this trend of thought is encapsulated in “Drill, baby, drill” or “Drill now!” It is all about reaping (raping)the earth’s resources without regard to the consequences such as the dire consequences of environmental destruction in the tar sands oil venture. People who espouse, “Get it and get it now” would be more comfortable with Ronald Reagan than with Al Gore. People who are uninformed often attribute the downfall of Soviet Communism with Reagan’s stand down. Those who know the facts realize that the Soviet empire collapsed under the weight of its rapacious pillaging of natural resources. When these were depleted in Germany and other Eastern Block countries, the empire collapsed.
Ecological conscience is based on a reverence for the world the Creator has given us. Creation is still flaring forth and the incarnation, which was dear to Merton’s theology, places the Cosmic Christ in the midst of creation unfolding toward Chardin’s Omega Point. Merton’s contemplative practice led him to the deep conviction that we are all one. There is a fundamental unity in the cosmos. Whatever we do at point A has an impact at Point B. The explosion of bunker buster bombs in Afghanistan was not without impact on the tectonic plates. Merton’s contemplative consciousness takes us far beyond Ayn Rand’s rugged individualism which is fueling the TEA Party.
Merton came to see himself as blessed to be immersed in creation as it unfolded daily for him. Greeting the dawn and the possibilities of a new day, Merton like the birds once again asks permission to be. Contemplating three meteors and two Army transport war planes in the night sky and one stag crying out beyond the hedge, Merton breaks out in praise as he chants Psalm 18 (19):
The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard;
yet their voice£ goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.
Being with nature is prayer for Merton especially when he gets to live fulltime in his hermitage.
I encourage you to read his journals and ponder the depths of his intimacy with the cosmos flaring forth. Why? Because it is important today. The oil sands project in Alberta, Canada is but one ecological disaster. Multinationals want to drill in the Gulf of Mexico in spite of the disastrous consequences of the last oil spill. They want to drill in the Alaska wilderness preserve. We have fought two wars over oil and strategic positioning for natural resources in the Middle East. Fracking is destroying the environment across sections of America. Mountain top removal for coal—good ole clean coal—has destroyed sections of Appalachia. After a hiatus brought about by Three Mile Island and in spite of the ecological calamity in Japan, energy producers are once again pushing for the approval of new nuclear power plants. Greed-driven, profit-centered desires to maintain a bloated lifestyle for certain Americans is at the root of environmental destruction. The same people who worry about what a budget deficit will do to their children and grandchildren do not even winch when they say, “Drill now!”