…there is a contemporary form of violence to which the idealist fighting for peace by nonviolent methods most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. More than that, it is cooperation in violence. The frenzy of the activist neutralizes his or her work for peace. It destroys one’s own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of one’s own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful. Thomas Merton

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When you reflect on this quote by Merton, do you find yourself convicted?

I do.

Or do you find his language of “violence” too extreme?

I have never thought of chronic activity as violence, but it strikes me as true.  It does violence to the soul.

It makes a relationship an agenda item.

It creates a resentful soul who views himself a martyr – the one doing real ministry while everyone else is sitting around.

It prizes idealistic notions of vulnerability, community, mission, or Gospel…and is not often experienced.

It steals away the opportunity for joy, for gratitude, for appreciation.

It manifests in a bitter and judgmental soul.

It misses the beauty of the present.

It claims to be right.

It cannot Rest.

4 thoughts on “Community, busyness, and violence

  1. Thanks for such a great post! Violence IS a rather extreme term to apply to a busy life…but, at the same time, I rather agree with it. A chaotic life impairs our ability to ‘enter into God’s rest’ which is so freely given and desired for us. I’m quite struck by the last phrase…”because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.” Looking at this from an extremely practical point of view (spiritual fruitfulness aside), what a difference there is in my own day-to-day work fruitfulness when I strive to prioritize my commitments in reliance with God. I’m freed to listen to the inner wisdom he supplies…my frenzy slows down, I’m more thoughtful, peaceable…and, as a result, my actual career work becomes more fruitful…blessed if you will.

  2. I hate being “busy.” Working late hours is a shame, not a badge of honor. I want to have enough bandwidth and freedom in my life to help people, to appreciate serendipitous moments, to just breathe, and the demands of my job don’t always allow that. I feel like to be successful, in some ways you have to “just follow orders,” and that never sits well with my soul.

    I heard once that you should never get “too tired, too hungry, or too stressed” because such things inhibit you from doing the work of God. You have to leave a little ground fallow for the harvest to start to sprout.

  3. Chronic busyness is violence to self. Is that what Christ was talking about in the story of Mary and Martha? Martha was doing all the work while Mary spent time in Christ presence listening. In a society where overworking is rewarded, people who refrain from engaging in rest while, families and children suffer. Women do this just as much as men. If we stay at home to raise children, future employers few us as lazy. If we spend time away from home a work then we are judged for not being good mothers. If we do not have children then somehow we feel less than. The lists are endless and we do not slow down to understand that Christ accepts us as we are. It is a no win situation, no matter how you look at it. Both men and women are equally guilty of not filling our cups before God by spending time individually seeking his face.

    When I was young, I heard Corrie Ten Boom speak. She gave a vivid illustration of a cup pouring itself out in service to others; one cup half-full and another cup overflowing with God’s grace and love. As women and men we all do this… we give and give and give as mothers and fathers without having that still and quiet time before God. He wants us to spend time with us and we inevitably cut him off, until we are broken, fragments on the floor trying desperately to put the pieces of our lives back together…. asking God, “How God how could this happen? I know I am a sinner, but how could this happen? How could I fall like this? How is it that I can be so terribly broken?” This brokenness, this violence, this neglect is a violation of our very souls and it “suks” as my teenagers say, it “suks” the very life from us.
    Yes, I am very sad to say, It’s self violence, it is this type of prolonged violence we do to ourselves by wearing ourselves emotionally, physically and spiritually thin. It is a huge problem that I see especially in people called to the ministry. Truly, all people succumb to overworking especially in the current economy.

    In summary, the hardest road taken for me is that is self-care. As a mother of five, I have never understood what self-care meant. I am baffled by my own ignorance, as well as the inner complexity. That is what Merton can be so hard to understand however, his concept is so simple it makes me feel daft! For me even the idea of community, real community seems dangerous. I love church and truly, I hate church. Yet, it’s so habituated, it is as if I am compelled to go, as if my very life or existence hangs on a thread. All my soul seems to say in the midst of suffering is; “God help me to be grateful so I can appreciate how far you’ve brought me and help me not to help myself to self-hate, over busyness and self-violence”

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