Choosing to Love the World is a collection of writings, culled from various sources, by Trappist Monk Thomas Merton. This collection really gets to the heart of the matter of his thought: what is it like to be a meditative, contemplative person, while engaging with a world which does everything to strip a person of these impulses?
For Merton, as for most contemplatives, isolation is not being alone as such, but getting connected to deeper forms of human engagement with the world and the divine. He says:
Without solitude of some sort there is and can be no maturity. Unless one becomes empty and alone, he cannot give himself in love because he does not possess the deep self which is the only gift worthy of love. And this deep self, we immediately add, cannot be possessed. My deep self is not “something” which I acquire, or to which I “attain” after a long struggle. It is not mine, and cannot become mine. It is no “thing”—no object. It is “I.”
Solitude is essential for emotional and spiritual maturity. And this must be accomplished existentially, by confronting the unity of God, the world and self on the plain of our existence. Grand theories can’t do it. Only engagement. He says:
“The true solutions are not those which we force upon life in accordance with our theories, but those which life itself provides for those who dispose themselves to receive the truth. Consequently our task is to dissociate ourselves from all who have theories which promise clear-cut and infallible solutions, and to mistrust all such theories, not in a spirit of negativism and defeat, but rather trusting life itself, and nature, and if you will permit me, God above all. For [since people] have decided to occupy the place of God [people have shown themselves] to be by far the blindest, and cruelest, and pettiest, and most ridiculous of all the false gods.”
Merton’s sets a tone of sanity in our world of scattered impulses, poor attentions spans, and instant gratifications. He speaks the language of engagement and patience. We all need this.