Monday, October 5, 2009


“In holy ways there is never so much must.” – Thomas Merton
Holy ways are a mystery.

But must, I know about must. Ohh the Obligation. Demand. Compulsion. Ought to. Should do. HAVE to. FINE!

I must do the ironing. Surely, Thomas, there is some value in forcing the will to iron out the waves and wrinkles, in making all things smooth, while venting about the trial on the phone to a friend.

Perhaps the holy part of which Merton speaks is thankfulness. The one ingredient that turns “must” into love. A thankful heart yearns to please. I worry about faking this. Stuffing all the frothier emotion.

I also find it interesting that the Lord’s Prayer, our template for prayer, does not contain a thank you.

The posture of that prayer is a submitted and rather emotionless reflection: thy kingdom come, thy will be done.

Take away emotion from the word must and you have indifferent integrity. Can that be holiness?



Craig and Bethany said...

Yes, yes, YES! I think that's it. Indifferent integrity - as if we are no longer looking over our own shoulders to pride in good works but transfixed by the eye of God.

I never noticed that the Lord's Prayer does not thank God. It seems in the Psalms we have either worship or submission. And I guess after all, how do you thank a being that can call LIGHT into being? Maybe thankfulness is an awkward stepping stone to worship and submission?

What do the rest of you think?

deac-in-training said...

Going on midnight and "must" hangs over me like a night watchman making wagers: will she? won't she? can she?

She must.

Willing spirit, weak flesh. All these covenants. God. Neighbor. Yes after yes after yes, and the body that says "Hey, wait a minute . . ." Nobody asked the body.

It's not so much the busyness--though that takes its own toll. It's the fall-out of answering Him: the day-in-day-out grind of that hard inner work that every God-yes wrenches from the gut.

Take out the emotion, untangle the self. Oh, what a snarled skein, what a (holy?) mess.

Pig Woman said...

Me? I think the Lord's Prayer only sounds emotionless because it is rotely repeated in that monotone voice all the time. I can't talk like in Psalms, so I actually find the plain speak of the Lord's Prayer rather reassuring.

And, since you asked, Bethany, I don't really see thanks as a stepping stone. I think God sees praise, worship, and thanks all in the same package. Remember in Luke 17 when only one of the 10 healed lepers comes back and glorifies God? How did he glorify God? He fell down on his face and in a loud voice gave thanks. (That word "glorified" is also defined: magnify, honor, praise.)

And what about Heb 13:15:

By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of [our] lips giving thanks to his name.

Well, sounds like the same to me, anyway. When you thank someone you are honoring them by acknowledging them as the source. Isn't that what praise and worship are about?--acknowledging God as the Source of all? The Lords prayer begins with praise and ends with praise. And, personally, as a template, I am thinking God is good with having that praise in the form of thanks.

I think it is so funny that Bethany is saying YES, yes , yes to "indifferent integrity" and I was screaming no, no, NO, when I read it. I mean, oh my, doesn't that just sound.... dead....and robotic to you? I have strains of "if I only had a brain" start running through my head when I read it. "Holy" in the Bible is translated from a word that signifies separateness--set-apartness, sacredness. I guess "indifferent integrity" would indeed set you apart, but where is that pure thankful heart you talk about that is compelled to make a joyful noise unto the Lord?

Craig and Bethany said...

Oh, what good food for thought! Love you guys. :)

I love how often we think in mirror images. Indifference. I am picturing this not as being emotionless, but completely forgetting myself. It's like the way I can get so entirely wrapped up in painting a flower. It's as if I am so fully engaged with the paint and the color, form, contrast, flow of the eye through pattern and shape, that I completely forget myself. It's the opposite of emotionlessness, rather the pinacle, emotion so fervent and pure that I become completely myself. My eyes and mind are so transfixed by the painting that I'm indifferent. My eyes are turned outward, not inward. I've almost forgotten myself. Maybe indifferent doesn't fully describe it, but this is what I was picturing. A detachment from pride.

What do you think?

Oh, and completely agree on the thanking. Seems they all fall into the long arms of glory. Glory to the Lord. How could unending gratefulness not be a thread in the cord?! :)

Pig Woman said...

Oooookay. Now I gotcha. That is a most excellent description. Just a little loss in translation from your and Goat's right brains to my left I think. (snort)

Craig and Bethany said...

Ha-ha. You always put it so succinctly and bust open an image into a million possibilities, especially ones I've never considered. I love your perspective. Keep 'em coming!

Goat said...

THis comment is from son Jesse:

I think I need more context for the Thomas Merton quote. It sounds a bit to me like a substantial extrapolation from a small amount of data.

That being said, I think our culture has stigmatized the obligation associated with “must” and holy ways. The glorification of individualism excludes and disdains obligation of one to another. Our culture does not recognize that the almighty God and creator calls us to his service; it is our duty. Our emotions will not always relish our duties. But our relationship to God as his created beings requires that we surrender our wills to his. Sometimes our wills align with His, other times it requires effort (indifferent integrity).

As for the absence of a thank you in the Lord’s prayer I have nothing to add. It does make me think of a hymn though.

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Daniel and Cerissa said...

Very interesting blog and comments. It was fun thinking about this.

I have to agree with Jesse. From the quote alone it is hard to understand what Thomas Merton is saying. I end up with a lot of questions:

I’m not sure if he is saying… in holy ways there is never “so much must” meaning in holy ways there is a little must. Or is he implying in holy ways there is no must?

And what does he mean by “holy ways”? Does he mean holy ways from a good standpoint (as in our service of Jesus) or holy ways from a bad standpoint (as in the stereotypical Pharisee)? In other words is he saying… In “holy ways” (meaning people who have an outward appearance of holiness – as Jesus put it “white washed graves”… look great and pretty on the outside but there are dead man’s bones on the inside) there is “never so much must” (meaning that people who have an outward appearance of holiness… to them there is never so much must). So is he noting that people who pursue holy ways from an outward appearance that they don’t know must… and that’s a bad thing?

When I read your blog posting it seemed to me you took the quote as meaning holy ways were a good thing… and that must (as in our obligation to do work) decreases. And thus as we serve we don’t do it out of obligation, rather we have indifferent integrity. But that doesn’t really hit home for me. To me, indifference implies a lack of motivation. How can you have integrity without motivation? Ravi Zacharias contends that, “intent is prior to content”. Indifferent integrity (it seems to me) is integrity without motivation and in my mind that is integrity without content… which I would argue is meaningless. It all comes down to why you must do what you do.

It seems to me “must” is really nothing that is good or bad. I see it as a mid point between motivation and action. The question really is what motivates us when it comes to holy ways. Are we motivated by trying to earn something that we can’t earn (in fact it is insulting to God to imply that we can earn it). Or are we motivated by thankfulness. And obviously that’s idealized; our motivations are always a mixture of good and bad. But I would argue thankfulness is the proper motivation.

Regarding the Lords prayer… saying we are thankful to God in some ways is pretty meaningless. And I think that Christ didn’t include those words because that’s not how we show we are thankful. Jesus said… “if you love me do what I have commanded”. As a Christian I don’t think thankfulness is something we strive for as a virtue. I believe it is the eventuality of catching a glimpse into what Christ did for us. And that thankfulness needs to be our motivation as a Christian.


Craig and Bethany said...

And so we must catch a glimpse of what Christ has done for us. Seems to all boil down to this.

The first time I read the quote I actually thought it was referring to must as in a musty old basement. Now I am all curious on the context too.

Also very intriguing comment on obligation being unfairly stigmatized. I tend to agree. Sometimes obligation is the very grace that presses us on when circumstance and emotions are adverse. Maybe obligation could be described as the intellectual expression of gratitude to Christ. In the end we often feel gratitude too. Probably because in the process of responding to obligation, commitment, we continue to catch glimpses of Christ.

Goat said...

I am so intrigued by the idea of thankfulness being something you do rather than say. I must think on this most excellent thought. More later, perhaps :)

Olson Family said...

I, too, Goat, am intrigued by worship in lifestyle, thankfulness in action. Lately, I've pondered the too-frequent scenarios of my children bowing their head to pray, "Thank You, Lord, for _____. And thank You for _____." After the list of thank you's and an "Amen," they set about to provoke one another, speak disrespectful, or cop a defiant attitude. ??? Huh? And of course this always turns me inside out, introspection becoming the focus of the moment, asking, "Lord?" I think of the scenario when Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him. When Peter insists that he loves Him, Jesus says, "Then feed my sheep." Do you love Me? Are you thankful? "Then this is what I want you to do."

Do holy ways and Perfect Love equate? If I can get beyond my self and my agenda, to let Him lead the dance, perhaps I'll get so caught up in the motion and the music that "must" will quietly slip out the door?

Perhaps "feeding sheep" in the form of seemingly trivial acts of thankfulness will feel... natural, desirable... like cheerfully doing the quick-step, out of breath and elated in the end!

Hm. Thank you for the thought-provoking post and all the accompanying conversation!