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As I reflect on another year behind me so to speak, it is shocking at how radically different the year was from previous years. And even more shocking how different it was from the “plan” year. I’m also aware of a much larger question mark than ever before, as I look at the 2018 calendar of work that has been scheduled for two years now. I consider the work I do very much a phenomenon. I only go where I am invited. I stopped “working” at finding organizations and people to work with several years ago, and that one change, changed everything for me. I’m still astounded, at the acceptance and patience of my hosts and participants, to wait over a year or two for a workshop/speaking date. They keep signing up and showing up over and over for their insights, support, breakthroughs, and deep inner healings of the mind.
I often wonder and sometimes doubt the value of this work when I witness the depth of “what’s left”, after years of dedicated and very determined uncovering and processing. I accept this as a natural doubt and bewilderment, as I have many times read of leaders and teachers before us, that spoke authentically about their own doubts.
I recently witnessed an ordination ceremony, where a response letter from Thomas Merton, to a young man weary and doubting whether the work he was doing was meaningful or not, was read as part of the ceremony. Here’s some excepts and thoughts from a Merton scholar, Jim Forest. Both writers speak my heart and mind.
Letter to a Young Activist has often been reprinted and translated. It captures the heart of Merton’s advice to anyone in a similar burned-out state while eliminating portions that were more directed at the work of the Catholic Peace Fellowship. Here in italics is Letter to a Young Activist as published in The Catholic Worker interspersed with Jim Forest’s commentary:
Do not depend on the hope of results.
When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on, essentially an apostolic work, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps, results opposite to what you expect.
As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself.
And there too a great deal has to be gone through, as gradually you struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. The range tends to narrow down, but it gets much more real. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything.
You are fed up with words, and I don’t blame you. I am nauseated by them sometimes. I am also, to tell the truth, nauseated by ideals and with causes. This sounds like heresy, but I think you will understand what I mean. It is so easy to get engrossed with ideas and slogans and myths that in the end one is left holding the bag, empty, with no trace of meaning left in it. And then the temptation is to yell louder than ever in order to make the meaning be there again by magic. Going through this kind of reaction helps you to guard against this. Your system is complaining of too much verbalizing, and it is right.
The big results are not in your hands or mine, but they suddenly happen, and we can share in them; but there is no point in building our lives on this personal satisfaction, which may be denied us and which after all is not that important.
The next step in the process is for you to see that your own thinking about what you are doing is crucially important. You are probably striving to build yourself an identity in your work, out of your work and your witness. You are using it, so to speak, to protect yourself against nothingness, annihilation. That is not the right use of your work. All the good that you will do will come not from you but from the fact that you have allowed yourself, in the obedience of faith, to be used by God’s love. Think of this more, and gradually you will be free from the need to prove yourself, and you can be more open to the power that will work through you without your knowing it.
The great thing after all is to live, not to pour out your life in the service of a myth: and we turn the best things into myths.
If you can get free from the domination of causes and just serve Christ’s truth, you will be able to do more and will be less crushed by the inevitable disappointments. Because I see nothing whatever in sight but much disappointment, frustration, and confusionů.
The real hope, then, is not in something we think we can do, but in God who is making something good out of it in some way we cannot see. If we can do His will, we will be helping in this process. But we will not necessarily know all about it beforehand.
I have read these words many time over the last week or so and continue to get inspired, bolstered up, comforted, and renewed in the truth of them. I pray that you receive your own EXTRAORDINARY BLESSING from them. As we surrender the need for results, we are empowered to move ahead with uncommon motivation and stamina for the good of the whole.
I believe that we all have been called to the “noble” work we are about and that the creator of that calling is the force and power that will carry us through any/all times, dark, doubting, or full speeds of light.
So—following a time of winter vacation, renewal through silence and solitude, I am dusted off, raised up, in the starting gate for whatever God has in store for me.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and all the best for the NEW YEAR beginnings and wise changes we all make to keep our spirit soaring (no matter what).
P.S. Many of you have asked what “home” is for me now. All my answers sound so mysterious without me trying to be mysterious. Where ever I am—is home. I continue to use the PO Box 1081, Louisville, KY 40201 and someone gets my mail to me upon request. You will see from the calendar that I am all around Florida between Christmas and Easter, moving about somewhere different every week. I have what I need with me in the trunk or a suitcase and shoulder bag. As a reminder, this is by choice. I have many options for a “where” if I desire that. I look forward to seeing you in person and TREASURE our relationships, heaven and earth. Join in the Birthday Cruise February 10th—8 nights on Princess out of Ft. Lauderdale and come play. Call All About Travel NOW—502-245-8747.
“Do more of what you feel great about. Stop doing anything you feel bad about.”
Join Martha at any of these open events: www.marthacreek.com#calendar