Thomas Merton once wrote: “The greatest need of our time is to clean out the enormous mass of mental and emotional rubbish that clutters our minds and makes of all political and social life a mass illness. Without this housecleaning we cannot begin to see. Unless we see, we cannot think.”
But how do we sort through that which “clutters our minds” and discern what sort of housecleaning needs to take place? Prayer. Silence. Listening. Scripture. In this Sunday’s Gospel reading from Mark, Jesus teaches his disciples and tells them that he will die and rise from the dead. He calls them to follow him in the way of the cross. They don’t get it and are afraid to ask more. But then we see immediately following what they are obsessed with: arguing about who is the greatest, who is right, who is first. Then he places a child in their midst. In Jesus’ day, children represented the very bottom of the social and economic scale when it came to status and rights in the ancient Mediterranean world. (Jesus gives us a window into his Great Reversal.) Children are not lifted up because they are cute or receptive or idealized but because they are especially vulnerable-and remain the most vulnerable to violence today. So, the vulnerable and those at the margins are placed at the center.
Even now, clutter can enter in…who is the most vulnerable? The child in the womb, the migrant child refugee, the trafficked child, the child living in desperate poverty, the youth struggling with thoughts of suicide, the teen victim of dating violence? At the drop of a hat our brains are wired to respond to the stimuli of our mass media, culture industry, and partisan politics with Pavlovian positioning, defensiveness, demonizing, and scapegoating. Once again, how do we “de-clutter”? Perhaps a slow…reading of…meditation upon…our Sunday reading from James…might help…Come, Holy Spirit…
Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist,
there is disorder and every foul practice.
But the wisdom from above is first of all pure,
then peaceable, gentle, compliant,
full of mercy and good fruits,
without inconstancy or insincerity.
And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace
for those who cultivate peace.
Where do the wars
and where do the conflicts among you come from?
Is it not from your passions
that make war within your members?
You covet but do not possess.
You kill and envy but you cannot obtain;
you fight and wage war.
You do not possess because you do not ask.
You ask but do not receive,
because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.
Lord, have mercy.
–by Greg Walgenbach, Director of Life, Justice & Peace, Diocese of Orange