Thomas Merton (1915-1968) est un moine cistercien-trappiste américain. Converti au catholicisme en 1938, il entre à l'abbaye de Gethsemani peu après. Il est connu comme écrivain spirituel, poète et militant social. J'ai lu avec un immense bonheur son autobiographie The Seven Storey Mountain (en français : La nuit privée d'étoiles), où nous entrons dans l'intimité de son chemin de transformation. Son témoignage très précis nous fait goûter, de l'intérieur, un chemin de vie de 7 hors du commun.
Les extraits ci-dessous sont issus du texte original, relevés au fil de la lecture.
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L'enfant : liberté chérie
"I wanted to become a sailor. I was only too eager for the kind of foot-loose and unstable life I was soon to get into (...) Travel, adventure, the wide sea, and unlimited possibilities of human heroism, with myself as the hero."
"With a selfishness unusual even in a child, I was glad to move from Flushing to my grandparents’ house at Douglaston. There I was allowed to do more or less as I pleased, there was plenty of food, and we had two dogs and several cats to play with. I did not miss Mother very much, and did not weep when I was not allowed to go and see her. I was content to run in the woods with the dogs, or climb trees, or pester the chickens, or play around in the clean little studio where Bonnemaman sometimes painted china, and fired it in a small kiln."
"Things were always changing. I accepted it all."
"And one thing I knew: for days on end I could run where I pleased, and do whatever I liked, and life was very pleasant."
"I have always tended to resist any kind of a possessive affection on the part of any other human being—there has always been this profound instinct to keep clear, to keep free. And only with truly supernatural people have I ever felt really at my ease, really at peace. That was why I was glad of the love the Privats showed me, and was ready to love them in return. It did not burn you, it did not hold you, it did not try to imprison you in demonstrations, or trap your feet in the snares of its interest. I used to run in the woods, and climb the mountains."
"I looked around me like a man that has had chains struck from his hands. How the light sang on the brick walls of the prison whose gates had just burst open before me, sprung by some invisible and beneficent power: my escape from the Lycée was, I believe, providential."
L'adolescent : le choix de l'indépendance
"In 1930, after I had turned fifteen, and before most of these things happened, the way began to be prepared for my various intellectual rebellions by a sudden and very definite sense of independence, a realization of my own individuality which, while being natural at that age, took an unhealthy egotistic turn. And everything seemed to conspire to encourage me to cut myself off from everybody else and go my own way."
De la souffrance...
"What could I make of so much suffering? There was no way for me, or for anyone else in the family, to get anything out of it. It was a raw wound for which there was no adequate relief. You had to take it, like an animal. We were in the condition of most of the world, the condition of men without faith in the presence of war, disease, pain, starvation, suffering, plague, bombardment, death."
"Indeed, the truth that many people never understand, until it is too late, is that the more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer, because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you, in proportion to your fear of being hurt.
"I had been back for barely a week when I was summoned, one morning, to the Headmaster’s study, and he gave me a telegram which said that Father was dead. The sorry business was all over. And my mind made nothing of it."
Le deuil express...
"The death of my father left me sad and depressed for a couple of months. But that eventually wore away. And when it did, I found myself completely stripped of everything that impeded the movement of my own will to do as it pleased. I imagined that I was free."
Premier émoi : les émotions sont source de souffrances et donc à fuir
"I would rather spend two years in a hospital than go through that anguish again! That devouring, emotional, passionate love of adolescence that sinks its claws into you and consumes you day and night and eats into the vitals of your soul! All the self-tortures of doubt and anxiety and imagination and hope and despair that you go through when you are a child, trying to break out of your shell, only to find yourself in the middle of a legion of full-armed emotions against which you have no defense! It is like being flayed alive. No one can go through it twice. This kind of a love affair can really happen only once in a man’s life. After that he is calloused. He is no longer capable of so many torments."
Libre...et glouton !
"I was finished with Oakham—not that I disliked the school, but I was glad of my liberty. Now, at last, I imagined that I really was grown up and independent, and I could stretch out my hands and take all the things I wanted. So during the Christmas holidays I ate and drank so much and went to so many parties that I made myself sick."
Le monde est son terrain de jeu...ou de misères ?
"So there I was, with all the liberty that I had been promising myself for so long. The world was mine. How did I like it? I was doing just what I pleased, and instead of being filled with happiness and well-being, I was miserable. The love of pleasure is destined by its very nature to defeat itself and end in frustration."
"I was breaking my neck trying to get everything out of life that you think you can get out of it when you are eighteen. And they, in their turn, were rather shocked by the two-handed heartiness with which I was grabbing at life."
"It did not take very much reflection on the year I had spent at Cambridge to show me that all my dreams of fantastic pleasures and delights were crazy and absurd, and that everything I had reached out for had turned to ashes in my hands, and that I myself, into the bargain, had turned out to be an extremely unpleasant sort of a person—vain, self-centered, dissolute, weak, irresolute, undisciplined, sensual, obscene, and proud. I was a mess."
"The truth is that my inspiration to do something for the good of mankind had been pretty feeble and abstract from the start. I was still interested in doing good for only one person in the world—myself."
La fameuse dispersion du 7 ! Un "tour de force"...
It was not that I was really studying hard or working hard: but all of a sudden I had fallen into a kind of a mysterious knack of keeping a hundred different interests going in the air at the same time. It was a kind of a stupendous juggling act, a tour-de-force, and what surprised me most was that I managed to keep it up without collapsing."
Lucidité : "en voulant me satisfaire, j'ai tout perdu"
"Here I was, scarcely four years after I had left Oakham and walked out into the world that I thought I was going to ransack and rob of all its pleasures and satisfactions. I had done what I intended, and now I found that it was I who was emptied and robbed and gutted. What a strange thing! In filling myself, I had emptied myself. In grasping things, I had lost everything. In devouring pleasures and joys, I had found distress and anguish and fear. And now, finally, as a piece of poetic justice, when I was reduced to this extremity of misery and humiliation, I fell into a love affair in which I was at last treated in the way I had treated not a few people in these last years.""
Le début de la sagesse : la stratégie de l'ego est un jeu perdu d'avance
"There is a paradox that lies in the very heart of human existence. It must be apprehended before any lasting happiness is possible in the soul of a man. The paradox is this: man’s nature, by itself, can do little or nothing to settle his most important problems. If we follow nothing but our natures, our own philosophies, our own level of ethics, we will end up in hell."
En chemin vers la transformation. Gloutonnerie : à nous deux !
"Asceticism! The very thought of such a thing was a complete revolution in my mind. The word had so far stood for a kind of weird and ugly perversion of nature, the masochism of men who had gone crazy in a warped and unjust society. What an idea! To deny the desires of one’s flesh, and even to practice certain disciplines that punished and mortified those desires: until this day, these things had never succeeded in giving me anything but gooseflesh."
"I was content to accept the latter truth purely as a matter of theory: or at least, to apply it most vociferously to one passion which was not strong in myself, and did not need to be mortified: that of anger, hatred, while neglecting the ones that really needed to be checked, like gluttony and lust."
"Before my Baptism I had lived for myself alone. I had lived for the satisfaction of my own desires and ambitions, for pleasure and comfort and reputation and success."
"After all, I was really rather frightened of all religious rules as a whole, and this new step, into the monastery, was not something that presented itself to me, all at once, as something that I would just take in my stride."
"Nevertheless, as soon as there was question of a little fasting or going without meat or living within the walls of a monastery, I instantly began to fear death."
"What I eventually found out was that as soon as I started to fast and deny myself pleasures and devote time to prayer and meditation and to the various exercises that belong to the religious life, I quickly got over all my bad health, and became sound and strong and immensely happy."
"The monastery now existed in my mind as a big grey prison with barred windows, filled with dour and emaciated characters with their hoods pulled down over their faces."
Lumière au bout du tunnel ?
"And the first articulate thought that came to my mind was: “Heaven is right here in front of me: Heaven, Heaven!” It lasted only a moment: but it left a breathless joy and a clean peace and happiness that stayed for hours and it was something I have never forgotten."
"Even the renunciation of legitimate pleasures of the flesh did not cost me as much as it might seem. I had suffered so much tribulation and unrest on their account that I rejoiced in the prospect of peace, in a life protected from the heat and anguish of passion by the vow of chastity. So even this was a boon rather than a matter of pain—all the more so because I imagined, in my stupid inexperience, that the fight against concupiscence had already been won, and that my soul was free, and that I had little or nothing to worry about any more."
Le secret de la liberté, enfin trouvé.
"I was free. I had recovered my liberty. I belonged to God, not to myself: and to belong to Him is to be free, free of all the anxieties and worries and sorrows that belong to this earth, and the love of the things that are in it. What was the difference between one place and another, one habit and another, if your life belonged to God, and if you placed yourself completely in His hands? The only thing that mattered was the fact of the sacrifice, the essential dedication of one’s self, one’s will. The rest was only accidental."
"There is only one happiness: to please Him. Only one sorrow, to be displeasing to Him, to refuse Him something, to turn away from Him, even in the slightest thing, even in thought, in a half-willed movement of appetite: in these things, and these alone, is sorrow, in so far as they imply separation, or the beginning, the possibility of separation from Him Who is our life and all our joy. And since God is a Spirit, and infinitely above all matter and all creation, the only complete union possible, between ourselves and Him, is in the order of intention: a union of wills and intellects, in love, charity."
"The monastery is a school—a school in which we learn from God how to be happy. Our happiness consists in sharing the happiness of God, the perfection of His unlimited freedom, the perfection of His love. What has to be healed in us is our true nature, made in the likeness of God. What we have to learn is love. The healing and the learning are the same thing,"
"At the very core of our essence we are constituted in God’s likeness by our freedom, and the exercise of that freedom is nothing else but the exercise of disinterested love—the love of God for His own sake, because He is God."
"So brother matthew locked the gate behind me and I was enclosed in the four walls of my new freedom."
“Once you have grace,” I said to him, “you are free. Without it, you cannot help doing the things you know you should not do, and that you know you don’t really want to do. But once you have grace, you are free."
Les fruits de la liberté...
"There is only one vocation. Whether you teach or live in the cloister or nurse the sick, whether you are in religion or out of it, married or single, no matter who you are or what you are, you are called to the summit of perfection: you are called to a deep interior life perhaps even to mystical prayer, and to pass the fruits of your contemplation on to others. And if you cannot do so by word, then by example."
Rappel du cours...
Le type actif, productif. Les SEPT sont polyvalents, optimistes et spontanés. Enjoués, enthousiastes, à l'esprit pratique, ils peuvent aussi trop en faire, se disperser, et être indisciplinés ; ils recherchent en permanence de nouvelles expériences stimulantes, mais peuvent aussi devenir distraits et s’épuiser à force d’être toujours en mouvement ; leurs problèmes typiques sont la superficialité et l’impulsivité.
Les SEPT qui évoluent à un niveau d’être élevé concentrent leur énergie et leurs talents sur des objectifs qui en valent la peine, ils sont très accomplis, et vivent dans la joie et la gratitude.