I so love love love love Thomas Merton. (He was a mid-century Catholic monk, author of many wonderful books, for those of you not in the know–very reccomended.) A friend just brought this piece of his to my attention, and I thought I’d share. Not that he doesn’t raise the old questions of the theoretical divide between the contemplative and the activist, but–oh, just read it.
A Signed Confession of Crimes Against the State
I am the kind of person who must sooner or later, inevitably, fill pages of blank paper with the confession of secret crimes against the state. Why not be prepared? There is no time like the presentâ€“and who, in such a present, can promise himself the future?
My very existence is an admission of guilt. Placed before a blank sheet of paper, any blank sheet of paper, I instinctively begin to set down the list of my latest crimes. What else can I do? The very thoughts of a person like me are crimes against the state. All I have to do is think: and immediately I become guilty. In spite of all my efforts to correct this lamentable tendency to subversiveness and intellectual sabotage, I cannot possibly get rid of it.
What is the good of confessing it again? But that is the least I can do, for, they tell me, everyone must love the state. And those who one way or another have never been able to muster up the slightest interest in the state, must now be made to show either love or hatred. One way or the other. If you donâ€™t love, hate. And if you hate, then you can turn your hatred into love by confessing it and expiating it. If you are fool enough to love, why not go the whole way and immolate yourself with self-accusations? After all, no love of yours can ever be good enough for the state! Unfortunately, my love is lukewarm at best.
Here is a blank sheet of paper. No one is forcing me to do this. I am trying to do it out of â€˜loveâ€™ (meaning of course hatred). (I am trying to convince myself that I am sufficiently interested in the state to hate it.) It is not easy, yet. For this reason I am sometimes tempted to leave the paper the way it is and not write at all. Or simply sign it, and let them write on it later. But no. Red-blooded patriotism will have none of th is. Let me confess my secret and subversive desire not to accuse myself. I have but one life and one reputation to lay down for the Nation, the People, and the Party. So letâ€™s go.
I declare everything that I am now about to write will be either true or false, and I confess that neither I nor the state care which, so long as something is written. Everything that is written, anywhere, or by anybody, is a potential confession of a crime against the state. Including the official documents of the state itself, the official histories, etc., etc. Everything written down, whether defiant or servile, whether partisan or indifferent, turns in the end into a death warrant. I will mix defiance and servility in the desired proportions and my indifference will make the the partisan of all oppositions.
I confess that I am sitting under a pine tree doing absolutely nothing. I have done nothing for one hour and firmly intend to continue to do nothing for an indefinite period. I have taken my shoes off. I confess that I have been listening to a mockingbird. Yes, I admit that it is a mockingbird. I hear him singing in those cedars, and I am very sorry. It is probably my fault. He is singing again. This king of thing goes on all the time. Wherever I am, I find myself the center of reactionary plots like this one.
I confess furthermore that there is a tanager around here somewhere. I do not deny that I have been looking for the tanager and after five minutes I have seen him. I am the only person who has seen this particular tanager at this particular time, since nobody else is around. I confess that there is nobody else around because I came here on purpose to get away from the state. I avow, in a frantic paroxysm of grief, that the state and I are much better off when we have nothing to do with each other.
And I even confess that I (in contradiction to the state) believe that this separation is not only desirable but even possible. Indeed it is, at least temporarily, an accomplished fact. I confess it. I confess it. The birds are singing again, and I confess it.
(You say that this is indeed horrible, but that is not yet horrible enough. I am sorry, I cannot improve on the truth. That is a refinement I must leave to the state, which is perfectly equipped to do a very good job of it. I am just writing down what I have actually done, or rather what I have not done. That is usually it: I just donâ€™t do the things that they do on one side or the other. I am therefore probably worse than all the rest, since I am neither a partisan nor a traitor. The worst traitor is one who simply takes no interest. Thatâ€™s me. Here I sit in the grass. I watch the clouds go by, and like it. Quisling. Trotsky. Judas.)
I admit that nothing has happened all afternoon, and that nothing continues to happen. It is true, I have got my feet in an anthill, by mistake. (Ah, now we are getting somewhere!!) I might as well confess it. There are ants on the paper as I write. They are determined to take over all the writing, but meanwhile the sun shines and I am here under the pine trees. While there is still time I confess that there are ants on the paper, and a fly in my ear. I do not try to deny that there is a fly in my ear and another on my sleeve. Honestly I donâ€™t care. I am sorry. I have no desire to get rid of them. If I had a grain of true patriotism those files would make a difference. I beg the forgiveness of the state.
The sun? Yes, it is shining. I see it shine. I am in full agreement with the sunshine. I confess that I have been in sympathy all along with the sun shining, and have not paused for two seconds to consider that it shines on account of the state. I am shattered by the realization that I have never attributed the sunshine to its true cause, namely the state. Clearly I am not worthyto exist another minute. And yet I go on shamelessly. I continue to exist. Pretty soon the ants will take over all the sunshine, but while there is still time I confess it: the sun is shining.
(Deposition of reliable witness: He has come to the wood with his shoes in hand, and with a book. He has sat with papers and a book. He has done no work, but stood and sat in the sun over and around an anthill, at the sound of a bird. The ants are up on his hands and feet while he is lying down, standing up, walking about, running, and even running very fast. Yes, there are ants all over the sunshine, running very fast.)â€
I too confess ……
I’m so glad you published this, Danya, “My very existence is an admission of guilt” being the key statement which resonates with me, my Jewish soul, my Jewish Work. My girl-shaped tallit katan (thanks to you) with Karaite tzitzit. The Sefer Torah I’m writing. My interfaith work.
Maybe people like us should start a club – “The Mertonites” ;+>
If both soferet and Danya are in, I would be totally proud to call myself a “Mertonite.” Thank G-d for Jews who don’t fit into neat molds and who write Sefer Torahs! And of course for mid-century Catholic monks, but that goes without saying. 😀
Now that was True Merton- he was always one of my favorites growing up but I have not read him for quite a while so it brought back nice memories. Thanks for posting this, Danya- and I so love your posts at Radical Torah.