Merton, Barth, and Mozart

It is Friday.  I am grateful for that.  A grueling week filled with a great deal of life, which I don't always relish as much as I ought to.  I've had the good fortune of picking up Merton's, Conjecture's of a Guilty Bystander.  Was led there by Rowan Williams' lecture given to the Thomas Merton Society of Great Britain and Ireland (at St Cyprian's, Clarence Gate, London).  The occasion was the fortieth anniversary of Thomas Merton's passing in 1968.  The legendary theologian, Karl Barth, died on the same day as Merton. Conjectures comes at an apt time for this reader.
     Merton opens in Conjectures with a description of Karl Barth's dream of his own (Barth's) imagined examination of Mozart, an unrepentant Catholic.  Was there a deep wrestling match within Barth as to the ultimate value of his life's work - dogma?  We often approach our deepest fears with defensive skepticism or cross examination of those who poke us in the eye.  In Barth's case, was there a nagging suspicion that dogma is truly very limited in its value?  Did Mozart pose this searing question to Barth without even a single word?  Barth loved Mozart and yet Mozart is to have observed that protestantism is all in the head.  There is a deep sadness in Mozart's observation that protestants did not understand the meaning of the Agnus Dei qui tollis peccata mundi.
     And yet, might Barth have observed of Merton that he was all in the spirit? 
Certainly, a danger exists in modern unmoored "spirituality."  Simply floating around looking for some sort of misunderstood enlightenment.  The most recent obvious example perhaps being the confused seekers (hippies) of the 1960s and the sea of self help seminars and books of today.  But we must give credit to seekers.  As Merton has observed elsewhere, most of us are more worried about what is in the icebox, how our sports teams are doing, and what gas mileage we are getting.  Christ said in the seeking we find. 
     I have come to again and again see excessive dogma as much as a threat to faith as the excessively dogmatic see "spirituality" and mysticism as a threat to the unity of those communities.  As Barth observed, I think correctly, 'It is a child, even a 'divine' child, who speaks in Mozart's music to us.' Meaning to me that even a child can recognize Christ.  Even a child can appreciate the theology of the aesthetic as opposed to the ascetic.  And children rightly have little use for dogma. Yet, I am no longer seeing dogma and mysticism as mutually exclusive.  I wonder if dogma is like a power tool and mysticism is the power.  Neither really very effective without the other.  Such being the reality when one can deeply drink from lectio divina or meditation (another really scary word for many Christians).  And that an appreciation of other traditions and faiths is not an indictment of nor threat to our own.  
     Merton wrote, "Fear not, Karl Barth. Trust in the divine mercy. Though you have grown up to become a theologian, Christ remains a child in you. Your books (and mine) matter less than we might think: there is in us a Mozart who will be our salvation. (Conjectures, pp.3—4).  I say, fear not friends, trust in the revelation.  Though you have grown up to believe that you can fully understand it, the fact that it is of God means that you cannot.  That is nothing to be afraid of. Much in the Christian tradition is deeply mystical, i.e., the transfiguration, and the resurrection to name a few.


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