“I fear nothing as much as conventionalism and inertia, which for me is fatal. Yet there is that all-important stillness, and listening to God, which seems to be inertia, and yet is the highest action. One must always be awake to tell the difference between action and inaction, when appearances are so often deceiving…” (Thomas Merton. Courage For Truth: The Letters Of Thomas Merton To Writers. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1993, p. 187)
Unholy inertia and holy stillness are obvious opposites. I want to live in that stillness that is actually the place of highest action. As I look into my back yard, I see a vast expanse of green. Palm trees. The Asian hibiscus in the corner of my yard. Thousands of other trees blanketing South Orange County. They are all growing, but I don’t hear them make one sound. None of them are grunting or straining or forcing anything. They just grow—slowly, steadily, and imperceptibly. Actual growth is rarely dramatic but gradual.
Merton suggests that conventionalism and inertia are his greatest spiritual concerns. Conventionalism is the one word summary of, “We’ve always done it this way” and “We’ve never done it that way.” Conventionalism makes my world feel safer by making it predictable, but it also makes my world smaller, stifling creativity and eliminating adventure.
As for unholy inertia versus holy stillness, I have to continually discern where I am. Am I letting stillness and silence become a breeding ground for spiritual laziness? Or, am I allowing life, work and ministry busyness to do the very same thing?
Being still and attentive, and being stuck and idle is not the same thing. Spiritual growth thrives in the fertile soil of embraced mystery and a walking pace of life.