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Are You a Supernatural Person? Thoughts from Merton and Chesterton

July 26, 2013


Relating his childhood in The Seven Storey Mountain, Thomas Merton recalls the time he met Mr. and Mrs. Privat, in Murat, France, whom he called supernatural people; good, holy and simple people.

It is a great pleasure for me to remember such good and kind people and to talk about them, although I no longer possess any details about them. I just remember their kindness and goodness to me, and their peacefulness and their utter simplicity. They inspired real reverence, and I think, in a way, they were certainly saints. And they were saints in that most effective and telling way: sanctified by leading ordinary lives in a completely supernatural manner, sanctified by obscurity, by usual skills, by common tasks, by routine, but skills, tasks, routine which received a supernatural form from grace within, and from the habitual union of their souls with God in deep faith and charity.

Their farm, their family, and their Church were all that occupied these good souls; and their lives were full.

We’ve lost much of that goodness, fullness and simplicity in our world today. Certainly, there are people who are like this, but most people are striving for worldly success, and worldly success is not at all concerned with spiritual well-being which is where we find that peaceful existence. Better, faster, more causes stress. It preoccupies the soul with frivolous things. It busies us so much that we have no time for God, our source of grace and the supernatural life.

While Merton touches on the spiritual success of the Privats, who lived a simple peasant life, a life that is ridiculed as much then as it is today, G.K. Chesterton goes into great detail about the pros of the simple peasant life in his book, The Outline of Sanity. This simple life is what will keep the world from completely falling apart, according to Chesterton.  He said that the world is largely controlled by socialists and capitalists working together to destroy the simple and self-sufficient peasant life. (Socialists are politicians who want to control every aspect of people’s lives and capitalists are businessmen who want to control every aspect of people’s lives, think wage slaves.)

My parents recently bought a car, and the young salesman apparently expressed his dreams to them of having a few acres and some chickens and living off the land. Not everyone has these kinds of dreams, but Chesterton says that those who do should strive to live them out because the world needs them. We need to preserve or maybe even recreate the peasant way of life. And so we need volunteers. Not everybody is suited for it. It’s not an easy life, but then life in general isn’t easy, but the life of a peasant, be it ancient or modern-day, has a constant labor and toil. This labor and toil can be enjoyable, though, on most days for the person who is suited for living off the land. What’s most beneficial about these living off the land types is that they are independent souls, not dependent on the empty promises of politician or businessman. Certainly they are dependent on God and on a community of peasants, but they aren’t dependent on the invented life that drives most of the world.

TV shows of the 70’s celebrated this way of life in the form of Little House on the Prairie and The Waltons. Just simple folk living the best they could. These shows were on for years so people enjoyed watching this way of life. How many of the viewers had dreams of living that kind of life but never thought to try it. While there is a large movement going on these days called off-grid living, I see it as a mostly secular endeavor.  Both Chesterton and Merton show us that peasantry, which is similar to modern off-grid living, is very dependent on God and community. It’s a way of life; physical, economical and spiritual. Just like coming to know God, it requires a conversion of thought and attitude. Are there any volunteers out there?

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