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Merton, Meditation, and the Mall.

Starbucks; Movies; Shopping; Celebrities; Magic Tricks: these are the things that seem to fill the lines of my writings.  I know, they are not exactly the places steeped in spiritual content are they?  In truth, I have always felt a little odd about this.  After all, theology and Christian living are such dynamic and complex subjects, surely there are more typical topics to reflect on.  What about prayer?  What about Biblical literacy? What about a series of reflections on the call to a missional meta-narrative?  Are not these subjects more appropriate for the musings of a priest?

I tried.  I failed.

While my life involves prayer, Bible reading, and, yes, ruminations regarding missional meta-narratives, that is not all that my life consists of.  I also live in a world of movies and celebrities, coffee shops and shopping malls.  What is more, I believe that I’m not alone.  Thus, rather than finding ways to divorce our faith from these subjects, should we not reflect on how our faith can dwell within them?  Perhaps one of the reasons why people question the Church’s place in this world, is because we have too stringently segmented faith and spirituality to particular and ‘sacred’ corners of life.

See, we sometimes fall into a subtle notion suggesting that our spiritual life is completely divorced form the physical or the popular.  Pop Culture seems an odd avenue for spirituality because we associate pop culture with everything that spirituality is not.  Spirituality is a high endeavor; Pop culture seems a low one.  Spirituality involves an active, almost intellectual self-reflection; Pop culture is anything but.  Thus, writing about a spiritual learning as I journey through the mall seems odd because we view the mall as definitively not a place of spirituality.  In fact, we may even say that the mall embodies everything that stands against spirituality.  We thus assume that to engage in a shopping trip is to fundamentally not engage in spiritual meditation.  The two are completely separate and distinct.

However, Thomas Merton in his work “Contemplative Prayer” reminds us that “meditation has no point unless it is firmly rooted in life.”  The life of meditation and prayer is precisely our life; its content is our content.  Our spirituality is not the part of our lives lived between shopping trips and coffee-shop visits.  Rather our spiritual life is firmly rooted in these places and our particular interactions with them.  Every place is a spiritual place, precisely because they are places that we reside.  Brother Lawrence, after all, gained his spiritual learning through dirty soup bowls and lasagna crusted baking pans.   Washing dishes was a spiritual act for the simple reason that Lawrence was a spiritual person and he chose to see God with him in that place.  The same holds true for us.  The love for Jesus lives in the same heart that loves Starbucks or Tim Horton’s, shopping or stitching.

While we sometimes attempt to impose a separation between the secular and sacred, God sees no such division.  Isaiah declares that the ‘whole earth’ is filled with the glory of God. (6:3) Our spiritual lives encompass the totality of places and experiences we find ourselves in. To see other wise is to damage our spiritual life.  It is to push God off to the side.  It is, as Merton says, ‘a brave and absurd attempt to evade reality.’

So the next time you find yourself in a place you would have previously considered the antithesis of all things religious or spiritual, take an moment and reflect on the presence of God in that place.  You just may be surprised at what you learn.

Kyle Norman

About Kyle Norman

I am a Priest in the Diocese of Calgary, serving the wonderful people of Holy Cross, Calgary. I watch reality television, I drink Starbucks coffee, and I read celebrity gossip columns. I am also a magician and often use magic tricks to teach the children at church the lessons of the Bible. I believe that God is present in the intricacy of our lives, and thus I believe that Pop Culture can provide intriguing lessons, examples, and challenges for our lives of faith. Connect with Kyle on
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0 Responses to Merton, Meditation, and the Mall.

  1. Metropolitan Gregory of St.Petersburg (early 19th. C) says much the same thing. Do all that you do remembering that it is your duty to God whetther it be work or rest, or downright unpleasant like fixing a plugged toilet! (my example, not his – because I just did.)  A duty to God? well, I didn’t think so at the time, but having thought about it, together with His Beatitude’s observations, I now see that it is. “Bless the Lord, oh my soul and let ALL that is in me bless His holy Name.”

    (And the Orthodox ‘Jesus prayer’ is a great way of maintaining one’s focus on God all the time.)

  2. Thanks for this post. It is all too easy to separate what we do at church and our every day life, but I, also, have come to the conclusion that, if God is the God we talk about on Sunday, we should also find him wherever and whenever we seek Him. Shopping malls are odd places, but, lately, I’ve been struck with a sense that people are seeking in a mall, no less than anywhere else. Perhaps they might be seeking to fill a hole that only God fills in extreme cases, but sometimes they’re seeking companionship (going out with friends) or somehow to show what someone means to them. It is the spiritual hunger in the place, in a sense, that has tended to strike me and it reminds me that God is even here.

    We can, and should, decry the ravages of consumerism in our culture, but, as with any compulsion or commodity, there is a good underneath it which we are abusing. At least, one of them is that desire for connection that some cover up by relentless acquisition and others by seeking out where people are.

    Not sure if all that makes sense, but that is what is making sense to me today.

  3. you might try reading some of Richard Rohr’s books – There is one which very à propos to this called ‘Everything Belongs: the gift of contemplative prayer.’

    Fr. Rohr is a Franciscan priest who runs the Center of Active Contmplation (? or something like that… CAC in any case,  in -Nevada – I think)

    Anyway google him and you’ll find out all the details.

    I should think this book would be in your local library or they could get it for you on Inter-library Loan.

  4. I’ve read some Father Rohr. I like him for much the reasons you’ve laid out. He is very good with taking a contemplative approach and applying it to every day life.

  5. There is,  of course the Anglican classic “A serious call to a devout and holy life’ by William Law, an Anglican priest  overlapping the 17th-18th Cents.

    He taught at Cambridge, got fired because he refused to swear allegiance to the Hanoverians – so off to a quiet parish with lots of time for reflection and writing.

    Anyway, the book is well worth reading many times over. You can get it @amazon.ca for twelve bucks or so.

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