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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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