Tuesday, March 13, 2007

too liberal for conservatives, too conservative for liberals

I have suspected, for a while, that my preoccupation with Merton has something to do with my own sense of exile from the Catholic Church. Merton is a bridge that keeps me somehow connected (and reaching for deeper communion).

Which is probably why I ordered Beggars for Heaven, a biography of Jacques and Raissa Maritain. Jacques Maritain was the French Catholic philosopher whose writings were instrumental in the conversion of Merton and John Howard Griffin. Both men considered him their spiritual mentor. Raissa, a Russian-born and Jewish poet rooted in Hasidic mysticism, married Jacques and together they discovered and explored the deeper meanings of Catholicism. Merton translated many of her poems from French into English.

The Maritain marriage was special, drawing many lives into their passion for truth. T.S. Eliot, Marc Chagall, Merton and Griffin are just a few of the people who were drawn into the enchanted circle.

“Too liberal for conservatives, too conservative for liberals” is how one reviewer describes the Maritain way. I relate to that and remember a Catholic Church that used to also be that way (or so I perceived it).


  1. Beth, I tried to read some of Maritain but confess it was difficult. For many years (like, in the '60's) I felt myself to be a conservative, but after reading Merton, Nouwen, and others, I find myself somewhat left of center...and alot happier for it! I find myself ill at ease with these policies that exclude so many..it doesn't seem to me to be where I would find Jesus.


  2. I know what you mean, I definitely don't think Jesus was a Republican! But nor do I think that he was a Democrat. His stance seems to be of an entirely different order - and that is what I used to sense in the Catholic Church. Another way. Perhaps, through Merton (and Maritain) I will re-discover that way.

    I think that this book, "Beggars for God", has watered down Maritain's thought so that it is more accessible. From what I gather, he and Raissa were brought to Catholicism by a novelist by the name of Bloy, who had a Catholic-worker/Peter Maurin slant on things.

    I'll know more when I've read the book, and maybe will write about it some here.

    I'm very interested, also, in the writings of Raissa Maritain. Evidently she was concerned with the role of "suffering" in the world, and that is one of my central awarenesses.

  3. In political terms I agree broadly with Nick Cohen's new book "What's Left". I'd say I am too liberal to be Left, and too conservative to be Right.
    On religion I struggle to steer a course between blasphemy and prayer.
    Thanks for your blog.

  4. thank you for your comment and encouragement, David. It means a lot to me.



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