"No, the great business of our time is this: for one man to find himself in another one who is on the other side of the world. Only by such contacts can there be peace, can the sacredness of life be preserved and developed and the image of God manifest itself in the world."
~ Thomas Merton, A Life in Letters, p. 107
Though Merton spent much of his time in solitude among the peaceful grounds of Abbey of Gethsemani where he resided, he saw the importance of communication and it's association with peace. To build real friendships with others living in vastly different cultures cultivates a broader understanding of the inherent similarities that we all share as well as an appreciation for the beautiful diversities that are interwoven within mankind's tapestry. It is easier to callously push a button that will obliterate the lives of thousands whom you have no association or understanding with, people of whom your perception of has been shaped by propaganda and prejudice, than to do the same with the knowledge that a culture you appreciate and a people you love will be destroyed.
The above passage was taken from a letter Merton had written to a Russian writer, Boris Pasternak, whom he had written to several times and had felt a deep kinship with. Merton described his friendship with Pasternak this way:
"It is as if we met on a deeper level of life on which individuals are not separate beings...it is as if we were known to one another in God."
In one of his letters to Pasternak he writes:
"Although we are separated by great distances and even greater barriers it gives me pleasure to speak to you as to one whom I feel to be a kindred mind....I am convinced that you understand me perfectly. It is true that a person always remains a person and utterly separate and apart from every other person. But it is equally true that each person is destined to reach with others an understanding and a unity which transcend individuality, and Russian tradition describes this with a concept we do not fully possess in the West-sobornost."
I was curious as to the definition of sobornost so I looked it up, this is Wikipedia's definition of the term:
Sobornost (Russian: Собо́рность "Spiritual community of many jointly living people") is a term coined to underline the need for cooperation between people at the expense of individualism on the basis that the opposing groups focus on what is common between them.
After reading the letters between Merton and Pasternak and Merton's thoughts towards the importance of international dialogue and relationships I couldn't help but wonder of what Merton would have thought about the internet. Would he have had a blog? I think so! He was an avid letter writer and loved to communicate to people all across the globe. He took full advantage of communicating in any way possible in reaching people and oftentimes became frustrated at the limitations of doing so (slow mail, mail getting lost, etc.) It's my theory that he would have taken advantage of the opportunity the internet gives us all of being able to communicate and form friendships with people we otherwise would never haven gotten the priveledge of become familiar with because of our geographical limitations.
Through my experience in blogging I have met extradorinary individuals from places like Australia, the Phillipines, New Zealand, England, India, Argentina, Indonesia and beyond. I've learned things about their cultures that have touched me, enriched me and sometimes have surprised me! Besides learning things about the way in which we are different I have also formed real friendships. I've laughed alongside some of them during their light-hearted moments, I've shared their sorrow during somber ones. No matter where one's location is we are all human. We all want to be loved, we all want to lead peaceful lifes, we all want to laugh and experience joy. The more people reach out to others who are different from them, whether it be on the internet, through letter-writing or during their travels the smaller the world becomes. The bond within the Body of Christ is strengthened. People don't seem so distant and different. We no longer perceive those across the globe as strange foreigners of whom we have no compatability or understanding with but as friends and even sometimes as family.
Any thoughts? Have you had the experience of connecting with others who live across the globe? What was your medium-the internet, traveling, exchange programs,etc? How has it enriched your life and/or changed your perspective? Please share!