On Petty Irritations

Thomas Merton (19151968) was a Trappist monk, well known for his contemplative writings. But his journals share not only his moments of spiritual insight, but his very relatable moments of petty irritability. This humourous excerpt is found in the second volume of his journals (“Entering the Silence“):

In my interior life there is a small area of raw and inflamed and infected thought and emotion, and it concerns the choir and the head cantor.

The pitch-pipe blows and the cantor comes in a quarter-tone below the pipe and the choir comes in a quarter-tone below him and we all start singing together like a bunch of rusty machines.

This week I am sub-invitator, and so my pride is involved. I give out the psalms on what I think is the right note which is supposed, these days to be “f-sharp.” In ten seconds we are all singing “f,” and then “e,” and I, on my side, continue with painstaking refinement to sing what I think is “f-sharp.”

Father Raymond’s voice can be heard on the other side in a loud, piteous complaint which gets everybody mad, and f-sharp becomes totally unpopular. Then someone else, as a reproach to the Abbot’s side, sings e-flat and immediately the novices and the solid contingent of flats on our side picks it up and it goes down to “d,” and I relapse into a dignified undertone, sulking with all my might and muttering things that do not assuage my feelings.

And that is how it is every day. Sometimes I get so sore, I’m out of breath. Then the head-cantor comes in with his notion that we must stop abruptly every time we come to a bar, and I shudder and enter into a significant hush, which is intended to convey the thought that I cannot possibly cooperate with a sacrilege.

I wonder if Jesus ever gets tired of waiting for me to grow up. I hope not.

“The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”
(Psalm 103:8 ESV)


On Petty Irritations
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