As I remember the shocking attack on our country that was perpetrated on 9/11/2001, I turn to Thomas Merton for a word and find it immediately. It is not soothing but calls me to step up to responsibility. And you?
“The real job is to lay the groundwork for a deep change of heart on the part of the whole nation so that one day it can really go through the metanoia we need for a peaceful world.” (The Hidden Ground of Love, p. 92)
In the traditional translations of Psalm 98 we read today that “the Lord comes to rule the world with justice.” That could make us shiver and evoke images of what may become a category 3 or 4 hurricane in Florida and other places to our south this weekend. It seems that we – some of us at least – usually tend toward the negative interpretation of God’s entry into the world. The word “wrath” comes to mind in this situation. Even for some who define God as Love, there’s almost a knee-jerk reaction at moments like that. It seems strange, does it not?
Today, not only did I read on at the usccb.org website to find: “Let the rivers clap their hands and the mountains shout with them for joy before the Lord, for he comes to rule the earth.” How can we suppress a smile at those images? I found (not surprisingly) an even more picturesque version in Lynn Bauman’s modern translation that is similar up to verse 9 where hills and valleys are clapping and and waves are dancing and people singing, but goes on to conclude what should assuage all our fears of reprisal for our failings. Listen:
Let hills and valleys join in song to offer hospitality to the Holy One, who comes to right our every wrong. This God will weigh the worth of everything that was, and is, and ever shall be so mercy can be known in full, and justice here be balanced with compassion. (Ancient Songs Sung Anew, (p. 247)
That all sounds good to me, an invitation maybe to go out and join in what Thomas Merton calls “the general dance!”
I pick up a long-ignored Book of Hours* now to find a match to the silence all around. The birds have already had their “hour” of waking and presently are busy with the day. The sun is up and shining in silent glory and I sit in gratitude with Thomas Merton’s spirit, imaging him on the grounds of the Abbey of Gethsemani writing the following: Thank God for the hill, the sky, the morning sun, the manna on the ground which every morning renews our lives. (TheSign of Jonas, p. 327)
*Thomas Merton, A Book of Hours, edited by Kathleen Deignan
The deck at the back of our house is wet. I am grateful for the rain that gentled the heat of yesterday while we slept. Everything is still quiet – except the birds who must know that today is the beginning of a new week, a new moment for songs of praise. I feel like the sole witness to creation’s great, miraculous beauty as I read the refrain from Psalm 66: Let all the earth cry out to God with joy!
Some moments later, even the birds are quieting down in awe as Thomas Merton steps in from long ago with his own psalm at dawn just perfect for this holy sabbath day.
Today, Father, this blue sky lauds you. The delicate green and orange flowers of the tulip poplar tree praise you. The distant blue hills praise you, together with the sweet-smelling air that is full of brilliant light. The bickering flycatchers praise you with the lowing cattle and the quails that whistle over there. I too, Father, praise you with all these my brothers, and they give voice to my own heart and to my own silence. We are all one silence, and a diversity of voices. You have made us together, you have made us one and many, you have placed me here in the midst as witness, as awareness, and as joy.
(Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, p. 177-178, excerpted in Thomas Merton – A Book of Hours edited by Kathleen Deignan)
Today is called “Good Friday.” The veiled goodness of this day consists of our ability to tap into the lessons that we may perceive in silence and in our willingness to widen our heart space and unite ourselves to the heart of Jesus in his total surrender. Here is how Thomas Merton expressed it long ago:
Let go of all that seems to suggest getting somewhere, being someone, having a name and a voice, following a policy and directing people in “my” ways. What matters is to love. (Learning to Love, p.15)
The birds are very noisy this morning. Most likely they are glad the tumult of the night is over and are making sure that they have all survived it. I am told that the thunder and lightning was quite serious but know it only by hearsay. I am amazed that I slept through all the clock-stopping noise and electricity! I have to wonder whether I should be relieved to have missed it or embarrassed that I was not awake to what could have been quite dangerous – even a tornado, perhaps.
As I muse about the possibility that my spirit may be as inured to danger as my sleeping body, I consider the words of Thomas Merton from “A Search for Solitude,” p.70.* The staccato of the thoughts before the closing statement could be a wake-up call as much as the concluding statement is an examination of consciousness. But the deeper meaning calls to a determination, a choice toward God and to peace.
Be content, be content. We are the Body of Christ. We have found Him, He has found us. We are in Him, He is in us. There is nothing further to look for, except for the deepening of this life we already possess. Be content.
*Thomas Merton: A Book of Hours – Kathleen Deignan, ed.
Up early, I am sitting in the quiet darkness. Feeling the need for someone else’s words to get me going into this day I turn to Thomas Merton, whom I have not visited lately. I can feel him sitting on the porch of his small hermitage taking in the very early morning and putting pen to paper with these words.
I am under the sky. The birds are all silent. But the frogs have begun singing their pleasure in all the waters and in the warm, green places where the sunshine is. wonderful. Praise Christ, all you living creatures. For Him you and I were created. With every breath we love Him. My psalms fulfill your dim, unconscious song, O brothers in this wood. (A Book of Hours, p. 93)
It must have been summer or later morning when he wrote those words as we have a long way to go until the sun appears today, but the hope of the meteorologists and their listeners is exactly that for a second day in a row. That would be enough, I think, to convince us that spring is truly not far off and the “warm, green places” will soon grace us once again.
It is 6:52 a.m. in Tucson, Arizona, and I am here to learn about those intrepid men and women known as the desert fathers and mothers (or Abbas and Ammas) of early Christianity (4th century), who left the cities to find their “true selves” in the silence and solitude of the deserts of the Near East.
Later this morning I will set out and find a space in this desert place where I will be alone for just an hour without anything to distract me but my own thoughts. The rules are: no cellphone, no journal, no watch to tell when we should come back. “Watch the sky,” our teacher answered when that question came up. Just walk out, find a place and sit down. Simple? Not so much, since we are 21st century Americans.
Here’s what Thomas Merton said on the subject in his book, The Wisdom of the Desert:
“We cannot do exactly what they did. But we must be as thorough and as ruthless in our determination to break all spiritual chains, and cast off the domination of alien compulsions, to find out true selves, to discover and develop our inalienable spiritual liberty and use it to build, on earth, the Kingdom of God. This is not the place in which to speculate what our great and mysterious vocation might involve. That is still unknown. Let it suffice for me to say that we need to learn from these men [and women] of the fourth century how to ignore prejudice, defy compulsion and strike out fearlessly into the unknown.” (p.24)
This will obviously not be achieved any time soon but making a start seems important today. Prayers, please!
As I opened to my last post to add a new one today, I had to check my calendar to verify that we are already on the fourth day of this new year. I guess I should wish everyone a belated “Happy New Year!” My sister has been home from the hospital since Sunday, the nurse and physical therapists are amazed at her progress and I traveled home yesterday on what appeared to be the least traveled day of the holiday season because of very little traffic and none of the usual slowdowns along the way. The year seems to be flying by already!
So now what? It feels as if a “reboot” is in order. While I looked around a room that I had hoped would be totally de-cluttered and re-arranged by year’s end, I thought of Teilhard de Chardin’s adage: Trust in the slow work of God. Then I sat up a little straighter because of having randomly opened Thomas Merton’s book, The Wisdom of the Desert, in preparation for a February retreat. Here’s what I read:
Abbot Pastor said: If you have a chest full of clothing, and leave it for a long time, the clothing will rot inside it. It is the same with the thoughts in our heart. If we do not carry them out by physical action, after a long while they will spoil and turn bad. (p. 42)
So it looks like today will need to be a time to dive in to the new with vigor and joy at having a new start – even if I have to create it as I go. May it be so with all of us!
In the wake of all the events occasioned by the death of President George H.W. Bush, one would hope for the return of a kinder, gentler way of being for the United States of America. The example of this man regarding acceptance of others, positive thinking and charity in all things gave a good feeling to all who watched and listened to the many testimonials and interviews during the week. For me, it all mirrored what I read this morning from Thomas Merton’s Book of Hours edited by Kathleen Degnan, offered for the second hour of Friday.
This is what it means to seek God perfectly, Merton writes. To cultivate an intellectual freedom from the images of created things in order to receive the secret contact of God in obscure love; to love all as myself; to rest in humility and to find peace in withdrawal from conflict and competition; to turn aside from controversy and put away heavy loads of judgment and censorship and criticism and the whole burden of opinions that I have no obligation to carry.
And then to wait in peace and emptiness and oblivion of all things. (New Seeds of Contemplation, pp.44-46, excerpted)