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)
Today I am up before even a hint of sunrise, getting ready to travel again to New Hampshire just for today to celebrate the life of Helen Daly, friend and benefactor. Helen, her friends agree, died much too early but gifted the world with a legacy of wisdom. The Sophia Center is just one recipient of grants over the past six years that have seen the creation and continuance of programs for “Wisdom Seekers” far and wide. Before her passing from this world, I was blessed by her light over six years and since I have continued to sense that light that cheers us on in the work we have been blessed to share with others. I invite you who read this blog to give thanks today for Helen and other generous people everywhere who understand the importance of God’s call to seek and serve in the Wisdom Way.
Here is what Thomas Merton has to say about wise people like Helen.
This is what it means to seek God perfectly: To have a will that is always ready to fold back within itself and draw all the powers of the soul down from its deepest center to rest in silent expectancy for the coming of God. Poised in tranquil and effortless concentration upon the point of my dependence on God, to gather all that I am, and have all that I can possibly suffer or do or be, and abandon them all to God in the resignation of a perfect love and blind faith and pure trust in God, to do God’s will.
It’s raining again. This week we have had a taste of the destruction that has been rare for us, caused by soaking rains and flash-flooding. It’s as if the earth cannot take any more pain. Having cried too long, her tears now overflow in a mud bath on the streets and structural damage to homes and other buildings near our two rivers and the many outlying creeks. Today the rain feels soft and my desire is to go outside and stand, then walk in it, to listen and accept what is happening, to be washed clean of all distress and the insidious doubt that can invade the soul at times like this.
I feel a nudge from Thomas Merton as I watch these thoughts appear on the page before me. His prayer will be mine today as I unite myself with all those suffering the effects of flooding and fire that seem endless in this summer season when even the most optimistic of us (among whom I count myself) can become discouraged.
Let my trust be in Your mercy, not in myself. Let my hope be in Your love, not in health, or strength, or ability or human resources. If I trust You, everything will become, for me, strength, health, and support. Everything will bring me to heaven. If I do not trust You, everything will be my destruction. (Thoughts in Solitude, p.39)
There is much to say about St. Benedict, whose feast is today, known the world over as the man who brought monasticism to the western world. Although Benedict lived 1,500 years ago his influence is still felt and one might say is being proliferated more broadly than ever before because of a movement called “monasteries without walls.” Lay people who are interested in deepening their spiritual life often turn to The Rule of St. Benedict for guidance and a way to live his principles in secular society.
Most prominent in “the Benedictine Way” is ora et labora. That phrase, meaning “prayer and work” speaks of the balanced way in which the day is designed in his Rule. It includes work alone and work with others as well as prayer alone and prayer with others, experienced in a rhythm that gives not only form but meaning to each day and thus to all of life. (See Joan Chittister, OSB: Wisdom Distilled From the Daily, chapter 6 for a brilliant explanation of this concept.) In this world of excess for some and lack for others as well as in the use of time, we could do well to reflect on how we spend our days.
In tandem with this concept of balance is the call to hospitality. Based on Hebrews 13:2 that says “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares,” St. Benedict preached the necessity of welcoming everyone that we meet. How our world would change today if we took that advice to heart!
As we think of the influence of well-known people in our own day like Joan Chittister, Thomas Merton and Thomas Keating who have followed the rule of Benedict and shared it with the world, let us pray in thanksgiving also for the countless Benedictine monks and nuns through the centuries who have lived the life and carried the legacy of Benedict faithfully into the future.
I believe that I understand at this moment what Thomas Merton wrote at dawn on a day a half-century ago about waking up. It is totally silent inside my house; everyone is sleeping still or again. (The coffee is made so someone was up before sunrise.) Outside is a different story. The mourning doves punctuate the conversation that is constant and loud – some would say cacophonous – among all the other birds large and small. And through it all the rooster reigns, splitting the silence with a voice that carries to the river and back again calling us all to wakefulness. “It is like the first morning of the world,” Merton writes, “when Adam, at the sweet voice of Wisdom, awoke from nonentity and knew her…” Only in silence, I think, is it possible to have such an experience. And so I will dress and go into the day, carrying with me the pure sounds of praise in the natural world, hoping to know the wakefulness that is available to me this day.