Encouragement for a lifelong journey of faith

Tag: Thomas Merton

July 9, 2020 – Know and don’t recognize

This week we are with the poetry of Denise Levertov (1923-1997)

Today’s Bible reading

Wisdom has built her house;
    she has set up its seven pillars.
She has prepared her meat and mixed her wine;
    she has also set her table.
She has sent out her servants, and she calls
    from the highest point of the city,
    “Let all who are simple come to my house!”
To those who have no sense she says,
    “Come, eat my food
    and drink the wine I have mixed.
Leave your simple ways and you will live;
    walk in the way of insight.” — Proverbs 9:1-6

More thoughts for meditation

Art allows us to look at our own destructive potential without despair.

‘I learned her name was Proverb.’

And the secret names
of all we meet who lead us deeper 
into our labyrinth
of valleys and mountains, twisting valleys
and steeper mountains –
their hidden names are always,
like Proverb, promises:
Rune, Omen, Fable, Parable,
those we meet for only 
one crucial moment, gaze to gaze,
or for years know and don’t recognize

but of whom later a word
sings back to us
as if from high among leaves,
still near but beyond sight

drawing us from tree to tree
towards the time and the unknown place
where we shall know 
what it is to arrive.

Denise Levertov met Thomas Merton, the famous Catholic Mystic author, only once. He died in Thailand before they could continue their friendship, but she was a big admirer of his writing. This poem references a Merton deep cut in the title, ‘I learned her name was Proverb’.

In a letter to Boris Pasternak, Thomas Merton wrote: “One night I dreamt I was sitting with a very young Jewish girl of fourteen or fifteen, and that she suddenly manifested a very deep and pure affection for me and embraced me so that I was moved to the depths of my soul. I learned that her name was “Proverb” which I though very simple and beautiful… A few days later when I happened to be in a nearby city [Louisville]… I was walking alone in the crowded street and suddenly saw that everybody was Proverb and that in all of them shone her extraordinary beauty and purity and shyness, even though they did not know who they were and were perhaps ashamed of their names – because they were mocked on account of them. And they did not know their real identity as the Child so dear to God, from before the beginning, was playing in His sight all days, playing in the world” (from Superabundantly Alive: Thomas Merton’s Dance with the Feminine by Susan McCaslin and J.S Porter).

Merton’s dream has the same promise in it that Levertov sees in “Rune, Omen, Fable, Parable” named in her poem. The something more that was always there – the real identity – the true name. Poetry avoids the solidity that would make these stories trite and simplistic. Merton’s dream brushes the border of cute and almost loses me (as he often does), but Levertov’s reverence for him provides the grace I need to see what he is after and receive it for myself.

Belovedness is the gaze we always remember. If we were united with God in the beginning and have been given the promise that we will be with him in our ending, might we now, whether starting from the beginning or the end, accept our true name and be one with God, at least deep down? Like the bird whose song we know but cannot see there are these flashes of knowing when we see again what we had only glimpsed before. This is Presence. This is God with us. And once it happens several times, we can begin to expect it.

Suggestions for action

Can you recall the last time you felt that sudden recognition? That realization that you have been here before – here on this holy ground – here in your holy feet? Like spiritual déjà vu or a sacred understanding that cannot be well explained. Yes, that. Bring it to mind and gaze. If you haven’t had an experience like this or you’re not really sure what I mean. Trust the Spirit, and meditate on Proverbs 9:1-6 again. Pray for insight.

December 10, 2019 – Is What’s Mine Mine?

Today’s Bible reading

Read Luke 3:1-11

“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.
Every valley shall be filled in,
    every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
    the rough ways smooth.
And all people will see God’s salvation.’”
–Luke 3:4-6

More thoughts for meditation

John the Baptist and Santa are not friends. Santa is not real, so don’t throw any shade John’s way because he isn’t a good Christian by not being nice. But the myth of Santa is real enough. His elves are currently making your kids another piece of plastic that they really want to play with for a few days, then lose all the pieces, then put away in a drawer, and then cry when you want to give it away at the Baby Goods eXchange. If you don’t have your own kids, you probably know this story from the kids in our community or from your own memory. No shade for the joy of those few days, though. The myth of Santa can be redeemed, especially if it coexists with the letting go that John exhorted his listeners to do.

“What should we do then?” the people who responded to John’s call for repentance asked John the Baptist.

John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”

This is the simple way that God is making level and smooth the paths we need to see God’s salvation. Saint Nicholas, one of the better, truer roots from which Santa grew is definitely friends with John the Baptist. Nicholas, who gave gifts to the poor and led the church in the fourth century in Turkey got the message from John, confirmed by Jesus, that to see salvation we must share–we must let go.

The mutuality system we build together in Circle of Hope is founded on trust. We trust that where good has been given it is for all. Everything we have received has been given by the Good Father who gives all things. We can trust that what’s mine is not really mine. When we let go, we can trust God to give us more when we need it. 

The calculus and debt associated with Christmas must be denounced. We must build the alternative in practical ways. A culture of sharing is desperately needed for us who live in the valleys of consumer accumulation.

Suggestions for action

Let us acknowledge the way we are friends with the wisdom of holding-on and sometimes even hoarding. Our basic instincts are often calling us from somewhere other than John’s wilderness. The world is abundant because God made it that way. There are enough shirts to go around, but we have trouble sharing them. Of course, “shirts” is a metaphor for most of us. Find something that would be hard for you to let go of. Is it really yours. how can you, symbolically or actually, let go? Where is scarcity thinking creeping across your path? It might block your view of salvation. Consider this and ask God how you need to respond.

Pray: Lord, may I share from the Abundance. Everything you have is mine, and everything I have is yours.

Today is Thomas Merton Day! Learn about this great popularizer of Christian Contemplation of the 20th century at Celebrating Our Transhistorical Body

October 22, 2017 — Dance with the Monk

Marcy Hall in Illuminating the Way

Today’s Bible reading

The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. — Mark 6:30-33

More thoughts for meditation

The Greek root of the word Monk is monachos, which means single, as in a singular focus (like with a monocle) or single-hearted. The Monk in us is seeking to discover God’s presence in everything, every moment, every  person.

The Monk leads us to show up for the struggles of the inner life. Stability and commitment are key elements of becoming one with God and wise. The Monk tells us that discomfort yields to grace and growing freedom.

Monks are often known for the solitude and silence central to their experience of God. But from that center, community is always formed, hospitality is given and great work is generated. The Monk invites us to let in all that is strange, both within and without, and welcome it as potential visitation and guidance from the Spirit.

Thomas Merton (1898-1979) had the gift of making monastic teaching and the contemplative life accessible to modern ears.  He was a Trappist monk, who are reformed Benedictines looking for greater simplicity. Merton was especially attuned to nature, teaching: “Forest and field, sun and wind and sky, earth and water, all speak the same silent language, reminding the monk that he is here to develop like the things that grow all around him.” You’ll notice the same outlook on Circle of Hope’s Way of Jesus site. Here is some more from Merton:

For the world and time are the dance of the Lord in emptiness. The silence of the spheres is the music of a wedding feast. The more we persist in misunderstanding the phenomena of life, the more we analyze them out into strange finalities and complex purposes of our own, the more we involve ourselves in sadness, absurdity and despair.

But it does not matter much, because no despair of ours can alter the reality of things; or stain the joy of the cosmic dance which is always there. Indeed, we are in the midst of it, and it is in the midst of us, for it beats in our very blood, whether we want it to or not.

Yet the fact remains that we are invited to forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnity to the winds and join in the general dance.” ― Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation

Suggestions for action

The “shadow” Monk can be seen when we isolate. Sometimes the world of relationships may seem too messy for us and we withdraw, not to meet God, but to avoid people. The Monk could retreat in despair to avoid the world’s concerns, protecting a space to be in the garden with God while God is at play in the garden of the world. The longer one stays in the “cave” the harder it is to get out, so solitude can become a prison or a facade of holiness.

Getting away to recuperate, listen and grow in connection with God may be as hard to find for you as it was for Jesus and the disciples. As in today’s reading, the needs that demand your life may even follow you into solitude! But Jesus got away and enjoined his disciples to come with him. We follow the Monk into the wilderness to pray and be renewed for what is next.  Do you have a daily rhythm (if you are reading this, you just might!)? Do you teach your friends and children to have such a rhythm, or is it a secret between you and your Monk?

What prevents you from getting out your calendar and asking the Monk what should be done with it? Where will you have the space to consciously be in the dance?

Pray: I am here with you now, Lord. Reveal yourself to me. Make me a revelation.

February 22, 2016 – Isolated and invisible

Today’s Bible reading

A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed. Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.”  — Mark 5:24-29

More thoughts for meditation

The woman in this story was probably living a very lonely life. According to Jewish law about the uncleanliness of bleeding, she would not have been allowed to worship in common meeting places or even eat with others. She probably wouldn’t have been able to get married, have a family or live with anyone. Her condition rendered her very much alone, weak, outcast, destitute. Any attention she got was probably negative. Her feelings of unwantedness and loneliness were probably so deep that she favored invisibility over attention.

Our pain can make us feel like that too — isolated and invisible. We can isolate ourselves in actuality by keeping our struggle balled up inside and unseen by even our own consciousness. When we do that our pain usually bleeds out of us in unprecedented ways. Thomas Merton wrote: “The more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer, because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you, in proportion to your fear of being hurt. The one who does most to avoid suffering is, in the end, the one who suffers most.”

Lent is a good time to come up behind Jesus and reach out a hand, even if you’re not really sure what you’re asking for. You may have adjusted to isolation and invisibility, and in that case, you need to be seen. We can be known and touched by God in ways that heal and free us.

Suggestions for action

You could muscle right into the day…but take a moment to scan your body in your mind’s eye. What’s your condition? What hurts? Loneliness, guilt, shame, anger, fear, disappointment, exhaustion? Try to look beyond the circumstances of your life to the state of your soul. How are you faring, really? Physically hold out your hand and ask God to reach you. If you feel isolated, you might use this prayer/poem to name your desire to know God’s presence and partnership.

It feels as though I make my way
through massive rock
like a vein of ore
alone, encased.

I am so deep inside
it I can’t see the path or any distance:
everything is close
and everything closing in on me
has turned to stone.

Since I still don’t know enough about pain,
this terrible darkness makes me small
If it’s you, though –-

press down hard on me, break in
that I may know the weight of your hand,
and you, the fullness of my cry.  — Rilke, Book of Hours: Love Poems to God