A major theme in anchorite spirituality is freedom. Unlike more traditional monasticism, where the major theme is obedience, anchorites have the freedom to build their own spirituality alone. I think, in a way, this is how in a modern context, the ancient tradition can be lived. Built around prayer, meditation, and reading, the anchorite builds their life in freedom completely focused on Jesus.
So I found this quote from Merton that says it much better:
This means I must use my freedom in order to love, with full responsibility and authenticity, not merely receiving a form imposed on me by external forces, or forming my own life according to an approved social pattern, but directing my love to the personal reality of my brother, and embracing God’s will in its naked, often unpenetrable mystery. I cannot discover my “meaning” if I try to evade the dread which comes from first experiencing my meaninglessness!
I have two Merton quotes about silence I have been thinking about. Silence has been my solas for two weeks. While I have felt much more balanced and in control, I wonder if it is due to the periods of silence I have enjoyed.
In so many ways, I think, Jesus is an experience rather (God forbid) a doctrine, teaching, or idea. I think the same can be said of our meeting with other people – in the silence of presence they become an experience and not an object to be used or manipulated.
I think I like this one more for the insight – silence is necessary to understanding. We are often (yes, I!) more willing to make noise than stand in the silence.
I was thinking about a Merton quote this morning before saying Morning Prayer:
I need solitude for the true fulfillment which I seek – that of being ordinary.
A Search for Solitude, 27
In those moments of solitude and silence I have during the day, I wear no masks. When I am alone with God, I am truly me. All the pretence is gone. All my pain and suffering is laid open before the Heart of Jesus.
Yet that solitude and silence requires effort on my part. I need to slow down, take a breath, and be intentional about my focus. It is much easier to have my mind filled with the everyday – the worries, the hurts, and the constant need to be in control or at least seem to be in control. That moment of silence requires effort!
Prayer was the very heart of the desert life, and consisted of psalmody (vocal prayer – recitation of the Psalms and other parts of the Scriptures which everyone had to know by heart) and contemplation. What we would call today contemplative prayer is referred to as quies or “rest.” This illuminating term has persisted in Greek monastic tradition as hesychia, “sweet repose.” Quies is a silent absorption aided by the soft repetition of a lone phrase of the Scriptures – the most popular being the prayer of the Publican: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner!” In a shortened form this prayer became “Lord have mercy” (Kyrie eleison) – repeated interiorly hundreds of times a day until it became as spontaneous and instinctive as breathing.
Thomas Merton, The Wisdom of the Desert, 20
The repeating of a single phrase while breathing is a great way to pray. I find, especially at night, it is super relaxing but it also focuses me on Jesus. But what I really like about the above quote is that “sweet repose” and liturgical prayer live alongside each other. As it should be!
To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything He has given us—and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him. Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful [person] knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference.
Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude (20 in my edition)
“Not by hearsay but by experience”. Yes, that does make all the difference. I feel that is something I would like to be able to say. To experience Jesus is the aim of it all. To really know Him above all.
All of that reminds me of a Kierkegaard quote which I think I have already used:
I do not dare to call myself a Christian; but I want honesty, and to that end I will venture.
“What do I want?”, The Moment
To be honest, like Kierkegaard, I dare not call myself a Christian – my life does not reflect Him nor does my thinking. My life does not conform to the Pattern – my life does not follow Jesus. I try! I try by doing Christian things and choosing Him when I have the choice. I try by allowing myself to be swept along by His Love. I try by living with hope that in God all things are possible.
I have been looking for this quote for a couple of days. I knew it was in one of the seven volumes of journals. So today I looked at my physical copy and found it:
Like climbing down from a mountain or a pillar and starting all over again to behave as a human being – I need solitude for the true fulfillment which I seek – that of being ordinary.
A Search for Solitude, 27
I have always liked that Merton joins two things that are important to me: solitude and being ordinary. And I completely identify with Merton on this point. I need some space to be me, nothing special or extraordinary just simply me. In a world full of noise where everyone is trying to outdo everyone else, in which everyone is trying to be extraordinary, it is nice to just be plain simple me. And for that I need solitude – space and time without noise. Not the absence of sound but rather the detachment from this world. To transcend myself by being the person I was made to be. Nothing more, nothing less.
I have been reading about the idea of the locus of control. In brief, it is “the degree to which people believe that they, as opposed to external forces (beyond their influence), have control over the outcome of events in their lives“. I find that a challenging idea as it appears to not include any room for the Divine – that there is a Person outside of me that is in control of everything.
I think in his Journals Kierkegaard says that an all-powerful being is not all-powerful if that being cannot choose to not use all of their powers. And we Christians call that choice “love”. For me to love God, to choose Him, I must be free and God allows that freedom so that I can love Him. I know people theologically disagree – and I was raised in a tradition that does not agree with that idea of freedom. But I find that a comforting and challenging idea – I am free to love people and to love God without limit.
So back to the locus of control. Rather than not allowing for the Divine, it calls on me to “own” my choices. As I have worked with my counselor I have been encouraged to move beyond a “victim mentality”. And that movement has really helped me face my depression and my anxiety. These are not choices but how I react to them and how I live with them are my choices. In the past, I have made the wrong choices and those choices have hurt people.
So this morning I stumbled across this quote from Thomas Merton:
Today I seemed to be very much assured that solitude is in deed His will for me and that it is truly God Who is calling me into the desert. But this desert is not necessarily a geographical one. It is a solitude of heart in which created joys are consumed and reborn in God.
Sign of Jonas, 52
I think as Christians we can find our locus of control outside of ourselves. Christians have swallowed the scientific world view and elevated the “objective” to the role of the Divine. Simply to surrender to an idea, to a community, to a tradition, and to simply conform. Faith becomes an intellectual movement of non-questioning and just “doing”. Faith becomes an impersonal act. Of course, it is human nature to create that outside according to my experience and expectations. And, maybe even worse, it is human nature to expect that my “conforming” pleases God.
Maybe the Christian way of speaking about the locus of control is to speak about the “solitude of heart”? There is a place inside of me into which I can withdraw that I truly meet Jesus. And in this place, I surrender to Jesus. In this solitude, I listen to Jesus and have intimacy with Him. This place is not external to me but is the very nature of my being. My relationship is not only intellectual but personal and instinctive. Faith is personal and subjective. I experience Jesus in my “solitude of heart”.