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!
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.
To be honest, I have found prayer very hard for most of my life. I have tried to “intellectualise” it and go searching for the perfect prayer book or liturgy. This made prayer ever more and more complicated and involved. Naively I thought that the more complex it was the more God must want to listen. It never worked as the bookshelf of prayer books will testify.
Recently I have started using the standard Prayer Book for Australian Anglicans – A Prayer Book for Australia. It has an order of Morning and Evening Prayer for every day of the week. The Psalms are divided over a longer period than older versions of the Prayer Book.
Maybe it is not about “how” we pray but “why” we pray that matters?
This morning I thought about how I feel that I am a little “aimless” at the moment. A time of waiting and I do not really enjoy waiting. And Thomas Merton’s Prayer came to mind:
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
I have always been struck by the phrase “does in fact please you“. The desire for communion, for intimacy with God, for openness, does please God. And this desire sets the tone of daily life.
Prayer is not about getting somewhere but about being in the presence of God. The “how” of prayer is less important than the desire to be open in prayer – to listen and speak with God in intimacy. I like the obedience of using a Prayer Book and it is very much within my own personal tradition. But it is not the how but rather the desire to set aside time to rest.
Like Merton, I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
I have been reading “Turning towards the World”, volume 4 of Thomas Merton’s journals. I always get much out of reading Merton, especially his journals. There is something very human about it all – the minor concerns and the major discussions all in a private context.
I read the above, from the entry for 1 May 1961, yesterday and was struck by the last sentence. I am exhausted from talking. And, yes, I have build an image of myself as someone who has something to say. But mostly I am exhausted because I want to talk to people about real things and not the weather or the latest specials at the supermarket. There is so much noise in the world that likes to parade as conversation but is really just space-fillers. So rather than talk for the sake of talking, I am silent. Maybe I am just rude?!
I stumbled across this link on Twitter and was struck by these paragraphs:
The lesson Merton derives from the liturgy at Corpus Christi is that “it is not the style that matters but the spirit,” and he illustrates the difference between the old spirit and the new with a series of dichotomies: “Is Christian worship to be communion in correctness or communion in love? Oneness in Law or oneness in Christ? Sharing in valid sacraments or in the Spirit of life that is in the Risen Savior?” While the laws of the church are important, we must “learn to participate in a free, open, joyous communion of love and praise.”
Merton’s exhortation to love, and even more importantly, his example of liturgical openness to others rooted in an ecclesiology of communion, remains important today as we continue to squabble about the liturgy and about a myriad of other issues: “Let us frankly realize that our task is precisely this: to demonstrate our elementary charity and unselfishness – indeed our Christian maturity – by setting aside our own preferences (whether progressive or conservative) in order to arrive at some working formula by which we can all continue to worship as one in Christ.”
Today, 31 January, is Thomas Merton’s birthday. He would have turned 104. So here is a quote:
A tree gives glory to God by being a tree. For in being what God means it to be it is obeying [God]. It “consents,” so to speak, to [God’s] creative love. It is expressing an idea which is in God and which is not distinct from the essence of God, and therefore a tree imitates God by being a tree.