Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Merton’

Much convincing and prodding

September 6, 2010

My quiet time each morning is from 6:45 a.m. to about 7:30 a.m. Lately I have been spending the time with the daily Lectionary readings and one of Thomas Merton’s books: Thoughts in Solitude. The book’s chapters are short, and one or two at a time usually does it.

Today is Labor Day.This morning as I sat down I was wondering why I was thinking about going down to the prison to visit the men in solitary. I wondered why I was going down there when I could/should be relaxing on the patio and enjoying the beautiful weather. Going down there at all usually requires much convincing and prodding on my part. After a few minutes, something inside me said, “Do your readings.”

In Merton was this quote on page 103: “Whatever may be our vocation we are called to be witnesses and ministers of the Divine Mercy.” There it was. A clear and unequivocal statement of why I felt the pull to drive 1 hour and 20 minutes south to stand in a noisy wing trying to listen to some offenders through solid steel doors.

I went. It was good.

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It’s going to be warm this weekend

July 2, 2010

July 2, 2010

Our first weekend in Saint Louis was the weekend of July 4th. We had been married a week … a new life in a newly adopted city … and everything was fun, new, fresh, and filled with excitement and anticipation.

Saint Louis gave us a warm welcome. In fact, every 4th of July in Saint Louis is either hot and muggy or hot, muggy and rainy. Quite a shock, actually, for two people from the land of the people with “blond hair and blue ears,” (a comment made by Lou Holtz when he left Arkansas in 1984 to coach at Minnesota).

The 4th was on a Saturday in 1964, and the go-to fireworks display in those days was at Francis Field on the campus of Washington University, one of the venues for the 1904 Olympics. Riverfront displays would have to wait until after the Arch was completed in October of the following year.

That first year for us was also the bi-centennial celebration for the City of Saint Louis, and a special flag was flying from poles everywhere.

In addition to a new life and a new city, the Monday following that first weekend was to be my first day at work and the start of my professional career. Lots of change at one time: the two of us had graduated from college, gotten married, and moved away from home (the first time for both of us) over a period of a little more than 3 weeks. And then the need to get to work to earn a living. An adventure? You bet!

So, here I sit many years later, on the other side of both of our careers, and well into our retirement years. And it’s going to be warm this weekend … very warm.

I’ve been reading the writings of Thomas Merton off and on over the past few years. James Finley’s book, Merton’s Palace of Nowhere, has been a useful guide, and I just finished my second reading.

There is a quote from Merton on page 144 of Finley’s book that spoke to me this morning:

There is only one problem on which all my existence, my peace, my happiness depend: to discover myself in discovering God. If I find Him I will find myself and if I find my true self I will find Him.

“My existence, my peace, my happiness,” I get that. All the living and loving since that 4th of July weekend many years ago has been the beginning of molding and drawing forth a self I was not seeking, nor could I have imagined.

Career ups and downs, family joys and sorrows, reading , learning, exploring, engaging, have helped me understand the importance of others and the seeming insignificance of what Finley calls the ego-self.

He says, with a quote from Merton, that the ego-self’s “existence has meaning in so far as it does not become fixated or centered upon itself as ultimate, learns to function not as its own center but ‘from God’ and ‘for others.’”

I’m not so sure I would understand what that means if I had stayed within my comfort zone over the last 20 years. Encountering people in areas outside of my comfort zone has exposed me to many circumstances of great deprivation, discouragement, loneliness, poverty, psychological dysfunction, addiction, obsession, feelings of abandonment and despair. What can one do in such situations but grow in awareness and sensitivity of the lives of others?

There are times when my only reaction, my only response, has been to simply listen. I am either employing good pastoral technique, or I am struck dumb in the face of such hopeless situations. It is difficult to discern which in any given moment.

Retirement presents, to me, a clear choice between simply keeping busy and having something to do, something that can contribute to continued growth in myself as well as in those whom I encounter.

I am grateful I am able to choose the latter. It seems to me that making that retirement choice, or even realizing that there is a choice to be made, is the work of God’s grace … allowing the Other to help me see things differently.

Being comfortable and playing in leisure when so many are truly suffering all day and everyday doesn’t mesh with my understanding of what we are called to do in this life. That isn’t to say I don’t enjoy fishing, a good book or movie, stretching out and listening to music, going for an early morning run, enjoying a meal out with friends. But keeping things in perspective and maintaining a balance are important to me.

That’s what I’m thinking about as we enter this weekend of celebration and remembrance. I just put our flag out by the front door where it is blowing in today’s warm Saint Louis breeze. The red, white, and blue against the trees and sky is a thing of beauty and hope.

What a treat!

February 1, 2010

On Thursday, January 21, we headed for a conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico, presided over by Richard Rohr of the Center for Action and Contemplation. I had heard Fr. Richard  speak in 2006 at a Catholic Coalition on Preaching convocation in Fort Lauderdale.  This seemed like a good opportunity to see and hear him once again. This time, however, it would not be seeing him as a guest speaker, but at a weekend event of his own design with content of great interest to me.

This conference was entitled, Following the Mystics Through the Narrow Gates. A note on the website says, “Seeing God in all things and all things in God, we experience the peace that surpasses understanding”. My bookshelf is filled with attempts to tune into the general message the mystics attempt to convey. I have books on, or by, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Julian of Norwich, Thomas Merton, the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing.  But my main intention was to gain a greater insight for my prison ministry.

The men I see each week, those in solitary confinement, are very aware of a divine presence in their spare lives. Attempts to be free from the distractions and temptations of everyday life are not of much concern for them. Everything has been taken away. Their rooms are devoid of any and all uplifting content, things to occupy their minds. There is plenty of time for reflection, and plenty of time for despair.

So I was anxious to go and didn’t know what to expect. Shortly after having registered in November, I did notice on their website that the conference was sold out. This was good news to me since there would be much interaction and discussion among the 150 to 200 in attendance. Upon arrival, I learned there were 1200 in attendance! Unexpected and exciting.

The schedule indicated sessions/presentations would be alternating between Richard Rohr and James Finley, about whom I knew absolutely nothing. What a treat! Anytime one can feel they’ve gotten their money’s worth in the first few minutes of a three-day conference, it is a real bonanza. I also came home feeling very uplifted in our faith tradition.

Once the post-conference materials are available, I’ll try to distill the whole works into smaller portions I can share.

Little apparent gain or impact

July 15, 2008

I have a book of reflections by Thomas Merton, A Book of Hours, with the following quote on page 100:

I think what I need to learn is an almost infinite tolerance and compassion because negative thought gets nowhere. I am beginning to think that in our time we will correct almost nothing, and get almost nowhere; but if we can just prepare a compassionate and receptive soil for the future, we will have done a great work. I feel at least that this is the turn my own life ought to take. (an excerpt from A Hidden Ground of Love)

This statement has a sense of futility wrapped within a determination to do what one can in spite of little apparent gain or impact. It is a very “now” way of viewing life, that what we should do for others  is important in and of itself without needing an obvious and long-lasting impact.

As I drive home from the prison each week, there is a definite wondering, What good will that trip have done? But that isn’t for me to say, really. Since I’m not in one of those cells all alone, how can I even begin to assess what a knock on the door, and a conversation about good things, means to the person inside. I do know that a man last week did say, “I can’t believe this is happening. That you came here, and we are having this conversation.”