Friday, December 10, 2010

I Have Some Idea Where I Am Going Thanks To You

Today, December 10th 2010, is the forty-second anniversary of the death of the Trappist monk, Father Thomas Merton.  The Trappists are traditionally a silent order, yet Merton's voluminous writings continue to inspire generations of seekers -- Catholic and non-Catholic alike.  Although many of his works seem dated now, and certainly his language could be more inclusive, Merton had a way of getting to the heart of things which still speaks to people, and his willingness to see past dogma and doctrine to what one might dare call "spirit and truth" is still inspiring. 

When Merton met the then relatively unknown Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh he declared that he had more in common with him than he did with most Catholics, because in this fellow contemplative monastic he recognized someone who'd gone deeper than the surface and found the place where all was One.  (It didn't bother Merton that for Christians it was all One Presence while for Buddhists it was all One Emptiness; it didn't bother Nhat Hanh either.  They both recognized that they'd had similar experiences of life's essential and underlying Oneness.)

One of my favorite prayers -- and I've written about it before -- was first uttered by Thomas Merton.  He published it in his book Thoughts in Solitude, an excellent book and well worth reading.  In my own book on prayer, Simply Pray, I confess that I think this prayer of Merton's is more perfect than the so-called "Lord's Prayer."  It speaks so eloquently and so clearly to the situation in which I so often find myself, and it manages to both challenge me and comfort me at the same time:
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 I will 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.  Amen.
In Simply Pray I analyze this prayer at some length.  Most days, though, I simply find myself praying it.  Meditating on its words.  And finding that while I do not see the road ahead of me with any greater clarity, if I am honest with myself, and truly cannot know for certain where it will end, I often feel (at least) that I have some idea of where I am going thanks to the wisdom, and the compassion, and the love Father Merton shared with the world.
In Gassho,
and in gratitude for the life of this monk,
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