I am reading more of Thomas Merton’s books at the moment, driven on by finding one I would love to recommend people take a look at. I had been praying the Divine Office because of the feeling of being drawn to a more formal recognition of the hours over the past few months, yet was really struggling; not with the psalms and readings-they were fine; but with the prayers and words which I found for me, similar to chewing cardboard. I had tried the Church of England [Protestant] version, then the Catholic version, neither resonated with me, they were parched and dry and barren for me. I of course assumed it was me, my issue, my problem, but I yearned for the sacred that sent my Soul soaring, dancing, free, that I find with John O’ Donohue for example. I wanted words that made my heart feel something from my expressing them.
I am mindful of God as much as I can manage everyday, in every situation, whether ironing or cooking or walking or in prayer and I try to offer everything of myself up to God. I changed to a Celtic Office and found it somewhat better; there were glimpses there for me of some pattern and words that suited me better…but still I had not found what I was searching for. Again, I assumed it was me. We do don’t we, because that’s really what we are led to believe by various authorities. There is this feeling in us that with persistence we would “get it”. We assume it must be our spiritual immaturity that is making us react in this way; some would also quote forces driving us to abandon our prayer and so on. But, this was not an abandonment, prayer was still working fine; but the adding of this Daily Office wasn’t.
A friend who did not know of these experiences told me she was reading Thomas Merton’s autobiography “The Seven Storey Mountain” and I remembered Merton, again, after a break of several years. I went onto Amazon and ordered myself a secondhand copy of the book and as they do, Amazon offered me other suggestions for things I “might like too”. One of them caught my eye. A book entitled “A Book of Hours” which is a collection of Merton’s spiritual writings, koans, mantras and prayers edited into a book of Hours by Kathleen Deignan. My heart jumped. Good sign. Very faithful guide, my heart! So I added it to my basket.
When it arrived, I unpacked this small book, which is a treasure trove beyond compare for me and wandered through its pages, suddenly I was embraced and exalted, my heart leapt and as quickly stilled, into a peace that is its own pulse and threshold of Divine meeting place. What he had written I recognised, his words were ones I knew as mine in my Soul too; the ones that made my heart begin to vibrate as if a musical instrument, accompanied by all the company of heaven. What was it really, in spite of my poor descriptions of it that I am trying to say? Joy. Thats the word that describes its intimacy with my knowing-Joy. So now I am happy in my Daily Office accompanied by Thomas Merton and am reaping its stillness and power and majesty, where words and senses are in utter harmony and unfettered by the interruption of disresonance.
I would just like to quote the closing prayer for a Saturday, which for me expresses words that do indeed achieve what he invites us to do; to read prayerfully; i.e. to absorb slowly, meditate upon and catch that word or phase which is God speaking deeply into your own soul, at that time, in that place. Merton is always inviting us, in all his works he invites us to share what he experiences, he invites us to God and transformative encounter at the centre point where “attention to the presence of God, and to His will and His love becomes its own praise, arising from our centre of Nothing and Silence…not thinking about anything, but a direct seeking of the Face of the Invisible”.[The Hidden Ground of Love]
The shadows fall. The stars appear. the birds begin, to sleep.
Night embraces the silent half of the earth.
A vagrant, a destitute wanderer with dusty feet, finds his way down a new road.
A homeless God, lost in the night, without papers, without identification,
Without even a number, a frail expendable exile
Lies down in desolation under the sweet stars of the world
And entrusts Himself to sleep.
The humility suggested in these words of our Magnificent Father who is All powerful, deliberately experiencing frailty, vulnerability and human suffering with us is so powerful that it takes my breath away. And that I think is what Merton wants; to shake our complacency, to realise fully and feel in our hearts so profoundly. That Jesus came to us as human babe, lived the human life with us experiencing all its insecurities, suffering and pain and ultimately offered himself up to death, not a comfy death, but a hard, painful death for us. Immense unimaginable power offering itself in service to all and acting with complete humility, frailty and vulnerability. That is true power. Isn’t it?