Silent Life

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?



5 thoughts on “Silent Life

  1. The Archbishop wrote and conducted an in depth documentary about Canterbury Cathedral and what it means for people and has done for centuries, amidst shifting religious times and doctrinal ‘fashion’. It was an incredible documentary entitled “Goodbye to Canterbury”, and was made to celebrate his 10 years in the post, on his leaving. I think he felt free in this to express what he really feels and how he sees things as a private individual.
    The retreat at Gethsemani must have been very special, how wonderful!

  2. mike says:

    “……feeling “on the fringe” of the Church whilst having the heartfelt yearning to belong at the same time, but unable to conform whilst being true to ones own heart.”..yes,you’ve said it so well!..I think( for me) that ‘yearning’ is partly due to religious conditioning/suggestion,instilled from an early age.But there is also a part of me that wants/needs to connect with likeminded people if for nothing else but encouragement.Sadly i’ve not been able to find this in any church (Protestant-Catholic-Orthodox-Quaker or even Charismatic/pentecostal). Suprisingly,the closest thing i’ve found to authentic spiritual community is my weekend AA meeting.
    The words of ex-Archbishop Williams ring true,im more than a little suprised to hear him say it publicly.I appreciate you passing it along yo me,it just confirms what many of us already knew. Im more than a little intrigued and encouraged by the so called “New Monasticism” phenomena taking place,it sounds to me as if it might have great potential for genuine spiritual community(check out ‘Northumbria Community’ on the web),as long as ego’s don’t get involved and ruin it.
    Speaking of Merton,i recently spent a weekend retreat at Gethsemani Abbey,(where Merton lived).I always have a deep and transformimg spiritual experience when i stay there.

  3. Thankyou. I have felt as you do above, for so many years and it always leaves one feeling “on the fringe” of the Church whilst having the heartfelt yearning to belong at the same time, but unable to conform whilst being true to ones own heart. I have moved very fast back into a more comfortable place having explored more formal options which I have found are not for me. And yet they led me again to Merton, and for that I am really grateful. And I think “church numbers” reflect this; which is why so few regularly attend church, yet still account for themselves as Christian here in the UK and elsewhere. The ex Archbishop Rowan Williams had his pulse on this matter, perhaps we are seeing a new way of expression; with people attending God in their heart and finding this a more meaningful expression and intimacy than within a group. This does leave us however, remote from spiritual direction, which can also be very helpful at times.

  4. mike says:

    ..a really good post Stephanie.I appreciate your openness to share your deeply personal experience.
    For me,I guess im at a point right now where i question even the necessity for Divine Office,or even going to church for that matter.I’m beginning to view them as possiblly being distractions to genuine/authentic personal intimacy with God.I feel that we have become purposefully ‘conditioned’ to believe that we need to go someplace special and significant (church/mass) or do something pious (Divine Office..ect) in order to make any meaningful contact with God.I can see that even the music/chant we often use to ‘get us into the spirit’ can actually become a detriment if we become overly reliant on it to stimulate a particular ‘feeling’,mood or experience.I don’t know,i guess im becoming something of a ‘Purist’…

  5. Reblogged this on Pelican In The Wilderness and commented:

    Published on Living In The Monastery Without Walls today. A look at Book of Hours and Thomas Merton.

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