Seeds of Solitude: Thomas Merton

Some of you will know that one of my absolute favourite inspiring monks is Thomas Merton. I recently bought A Book of Hours, inspired and brought forth by Kathleen Deignan, which gathers together some of the most beautiful and insightful passages from his writings, which she has gathered together and arranged as prayers to be offered at the dawn, midday, dusk and night hours of each day. It certainly works for me, and with a combination of Lectio Divina, and quiet contemplation, forms the round of my daily practise.

For me personally, Merton speaks my language and offers surrender in the beauty and repose of silence. His invitation to join him in listening to God in silence is overwhelmingly attractive; and he offers the reassurance that God waits patiently for all our inner noise to exhaust itself, and when we find ourselves impoverished and spent with its exhausting results…we begin to hear God uttering us and all things into being… quietly and eternally. Because Merton has surrendered so absolutely to this silence, when he does speak his voice and God’s voice merge into a polyphony of grace and glory that lifts our own hearts into stirring and awakening. This is the depth and breadth of Merton that offers far more than a simple reading.  I find within his expression, layers after layers of depth that continue to strengthen and illuminate, no matter how many times I may have read the words before. Like Rumi, like Eckhart, we dive deeper and deeper to find darkness, the sublime light of God that is so bright, it is as darkness to us.

This piece which I read this morning, hit home to me about hope and my own experience.

Keep your eyes clean and your ears quiet and your mind serene. Breathe God’s air. Work if you can, under His skies.

But if you have to live in a city and work among machines and ride in the subways and eat in a place where the radio makes you deaf with spurious news and where the food destroys your life and the sentiments of those around you poison your heart with boredom…do not be impatient, but accept it as the love of God and as a seed of solitude planted in your soul.

If you are appalled by these things, you will keep your appetite for the healing silence of recollection. But meanwhile-keep your sense of compassion for the men who have forgotten the very concept of solitude.

You at least, know that it exists, and that it is the source of peace and joy. You can still hope for such joy. They do not even hope for it anymore. Merton.

Many of my long-term readers will also know how much living here in this place, the Highlands of Scotland, surrounded by beauty everywhere I look means to me, and how it resonates with me, supports me, nourishes me and fills me with sheer joy, love and laughter. It matches me. I am in a place where everything is in harmony with my Soul. But what you don’t know is that back in 1992 I had my first attempt at living in Scotland, over on the West Coast. I loved that too, and much of my early writings were achieved there. I was happy and content to have finally ‘made it’ to where I wanted to be. I finally got to meet my friend Eileen Caddy. I sank into blissful contentment. All was well in my world.

I had lived there for 2 years, just long enough to really ground and let go of all I had to get rid of in terms of emotional baggage. And then God threw the joker. I was to return to where I had come from and finally ‘escaped’ from…and I have never known such all-encompassing pain at such a prospect! Every nerve and fibre of my being rebelled and knew utter desperation at having to leave this place. The day before I was due to leave, and head to London -a quick detour on my way back to my birthplace [aiming to gain a wee bit more time before the ultimate return!!] I lay on a rock jutting out over the Clyde, in brilliant sunshine in temperatures of around 90 degrees. The ferry slowly made its way back and forth over the Clyde and seals played in the water around me. Tears streamed down my face as I tried so hard to come to terms with the fact that I was going to be leaving my beloved Scotland. The hills were blue, and I honestly felt as though my heart had been wrenched out of my body whilst still alive…

So I found myself in London…one extreme to another. Pollution, traffic, endless noise, crowds of people cramming the pavements, I could hardly breathe, I could barely endure to live. Drug barons touted their wares from black Mercedes on every corner of the housing estates, homelessness and poverty assaulted my senses, alongside unimaginable wealth and excess and uniformed chauffeurs escorting the sons and daughters of the Middle Eastern or Chinese wealthy, each in their own separate Rolls Royce. The seeds of solitude planted in my Soul held good and I tried to see beauty in all I set my eyes upon. I found the West Indian fish markets, the women haggling over the prices, in their beautiful colourful dresses. It was the constant ear-splitting noise that killed me more than anything, of traffic, of constantly landing or taking off of aircraft overhead and the total lack of decent air to breathe. Everywhere and everything smelled awful compared to the purity of air I was used to! I felt dirty, my clothes and skin clogged with pollution and dirt and fumes and fumes of mixed type and variety. Billboard posters and neon lights flashed and screamed at my senses everywhere advertising sheer consumerism, must have this, must have that…the dog eat dog mentality, the rush, the frenzy, the lack of space…the lack of grace, people crammed in metal tubes like lambs going to their daily slaughter, of work, with blank expressions and dead eyes. The lack of life, the lack of peace, the lack of solitude…and yet, and yet…I held my own. I carried with and within me the peace and serenity of the crystal clear blue waters, the quiet breeze of the rowan rustling in it’s autumn scarlet dresses on the hills, the serenity of eyes that see solitude and peace on every horizon as far as any eye can see…and I carried it right through that beating heart of London, smiling innocently like the seals at play to ‘strangers’ who scowled in response or simply failed to respond. And I held my own, and I held my solitude…despite the outrageous odds!

It was to be another 6 years before I was allowed to return, guided by God’s loving Will, this time for good and this time with my new husband [that I had to go back to meet] and to the Highlands on the East Coast rather than the West. When I left, I did not know whether I would be able to return, whether God would allow and enable my location to match my Soul again. I wonder now at that lack of faith on my behalf…how could it fail to be really! But those seeds of solitude were planted firmly and gathered strength as they grew. They survived the drought and famine and grew steadily, firmly with their eyes firmly fixed on the sun. And my hope and desire for the joy that Merton speaks of, bore fruit.

So the above piece as you can see resonates with my own experience. Often life makes no sense to us, we cannot see the twists and turns, the developments within as we are tested and put through the fires of furnaces that refine us and turn us into the philosopher’s stone. And it is in faith that we can bear the storms, and trust that Gods love and grace wills to carry us through and across to the other side. All is well. Of that we can be sure.

The photos below are where I used to live and the Cal Mac Ferry…

Seal 2

seal 3

Seal 1