Admittedly, I am a day late and a dollar short on Thomas Merton’s Saint Day, but he is such an influence on my spiritual path that I thought this was a case of “Better late than never.” On December 10th we remember Thomas Merton, one of the great Christian mystics of the 20th century. I first came across him in college when my husband, then boyfriend picked up a pocket sized copy of Thoughts on Solitude at a used bookstore. So began our journey into the deep well of writing that this restless contemplative gifted our world. In his quest for solitude and meaning, Merton left behind a life of intellectual and material success to join a Trappist monastery in Kentucky. Ironically, as Merton drew deeper and deeper into silence at Gethsemani monastery, his heart became more and more connected in love and compassion with the world. One of his quintessential quotes illustrates this move,
“As I was standing on the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district . . . I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world . . . .”Then realizing his deep connection with all of humanity through grace he exclaims,
In memory of the beloved Thomas Merton, I share another of his Advent poems with you now:
“There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”
Flocks feed by darkness with a noise of whispers,
In the dry grass of pastures,
And lull the solemn night with their weak bells.
The little towns upon the rocky hills
Look down as meek as children:
Because they have seen come this holy time.
God’s glory, now, is kindled gentler than low candlelight
Under the rafters of a barn:
Eternal Peace is sleeping in the hay,
And Wisdom’s born in secret in a straw-roofed stable.
And O! Make holy music in the stars, you happy angels.
You shepherds, gather on the hill.
Look up, you timid flocks, where the three kings
Are coming through the wintry trees;
While we unnumbered children of the wicked centuries
Come after with our penances and prayers,
And lay them down in the sweet-smelling hay
Beside the wise men’s golden jars.