A Hungry Lion

Saturday, December 9, 2000 – 7:05am, Merton’s Hermitage. Morning is ever so slowly breaking through the darkness of night. Silence. Only the sound of the coffee brewer gurgling away in the kitchen (making my second pot) can be heard. Temperature is 38 degrees. This is my last full day in the hermitage. I wish I had another week.

Last night as I lay falling asleep in Merton’s bedroom, my thoughts drifted to the life of the man who lived here, the man whose life is the reason I’m here. And I thought about his death. And mine.

Merton’s life was a continuous struggle, especially his last dozen years at Gethsemani. I thought about all the mental and spiritual wrestling he did in this humble hermitage, and how the man poured his external and internal life out on pages covered with words carefully documenting every aspect of his life. His expansive mind and personality took everything in…and gobbled it up like a hungry lion. He entered fully into everything. He probed, poked, pushed and badgered people and ideas. He was serious and funny. He was out-going and reclusive. He was profane and personal. He loved freedom but practiced discipline. He had great intensity.

And then, suddenly, unexpectedly, he is electrocuted in a hotel room in Bangkok. And he is gone. Or at least the “he” we saw and experienced is gone, taken from our midst. And we are left only with a pile of paper, countless words on pages struggling to say: “I am.”

Speculation as to where Merton would have gone or what he would have done had he not touched that wire is a useless parlor game played only for our entertainment or to support our theory of who he was. In truth, we have no idea what course his life would have taken, just as he had no idea his last breath was seconds away.

Life is a struggle, a continual search for meaning. We live in exile. Each dawn brings us the chance to wake up to the true Reality: the insubstantial, shadowy, false self must dissolve into God.

“…there is no such thing as a life without struggle.”
-Joan D. Chittister
Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope

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