The Art of Attentiveness, Part Three

In 1941, after being at Gethsemani for less than two weeks, a young Merton penned this prayer: “Your brightness is my darkness. I know nothing of You and, by myself, I cannot even imagine how to go about knowing You. If I imagine You, I am mistaken. If I understand You, I am deluded. If I am conscious and certain I know You, I am crazy. The darkness is enough.” The darkness is not enough for us. Religious terrorism which threatens us today might disappear if the fundamentalists of all faiths, those willing to kill for “their” God, had the inner honesty to pray that prayer Merton penned long ago.

In honestly communicating the darkness that became his rite of passage into God’s presence, Merton gave countless readers over the last sixty years a great gift. He freely admitted the complexity and the paradoxes of his own life. Merton saw the contemplative life as a life of relationships informed by love in search of freedom. The hallmark of Merton’s prayer life was his ability to keep vigil in silence with his heart’s eye on the horizon of the next moment. The next moment could reveal in light or in shadow the presence of the Beloved he so eagerly awaited. He kept his mind’s eye open for the unexpected epiphany. Waiting without projecting his own needs into the next moment became a dark form of hope for him. Down through the ages, mystics of all faiths understood that silence is the place where time and eternity embrace.

Like us, Thomas Merton had no idea where he was going on his journey to God. Unlike most of us, he simply followed where he thought God was leading him, trusting that if he was mistaken, God would gently give him a course correction…and all would be well in the end, no matter where he ended up. Not to know where his life was going was always to begin again in Merton’s journey to love learning and desire God. Ignorance acknowledged was a stimulus to new experience. Awareness of the darkness kept Merton sober and watchful, though never perfectly, so that he might miss a gate to the rose garden. He didn’t just see things, he saw God in everything.

It does not matter where I am going if I am not going to heaven.


1 Response to “The Art of Attentiveness, Part Three”

  1. 1 krebsjoan September 14, 2015 at 3:11 am

    The phrase “…hallmark of his prayer life was his ability to keep vigil with his heart’s eye on the horizon of the next moment” is nourishing, active and evolutionary. It sits well with “Waiting in patience.” Thank you for this.

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