Merton Prayer 8

ˇ§What is easier than to discuss mutually with You, O God, the three crows that flew by in the sun with light flashing on their rubber wings? Or the sunlight coming quietly through the cracks in the boards? Or the crickets in the grass?

ˇ§Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory and Thy mercy. I who am nothing have been placed here in silence to behold Thy glory and mercy and to praise Thee!ˇ¨ (Dialogues with Silence, p. 97)

Commentary

John Wu Jr.

At times, perhaps the most natural way to pray is simply by observing nature, by looking at what is right before us. This is the lesson Merton gives us in this prayer, where he is plainly playful towards our Heavenly Father. For only a child or an unself-conscious contemplative could unblushingly ˇ§discussˇ¨ with God ˇ§the three crows that flew by in the sun,ˇ¨ or ˇ§the sunlight coming through the cracks in the boards,ˇ¨ or ˇ§the crickets in the grass.ˇ¨ Such ordinary happy things occur around us all the time, yet we are unaware of them. Compared to what we think important, they hardly seem anything of consequence. Yet, somewhere in me I cannot help but feel the absolute thrill God might feel in discussing such things with us. He would probably be elated by the thought that we have not overlooked their simple beauty. Imagine God being thrilled or elated by anything!

How we so easily forget that God is not a serious-minded academic, or a CEO of a major corporation, so puffed up in his own self-importance that he has forgotten to be playful with his friends. In the divine scheme of things, the flight of crows with sun flashing on their wings, or sunlight coming through cracks, or crickets cooling themselves in the grassˇXthese so-called little thingsˇXare likely to be just as important as anything we could imagine in life. We are sent such things as a reminder life is not as humdrum as we make it to be. As Christians, we might actually learn a thing or two by reading some deeply meaningful stories in Zen (Chˇ¦an) Buddhist or Taoist texts that tell us to observe life more acutely and joyfully. For example, how to appreciate an orange, or to reflect where the orange comes from. I could easily see St. Francis of Assisi eating an orange or some Italian dates as he smiles upon the wonders of Godˇ¦s earth, or reflect on why The Little Flower so wisely chose her now famous ˇ§little wayˇ¨ to get back to paradise.

As adults hardened by life and assuming we are no longer capable of childlike whims, we might find ourselves red-faced in thinking of prayer in such ordinary ways. Is it possible only those with childlike dispositions or poets, or people of deep solitude can still savor or be touched by ordinary images and things that awaken us to the divine? Or, that awaken us to our interiority, where God probably finds his greatest comfort and where both he and we are most likely to be playful with each other. For is it not true that when we are most quiet and still that we are most accessible to his speech, and we hear him the way he wants us to hear him.

Once awakened, we seem able to enter into a simple yet deep ˇ§discussionˇ¨ over whatever part of his creation Our Gentle Master has decided to take us to, or where weˇXunbeknownst to ourselvesˇXfind him. The wonderful thing to understand is that ˇ§our discussionˇ¨ is indeed mutual in the fact that nothing can be as deeply mutual as our relationship with our Father who craves our love. I believe God has such compassion for his earthly family that he condescends to make all relationship wholly mutual in much the same way that Christ chose to relate to his Apostles. That is where we find our own personal paradigm, in the relationship between our Savior and his very best friendsˇXthe mostly simple-minded fishermen who probably could not even write their own names but had the wisdom to see the authentic writing of God in the Word Himself.

Our relationship with Divinity begins in the human and natural, but once we choose to follow, he slowly leads us into his depths. And the depths he chooses for us personally is as deep as he thinks we are capable of rising to. Though it is he who takes us there, yet we must first want to go. As we see the fruitfulness that comes from this mutual craving for union, life takes on a wisp of the divine that brings us back to the everyday, which however is now hallowed by Godˇ¦s participation in our existence. We are then given a tasteˇXno matter how slightˇXof the joy of Eden.

Through some mysterious spiritual alchemy which takes no particular effort on our part, the ordinary becomes extraordinary. For the awakening effected through some simple prayer is a grace granted to us by God, a gift we receive for no other reason than that he adores us as his own child. Merton would agree wholeheartedly that the three crows, the sunlight and the cricketsˇXthree heavenly gifts!ˇXhave nothing to do with our so-called merits, of which we have none!

Is it then not Christ himself who has made it easier for us to touch his divine heart by the very fact that he craves our love? This seems the only reason we are able to respond to seemingly blasé occurrences that transport us beyond ourselves. As there is no possible way to reciprocate even the littlest thing he gives us, the least we can do is to go out to him with a grateful heart, by not obstructing his Word.