Merton Prayer 9

¡§I want to give myself to You without solicitude, without fear or desire, not seeking words or silence, work or rest, light or darkness, company or solitude. For I will possess all things if I am empty of all things, and only You can at once empty me of all things and fill me with Yourself, the Life of all that lives, and the Being in Whom everything exists.

¡§I know that, if You want me to renounce the manner of desiring You, it is only in order that I may possess You surely and come to union with You.¡¨ (Dialogues with Silence, pp. 27, 39)

Jesus said, ¡§Store up riches¡Kin heaven¡KFor your heart will always be where your riches are.¡¨ (Matt. 6:20-21)

Commentary

John Wu Jr.

The marvelous thing about our relationship with Our Lord is that the more we give ourselves over to Him and the less we rely on our own lights, the more He replenishes what we have already been given. The old adage, that the more we give, the more we have, could not be truer: it is an extraordinary paradox that forms the crux of any genuine spirituality. In the Gospels, we are told what we give comes back to us a hundred-fold. The only sensible analogy we have for this relationship is that between Jesus and God the Father. God¡¦s Incarnation through Christ is the ultimate paradigm to be ¡§empty of all things.¡¨ No human relationship, no matter how perfect, has been able to show the true efficacy of the meaning of emptiness.

If we are always full of ourselves and go about filling our lives in ways that only satisfy our will, not God¡¦s Will, we might never become aware of who and what God really wants us to be. Shouldn¡¦t our faith be based on the trust that God, knowing us better than we know ourselves, from all eternity, has known what is best for us? We must not merely grovel through a meaningless existence for He created us for a divine purpose, the reason of which we are only given a glimpse on earth.

This logic, so utterly simple that even naïve children are privy, can often boggle our worldly minds. It makes little sense in our present-day world when so much of what we do is determined by what we think is good for us. And, usually what we think best or good for us is related to the unending accumulation of things¡Xboth material and immaterial¡Xthat clutter up our lives, that make the difficult process of emptying a formidable task¡Xeven for God. So often, inertia grips us and habits we have formed over many years and keep us earthbound become impossible to break through. It is difficult enough for us to separate ourselves physically from such things, not to mention the very strong hold they have on our hearts and minds. It is no wonder that we live so divisively within ourselves and with each other.

How ironic that the more excessive concern we have for our lives, the further we drift away from the essentials that give life meaning. In protecting our personal and limited interests, we lose track of the purpose of existence, which is to see in all things, as Merton puts it so profoundly, ¡§the Life of all that lives, and the Being in Whom everything exists.¡¨ Perhaps we would do well to remind us that Our Father craves our love, that this yearning includes his desire for us to live, if I may, a God-like life, a life that not only reflects but makes us share in His divine Light.

Christ¡¦s words, ¡§To store up riches in heaven¡KFor your heart will always be where your riches are,¡¨ are a gentle reminder to us to forego interest in those things that distract our hearts and minds away from the riches promised to us by God. But as our world grows ever more abundant in material goods¡Xand, conversely, natural resources become ever more depleted¡X, as people from the so-called civilized and developing world dream of all the goods promised by globalization¡Xsurely a modern cult having reached the status of a pseudo-religion¡XOur Lord¡¦s sacred words sadly recede ever further from our lives. He wants us to possess all the riches of heaven, yet we opt for counterfeit treasures that, by themselves, have little or no worth.

It seems nothing is more difficult for us than to lose our taste for things of this world, for we are made drunk by their attractiveness even though we know well they are not the best for us. In and of themselves, there is nothing wrong with earthly riches. They become a distraction when they block our vision of the heavenly, when we mistake their dim lights for the divine Light. The entire Gospel would seem to be the restoration of rationality and sensibility to its rightful place, that is, the Heart of the New Man, Christ. Yet, it is the old Adam after whom we pattern our lives.

Merton¡¦s prayer may be summarized by two words: self-abnegation and renunciation, which are recurring themes in the monk¡¦s 27 years as a contemplative. Even though in his last years, while remaining a monk, he became ever more active in all the things that concerned the typical activist, Merton¡¦s instincts and training told him that the active life, without the necessary ballast of daily prayer and Scriptural readings, would soon lose its flavor and meaning. The monk knew, when contemplation deepens, love for one¡¦s fellow humans increase as well.