Merton Prayer 11 (Part 1)

ˇ§The way You have laid open before me is an easy way, compared with the hard way of my own will which leads back to Egypt and to bricks without straw.

ˇ§If You allow people to praise me, I shall not worry. If You let them blame me, I shall worry even less. If you send me work, I shall embrace it with joy. It will be rest to me because it is Your will. If you send me rest, I will rest in You. Only save me from myself. Save me from my own private, poisonous urge to change everything, to act without reason, to move for movementˇ¦s sake, to unsettle everything that You have ordained.ˇ¨ (Dialogues with Silence, p. 53)

Commentary

John Wu, Jr.

Is Godˇ¦s way truly ˇ§the easy wayˇ¨? Doesnˇ¦t Jesus in the Gospels tell us that, for many, entering heaven is as difficult as a camel passing through the eye of a needle? (Matt. 19: 23-24) Yet Merton writes, ˇ§The way You have laid open before me is an easy way.ˇ¨ What is ˇ§the way You have laid open before meˇ¨? It is the road that Our Creator paves for each of us the moment we are conceived in His love, the reason for which we were brought into being.

It is a road that, if properly followed, will bring us face-to-face with Divine Wisdom. It is an ˇ§easy wayˇ¨ only when ˇ§compared with the hard way of my own will.ˇ¨ For ˇ§my own willˇ¨ is that ˇ§hard wayˇ¨ that takes me away from the unique life and road and way for which I was conceived for Godˇ¦s pure pleasure and joy.

And what does Merton mean when he says ˇ§the hard way of my own willˇKleads back to Egypt and to bricks without strawˇ¨? This is a reference to the manner by which bricks were made by the Israelites living in exile and slavery in ancient Egypt: straws were mixed in with other substances to give bricks extra strength. (Exodus 5: 7-18) Here, Merton uses the image symbolically to suggest that our will, functioning independently and cut off from its Source, can be likened to bricks without straw, that is, of bricks that are weak and likely to crumble if they are not fortified by straw, just as our lives are liable to go amiss if we insist exclusively upon living by our own frail will.

In his great generosity, God wills that we intimately share with Him in fulfilling His sacred work on earth. For us, doing what is right as a Christian is, in the words of St. Paul, a matter of ˇ§putting on Christ,ˇ¨ that is, to live the Good News in imitation of His spirit. It is an ˇ§easy wayˇ¨ only in the sense that Our Lord has paved our path, not our slavishly abiding by some bone-dry formula that we think will lead to our sainthood but rather in living authentically according to His will. The true way for each of us can never be beyond our capacity for we are supported every step by faith and knowledge that Christ is the Way.

ˇ§If you send me work, I shall embrace it with joy. It will be rest in me because it will be Your will. If you send me rest, I will rest in You.ˇ¨ These words reflect Merton the contemplative, the monk who has learned to embrace all work as if it were a continuous prayer. But this is not a way open only to monks and the religious; it is accessible to all who have learned the terrible curse of being driven willy-nilly by a prison we have created for ourselvesˇXour willfulness.

I am only able to ˇ§embrace (work) with joyˇ¨ when I view my workˇXlarge and smallˇXas an extension of Our Lordˇ¦s will. In viewing work thus, I avoid doing things by the narrow schemes of my own earthly plans that run into obstacles and cause frustrations, which make life stressful and difficult. Our plans, no matter how grand, fail because the global village we happen to live in conditions us in such a way that we become obsessive over success and failure. Even when we succeed, it can be at a terrible psychological and spiritual costˇXat the cost of shrinking our being. Moreover, the stress in our lives becomes greater as we try to think of ever better ways to succeed in future projects.

It is no wonder that weˇXespecially those seen by others as ˇ§successful personsˇ¨ˇXbecome neurotic personalities. We find ourselves driven not by Godˇ¦s will but by some aggressive and vaunted personal will aimed at some spurious idea of success that merely feeds the ever hungry ego and is not likely to bring any joy of lasting value. We should not be surprised if we find it increasingly more difficult to love God, our colleagues and neighbors. For we find ourselves unable to free ourselves from basic attachments that, on the surface, appear to bring greater security to our lives but, in fact, take us away from meaningful work.

Merton believes the lure and sophistication of contemporary life drive us from ˇ§the easy wayˇ¨ to ˇ§the hard way.ˇ¨ Our neuroses run so deep that they obstruct us from loving genuinely. For, even if God does send me restˇXthe peace that only He can giveˇX, and even if I am able to see it, I may not know how to make use of it. Through social and psychological conditioning, I may find His rest alien to my nature.