Merton Prayer 11 (Part 2)

¡§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.

¡§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 movement¡¦s sake, to unsettle everything that You have ordained.¡¨ (Dialogues with Silence, p. 53)

Commentary

John Wu, Jr.

¡§Save me from my own, private, poisonous urge to change everything, to act without reason, to move for movement¡¦s sake, to unsettle everything You have ordained.¡¨ These words remind me of the incident that took place between Christ and Peter when Our Savior spoke sadly of His Death and Resurrection. Peter, acting in good faith and as a dear and caring friend, rebukes His Master: ¡§Heaven preserve you, Lord. This must not happen to you!¡¨ Christ was able to see straight through his disciple¡¦s well-meaning, transparent heart. But He meant to give Peter a shock anyway: ¡§Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to my path, because you are thinking not as God thinks but as human beings do.¡¨ (Matt. 16:22-23)

This poignant passage brings out in sharp relief Peter¡¦s great and palpable humanity, of both the human virtues and follies that make him the most appealing of Jesus¡¦ followers. It also focuses on the tragic import of Our Lord¡¦s dramatic prophecy of his own Passion. Neither Peter nor any of his friends had any clear notion what Our Savior meant when He spoke of renouncing oneself, taking up the cross and following him. The cross? Or, for that matter, they were even less clear as to what the Master meant when He said, ¡§Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.¡¨ (Matt. 16: 25) How could anyone guess what would transpire in the fateful days ahead?

In Matthew 7:21, we hear Jesus say, ¡§Not everyone who calls me ¡¥Lord, Lord¡¦ will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only those who do what my Father in heaven wants them to do.¡¨ This is an appropriate Scriptural reference to Merton¡¦s prayer, which clearly recognizes the poverty of human will placed into battle unaided by divine grace. Hence we can see how important it is to pray constantly for discernment, of learning to see the signs that Our Lord leaves before us and to hear what He whispers in the silence of our hearts and in the needy cries of others. For they are the cries of Our Lord Himself.

How paradoxical yet, I believe, most fitting that when we go against our will and give ourselves the opportunity of traveling His road, we suddenly rise above ourselves. Our lives then take on a meaning and joy we could not have imagined. It is, as if, in seeing the troubles that arise in us when we live by our will alone, we, of a sudden, finally see through the shallowness of those principles we ordinarily live by, and¡Xas if reborn¡Xreenter into the world anew. We are able to see everything in a way that we had not been privy to before: as a place redeemed by Our Savior, through His love for all of us, His brothers and sisters.

If we see the world as children of Our Lord, in fact, as Eden, we are no longer able to conceive Him as an authoritarian God crudely overwhelming us by imposing His will upon such faint-hearted souls as ourselves; rather, we see Him as a Person whose sacred mission was to overcome the world by the practice of an immeasurable Love far above our crude understanding.

Living by God¡¦s will means living in imitation of Christ. By doing so, we make a plea to Him to help us come to full consciousness of who we are and why we have been so honored to be placed on earth. The world may indeed be hostile to God, but God is surely not hostile to the world. For how could He be hostile to His own creation? The world is His, and we are His children.

The words of Psalm 25: 4, 15 summarizes well for us Merton¡¦s prayer:

Teach me your ways, O Lord,

Show me Your path.

My eyes are always on the Lord,

For he will free my feet from the snare.

The snare is not something external to us but lies in the illusion of believing that we are all capable of ferrying to the Other Shore on our own efforts alone. Just before Merton was inspired to write his prayer, which initially appeared in The Sign of Jonas, a journal, he had first written, ¡§The chief thing that has struck me today is that I still have my fingers too much in the running of my own life.¡¨ (p. 76) Perhaps in these simple and direct words the monk has put his fingers on life¡¦s grand illusion: the illusory belief that, unassisted and isolated, we are capable of accomplishing anything significant.

(completed January 6, 2007)