ˇ§Bring me with joy, God, across Thy Jordan. I am sorry I forget my desires and burn with other desires to complete my work, to get books distributed to people. But there is only one desire: to find the promised land and the freedom of a pure love that is without concern for anything else but loveˇXthat is, without concern for anything but the purity of God, for His will, for His glory. Let me be brought to a peace above language, not in some esoteric state, but to the living reality of a love that is contemplation and act, that clings to God and embraces all the world in Him in peace, in unity.ˇ¨ (Dialogues with Silence, p. 55)
John Wu, Jr.
The most ineffable joys are those that come from beyond the perimeters of human planning. They unexpectedly show their face, jarring us from our usual lethargy into a state of bliss. My own personal desires, previously so central, suddenly strike me as unimportant and become peripheral to my life. Unawares, I am thrown into some earthly Eden and whatever troubles besetting me lose their former interest and significance. Then I am transported with joy ˇ§across Thy Jordanˇ¨ into that ˇ§promised landˇ¨ to which not even Moses had access, into that ˇ§freedom of pure love that is without concern for anything else but love.ˇ¨
The desires that so much occupy our day remain, they donˇ¦t go away; instead, they recede in to the background, taking a subordinate place to what has become the only important desire of the moment: to ˇ§be brought to a peace above language,ˇKto the living reality of a love that is contemplation and act.ˇ¨ And what one seeksˇXˇ§the purity of Godˇ¨ or, as some might prefer, the mystic stateˇXis not so much a seeking after God as an object to be grasped; rather, it is letting God intrude upon the hours of our day whereby He crowns earthly time with His holiness. Eternity suddenly breaks in upon temporality, thereby giving even our most miniscule earthly plans and acts a sacred dimension we could not hitherto have suspected.
Indeed, contemplation and act become one and the same, and in whatever act we are involvedˇXperhaps something even as simple as sweeping the floor or washing dishesˇXedifies and uplifts us by its very action. This is not possible without Godˇ¦s holy presence; for, Godˇ¦s presence comes in the form of grace penetrating our secular world, by giving it its divine signature.
Such experiences make us wonder if it is indeed possible that such simple acts could be so extraordinary or if something as extraordinary as Godˇ¦s purity and love could be so intimately connected to such ordinary daily acts. Merton seems to be telling us that such heavenly unity and peace on earth could only materialize when there is that warm mutual embrace between Creator and creature, when we, abandoning selfish motives and concerns, cling to our heavenly Father in such a way that it must be He who wills that holy intimacy. For our unenlightened, desire-corrupted will could not achieve such union by itself.
When I think of following Godˇ¦s will, I think of Blessed Mother Teresa. Once she said, ˇ§I am nothing more than the pencil of God. He is the one doing the writing.ˇ¨ How fortunate the saints are! In their hands, all things are a simple unbroken continuum of contemplation and act. How do they do it? Might not it be that their hearts are emptied of everything, even of goodness? For, without this emptying, they would not be themselves; in fact, they might even fall into great confusion if suddenly they learned to think and act the way the more secular do. In their simplicity, which leads them to draw their strength from pure love, they believe it is love rather than cleverness that guides them. In their poverty, they know their will counts for nothing. They know that all their worldly wisdom deflects them from what God asks of them, which is to love the Father and their neighbors with all their hearts.
Christ said, ˇ§Come to me, all you who labor and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light.ˇ¨ (Matt. 11: 28-30) Christ hid his wisdom from the wise and learned and instead chose to reveal it to the simple. Faith is surely not the exclusive privilege of the clever; it seems most active in the humble of heart. It is no wonder that some of us who have been educated in fine schools sometimes have difficulty in following Godˇ¦s will. This should not surprise us. For we find ourselves, especially at such times as our information age, too greatly beset by the burdens of human knowledge to be free to love in the way Our Savior loved usˇXcompletely, unconditionally.
There is no knowledge that cannot be used in some way by God for our salvation. For we must never forget He is the author of everything. In the Gospels, Christ condemns no knowledge. Thomas Merton is a saint for our times for he was never timid in investigating knowledge at every level. That was the extent of his universal faith in Christ. He belongs to that vast Christian tradition that believed in the possibilities of epiphanies under the cover of any human knowledge.
(completed May 10, 2007)