Merton Prayer 15 (Part 1)

¡§You know my soul. You know all that needs to be done there. Do it in Your own way. Draw me to You, O my God. Fill me with Pure Love of You alone. Make me never go aside from the way of Your Love. Show me clearly that way and never let me depart from it: that will be enough. I leave everything in Your hands. You will guide me without error and without danger and I will love You all the way. I will belong to You. I will not be afraid of anything for I shall remain in Your hands and never leave You.¡¨ (Entering the Silence, 101; Dialogues with Silence, 45)

Commentary

John Wu, Jr.

For Thomas Merton, writing and praying seemed as essential as breathing; or, perhaps we could say writing became a vehicle for his life of prayer. This is the feeling that strikes this reader, especially in the thoughts that came so spontaneously in the many Journals he kept. The formal writings¡Xthe many books that flowed from his dexterous hand and mind¡Xare what the monk gave the world and for which he most likely will be remembered; on the other hand, the Journals (edited into seven large volumes), and I might add, his thousands of letters (in five large volumes) together constitute the intimate Merton.

In those writings, particularly in the earlier Journals from which we find this prayer, we see the young monk practicing steadfastly to abandon himself by pouring his heart out to God. As he writes, he seems beckoned by a solitude to enter ever deeper into the sanctuary of the Divine Mind. And, sometimes, when he is carried away by the Holy Spirit beyond the parameters of self, the words sing as in a solitary rhapsody. At such times, Merton¡¦s prayers become veritable psalms of praise.

This psalm-like prayer, neither overtly happy nor sad, is marked by a wistful feeling of resignation. This heightened, waiting-expectantly, state can be felt by those who have arrived at the point whereby one recognizes human effort to be no longer helpful in advancing spiritually, that such efforts will only impinge on God¡¦s freedom in His unique plan for each person. The prayer is a plea whereby the one praying leaves all his worries behind and gives himself entirely over to God.

The first few lines are the key: ¡§You know my soul. You know all that needs to be done there. Do it in Your own way.¡¨ This is a wonderful beginning to any prayer. For no prayer¡Xwhich is a calling to God to come to one¡¦s aid¡Xcan be said to be a prayer without the recognition that Our Lord knows us immeasurably deeper than we could know ourselves. In praying, nothing should be held back for God is the Physician and we are the sick patients with broken hearts and souls that need mending and healing. When we are ill and decide to avail ourselves to a doctor, we most assuredly must place our trust in him completely, believing he has the proper cure. It is a wonder, then, that so few of us are, to the same degree, able to entrust our souls entirely to God. How easily we forget He is the only true caretaker of our souls. Merton says to Our Lord, ¡§I leave everything in Your hands,¡¨ in the same way that we might confidently say to a doctor in whom we both explicitly and implicitly trust.

Naturally, there are differences between biological life and spiritual life, and such an analogy can only be taken so far, and no more. A doctor in administering to his patient can certainly practice his medical arts with a good deal of love, though still in a limited way; on the other hand, Our Lord¡¦s love for us in guiding us through the travails of life is infinite and boundless. When in St. John¡¦s Gospel, we hear the Evangelist say, ¡§God is Love,¡¨ he means by this that God¡¦s Way is the essence of Perfect Love, hence far above human love or anything found in nature, even far beyond that which St. Paul suggests in Corinthians as love that we should practice among one another. In other words, no matter how great we might think a certain human love might be, it remains human and limited, at most, a shade of that Perfect Love that Christ embodied on earth and that sustains our earthly and heavenly existence in some inexplicable way.

Much of human love is tainted by selfishness, a remnant of original sin. Both our concept and practice of love will forever remain shadowy in comparison to that of Our Heavenly Father, whose love is pure, bright and defines life itself. The very nature of God suggests that He cannot but love. The mere fact of our human existence, that we are, from the moment of conception, kept alive miraculously from second to second, indicates clearly the greatness of Love. God brings us into existence, then His very breath¡Xthe same breath that gave life to our first parents in Eden¡Xsustains us throughout our earthly life until He thinks, in His own good time, for us to return to Him. God¡¦s very essence is the Way of Love, not in the way that our feeble minds conceive it to be, but in the way that God, again, from second to second, manifests Himself in His own way. For, indeed, He knows our soul and its needs in ways that we could not possibly know. That is why to know His will is always a great step forward in knowing who we are and what we have been chosen to do on earth. And because the command comes from Our Lord, it has the signature of the Divine written all over it. Our only task is to learn to read it carefully.

(to be continued in next issue, #366, April, 2008, Costantinian, 546)

Merton Prayer 15 (Part 2 for #366)