It is hard to believe it has been a year since I went on sabbatical. With Thomas Merton as my inspiration and guide, you sent me off with prayers for a time of contemplation, rest,
and renewal. Merton proved to be a wonderful spiritual guide and continues to accompany me on my walk with God.
One of the most important gifts Merton offers us is an understanding of prayer as a way to understand ourselves, to make sense of our lives in light of our faith and our identity as God’s beloved creature. He says "Our vocation is not simply to be, but to work together with God in the creation of our own life, our own identity, our own destiny." He suggests that we are to "pray for our own discovery." That our true self is present and active and available when we pray to and WITH God. We are not “finished products” but an on-going creation, loved by the Creator, and able to participate in our own growth and learning through prayer, repentance, and action.
Franciscan Theologian, Ilia Delio says it this way: “To pray is to enter into dialogue with God, heart to heart. Prayer is that deep silent encounter in which the innermost center of our being continuously stretches toward that which is not yet seen or fully known; yet, it is a type of deep knowing that we belong to God.”
St. Augustine began his famous “Confessions” with the knowledge that we are deeply connected to God always, that our lives are not static, but a journey of seeking God and communing with Love. "You have made us for yourself O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You." We refer to this idea in Eucharistic Prayer A when the Celebrant says: “Holy and gracious Father: In your infinite love you made us for yourself; and when we had fallen into sin and become subject to evil and death, you, in your mercy, sent Jesus Christ, your only and eternal Son, to share our human nature, to live and die as one of us, to reconcile us to you, the God and Father of all.” (emphasis mine)
Our broken, sinful hearts are restless, seeking God’s love and mercy, longing for rest and renewal, for comfort from the pain of loss and grief, for Oneness with the One who is Love.
The practice of contemplative prayer, praying with “sighs too deep for words” is a starting point, for as St. Paul wrote, God knows the secrets of our hearts. No words are necessary. Merton believes that God is within each of us; so praying what is true in our hearts; living what is true, naming who we are and how we are wonderfully made is holy.
Merton believed that to live the truth of our own existence is to be a saint. "A tree is holy, simply by being a tree" he said. We human creatures are called to be ourselves and to radiate the glory of God in our unique ways. Merton said, "We cannot go to heaven because we do not know where heaven is or what it is," so God comes to us. God comes down from heaven and finds us, seeking us, always very near. As St. Paul said, nothing can separate us from God’s love.
So in these waning summer days, how might you pray? Where can you sit or walk or be still in the presence of God who knows your heart, who is very near to you always. How might you learn and grow into the fullness of yourself, like a holy tree, aware of your gifts, curious about what’s next? Trusting that God is with you in your every breath?