With our lives

"Not until we are able to join the Master and the mystics in the Garden and say, not only with our lips but with our lives, "Not my will but Thine be done," shall we even begin to know what Christianity really is, for the way of the mystics is the way of the divine life, every son of which might take for his motto that great word uttered by one of the old German saints, "I want to be to the Eternal Goodness what a man's right arm is to a man."" 

- Thomas LeRoy Haywood, Christian Mysticism and Other Essays

Love allows the will to see

“The will is an active force; it is not naturally an organ of perception. In order for it to be able to perceive it should not – it must not – become passive, for then it would fall asleep or fade away, because its very nature is activity, and in ceasing to be active it would cease to be will; no, it should change centre of gravitation, ie transform “my will” into “thy will”.

It is the inner act of love alone that can accomplish the change of centre that the will uses or around which it gravitates. Instead of gravitating around the centre “me”, it can orientate itself around the centre “you”. This transformation, effected by love, is what one calls obedience.

Now, it is through obedience that the will is able to perceive. What it is able to perceive or be infused with is revelation from above, which inspires, directs and strengthens.”

Valentin Tomberg, Letter XII, Meditations on the Tarot.

The Kingdom remembers you, T.M.

Fifty three years ago today, Thomas Merton departed this earthly plane. We are fortunate that he left us so much. The imagined presence of the naughty monk with a twinkle in his eye has kept me company over the last couple of years – years that have been characterised by unquantifiable human stupidity, undisguised global authoritarianism and, at least for some, edifying solitude. Of the five books from his giant oeuvre of works that I have thus far read, two in particular stand out: ‘No Man Is An Island’ and ‘New Seeds of Contemplation’. A thousand searing challenges rise from the pages of these books, and a thousand pennies have dropped as a result.

"Do you imagine that you will discover God by winding yourself up in a cocoon of spiritual and aesthetic pleasures, instead of renouncing all your tastes and desires and ambitions and satisfactions for the love of Christ, Who will not even live within you if you cannot find Him in other men?" 

- New Seeds of Contemplation.

I dare not write in detail for fear of diluting the purity of his message. The depth and breadth he offers is beyond the scope of any summary that I could give. So I encourage you to read these books. Personally speaking, Merton has helped me to bring scripture into relationship with silence and pain into kinship with purpose. He has shown me how to infuse prayer with more faith and less desire. If you let his inspired words into your heart, they become a unifying force.

"God's will is not an abstraction, not a machine, not an esoteric system. It is a living concrete reality in the lives of men, and our souls are created to burn as flames within His flame. The will of the Lord is not a static centre drawing our souls blindly toward itself. It is a creative power, working everywhere, giving life and being and direction to all things, and above all forming and creating in the midst of an old creation, a whole new world which is called the Kingdom of God." 

- No Man Is An Island. 
31st January 1915 – 10th December 1968

An act of consent

“Let the command of His love be felt at the roots of my existence. Then let me understand that I do not consent to exist, but that I exist in order to consent. This is the living source of virtuous action: for all our good acts are acts of consent to the indications of His mercy and the movements of His grace.”

Thomas Merton, No Man Is An Island

Ah, God I May Not Hate – Kathleen Raine

Ah, God, I may not hate
Myself, who am your thought, who made
Earthworm and spider, gave
Being to the burying-beetle and the maggot,
Beak and talon and teeth, hunger to all creatures
Made to be your begetters and destroyers. 
I who am living you from the numberless dead have raised
From the deathless dust of the grave
Dust of gleaming wings borne on the wind, seed
In the womb of the wind, borne
In cloud and tempest over the world
On tide and current made and unmade,
I am what you will, what you have willed
Life after life, maggot and spider, seed and harvest,
        chromosome, flame. 
Kathleen Raine by Mayotte Magnus, September 1977

Travel in darkness and uncertainty

Wherever we have some sign of God’s will, we are obliged to conform to what that sign tells us. We should do so with pure intention, obeying God’s will because it is good in itself as well as good for us.

It takes more than an occasional act of faith to have such pure intention. It takes a whole life of faith, a total consecration to hidden values. It takes sustained moral courage and heroic confidence in the help of divine grace.

But above all it takes the humility and spiritual poverty to travel in darkness and uncertainty, where so often we have no light and see no sign at all.

Thomas Merton, No man is an island

After Curiosity

Curiosity is indeed a good place to start.  Endless technicolour adventures are to be found in the realm of curiosity, and many doorways present themselves. There is plenty to occupy the inquisitive heart and the opening mind, much of goodness too. However, curiousity also appears to be a destination. It is a place where many stop, where stalemate is common place.

Playing chess with death – Bergman’s Seventh Seal

What is it that stops the stopping in certain individuals? Are some born with inate qualities that provide an extra blast of spiritual jetfuel to propel them through those doorways and upward? Can we thank the attainments of our previous rounds on Earth for foundations laid out for us?

Among those who are committed, there are common themes. I observe and discuss these patterns amongst my little circle of peers, so for now I will speak of a ‘we’. Two notable components are a great willingness to take risks and a mighty capacity for chanelling the upheaval of repeated change. Within this, there is an ability to handle the extreme poles of the personal growth tide: gradual, sloth-pace changes to self and dramatic collapsing of identity. There is a constant shedding and recompiling of both the exterior shell and the interior components, again and again and again.

No matter at what age we realise or are first able to articulate what it is we are doing, there has always been a nagging feeling that something was not right, that what we are being handed under the labels of ‘real and important’ smells funny. Something is rotten, so experiments in living differently ensue. Motivated by a burning desire to avoid glaring compromise and the feeling of having entered into a faustian pact, we ask ourselves often what our vision of authentic living might look like. We end up in some funny places, but those are the stories reserved for face-to-face encounters…

We do not follow the routines that society expects us to adhere to, and sometimes we find ourselves in hostile territory. At times it is necessary to step back in order to go within and observe from a different vantage point, to close the curtains or retreat into the forest. Our unexpected, wild paths send us off the map, over cliff edges and into deep water. When we find ourselves in these unpleasant, pain filled places, we do not turn away. When the strength is found to chart every millimetre of the human-experience-terrain, an incredible source of learning is discovered at the extremes.

This trajectory makes for an individual who appears hard to pin down. Inevitably, we become un-locatable to family and old friends. They no longer know where we are, and separation occurs. As we continue to walk, the desire to place ourselves in God’s hands grows, even when we don’t fully know what that looks or feels like. The ego-driver has to be constantly reminded that it is not really in charge. With many of the more determined, fierce, individuals this is one of the most relentess tasks undertaken. We offer ourselves regular reminders. TWnmBD. Discipline and letting go simultaneously. 

Obsession by Eugene Ysaye