I’m reading the journals of Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk. It’s my Lenten task, to reflect on the insights and struggles this extraordinary man recorded over a period of 30 years. Tonight I read this:
“Either you look at the universe as a very poor creation out of which no one can make anything or you look at your own life and your own part in the universe as infinitely rich, full of inexhaustible interest opening out into the infinite further possibility for study and contemplation and interest and praise. Beyond all and in all is God.” (1)
As I grow older, looking back, my failures and weaknesses threaten to outweigh the good things I have done. But that’s living in the past. And, at my age, the future in terms of ticks on a clock or calendar days is shorter and shorter. But the present is still what it has been for everyone forever: the only place to experience life and the “infinitely rich universe.”
Grace and the present
Merton had something to say about the present moment:
“The will of God is not a ‘fate’ to which we submit but a creative act in our life producing something absolutely new . . .” (2)
So I encounter myself becoming “something absolutely new” even now, in my late seventies, in the present. Despite my past failings, my future is being shaped by God’s creative act and grace — but not without my involvement. Zen Buddhists have a saying about being in the present spiritually — “Chop wood and carry water.” Life is not about achievements of any kind but about doing what God wills where we are, at this moment. The hard thing for me is not to be an observer, analysing what’s going on and trying to discern God’s purpose. My challenge is to be constantly aware of possibilities and acting on them. That is what prayer is all about: listening for hints of God’s will in the moment.
(1) (2) The Intimate Merton by Thomas Merton, HarperCollins ebooks