Thursday, July 31, 2008

Thursday 31 July 2008

After we complete this chapter from Thomas Merton, we will be on to a new writer. (FYI: today is devotion 1600. As I hear from so few people about these weekday devotions, please feel free to let me know if this has been a good journey for you. It has kept me I thank you.)

It would be sentimental folly to expect people to trust one another when they obviously cannot be trusted. But at least they can learn to trust God. they can bring themselves to see that the mysterious power of god can, quite independently of human malice and error, protect people unaccountably against themselves, and that God can always turn evil into good, though perhaps not always in a sense that would be understood by the preachers of sunshine and uplift. If they can trust and love God, Who is infinitely wise and Who rules the lives of people, permitting them to use their freedom even to the point of almost incredible abuse, they can love people who are evil. They can learn to love them even in the sin, as God has loved them. If we can love the people we cannot trust (without trusting them foolishly) and if we can to some extent share the burden of their sin by identifying ourselves with them, then perhaps there is some hope of a kind of peace on earth, based not on the wisdom and the manipulations of people but on the inscrutable mercy of God.

When we trust our God to be the One who keeps promises, then we are living within the life that is called the Reign of God. For in that reality, we can go ahead and be led by the love of God that we trust to be the power to transform and renew all things. Oh, to be able to live there on a daily basis! If we are people who can come up with the mighty ways of going to war and turning against one another with enough contempt that we would sooner destroy them than enter into an honest conversation with them, then we can also, by the power of the Holy Spirit, turn to this God of ours who will sustain us as we become vulnerable and call on this mercy of God to make something new with us and among us. To be able to see our enemies as beloved of God is not easy...but it is the real life of the Reign of God that is already at hand.

Connection: Living beyond our fear - just a bit - changes the world right now. So, let's live it up today.

Loving and Merciful God, lead us through the ways of your blessed Reign. We long to stroll in confidence within the land of forgiveness, reconciliation and hope. Amen.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Wednesday 30 July 2008

Today I will continue to quote from Thomas Merton on war and fear.

These principals which govern personal moral conduct (see yesterday's quote) which make harmony possible in small social units like the family, also apply in the wider area of the state and in the whole community of nations. It is, however, quite absurd, in our present situation or in any other, to expect these principals to be universally accepted as the result of moral exhortations. There is very little hope that the world will be run according to them, all of a sudden, as a result of some hypothetical change of heart on the part of politicians. It is useless and even laughable to base political thought on the faint hope of a purely contingent and subjective moral illumination in the hearts of the world's leaders. but outside of political thought and action, in the religious sphere, it is not only permissible to hope for such a mysterious consummation, but it is necessary to pray for it. We can and must believe not so much that the mysterious light of God can "convert" the ones who are mostly responsible for the world's peace, but at least that they may, in spite of their obstinacy and their prejudices, be guarded against fatal error.

This sounds like it could be written for the political situation of our world today. The copyright is 1961. Time moves but we continue to give a nod to the values of the faith and then walk on by them and do what will best serve one side over and against the other. I was thinking about the election in 2000 when much was made of George W. Bush's "conversion" into the ranks of evangelicalism. Such a conversion does more than stop one from drinking. It is meant to change our hearts and minds and open us up to the Reign of God and the life that is available to us. And yet, after 2000 we have witnessed an arrogance that pulls back from honest dialogue and a need to demonstrate the power that the world loves but is not the power of the Reign of God. We are invited to continue to pray for the peace for which we long...and pray and pray. We are also invited to enter into that peace within our own lives. To be a witness of that which is promised even when the powers of the world do their best to seduce us to follow their warring ways.

Connection: Working within the peace of the Reign of God means we speak up and we act up. This may show itself in many ways during this day. We act in hope not in an attempt to gain control. When that happens, we will find we have lost much of the vision of peace.

Lord of Reconciliation and Hopefulness, continue to tap us on the shoulder or pull at our lives so that we will keep turning to the wealth of your promises and the life that you offer us within your blessed Reign. Amen.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Tuesday 29 July 2008

Looking at our warring ways, it is always good to look at all sides...from Merton.

I do not mean to encourage the guilt-ridden thinking that is always too glad to be "wrong" in everything. This too is an evasion of responsibility, because every form of oversimplification tends to make decisions ultimately meaningless. We must try to accept ourselves, whether individually or collectively, not only as perfectly good or perfectly bad, but in our mysterious, unaccountable mixture of good and evil. We have to stand by the modicum of good that is in us without exaggerating it. We have to defend our real rights, because unless we respect our own rights we will certainly not respect the rights of others. But at the same time we have to recognize that we have willfully or otherwise trespassed on the rights of others. We must be able to admit this not only as the result of self-examination, but when it is pointed out unexpectedly, and perhaps not too gently, by somebody else.

There is always the problem of over-blown egos and yet there is the problem of those who do not seem to allow their ego to have room to breathe. No one person is all wrong. We are made a community of people. We are the image of God as we are a people. Yes, individually we have many gifts that we must claim. Yes, individually we have many faults that we must claim. That is where we are given the gift of opening our lives up to others who are just like us. Again, I would use the language saint/sinner to help lead us out of ourselves and into the world community in a healthy manner. As Merton notes, this is not something we do in solitude - alone wrestling with our selves. Rather, we must be engaged with other so that the times will come upon us when others will point out our brokenness that we cannot or will not see. This confrontation is a gracious surprise that begins the process of dialogue that has the potential to transform our lives.

Connection: It is too easy to be trampled by others so make sure you do not join in the trampling by ignoring your beauty and gifts and your beloved place before God.

When you bring us together as your beloved, O God, you breathe the peace of your Reign upon us. And yet, there is no magic. Rather, we trust that you engage us with your Spirit so we will engage one another with the vision of your peaceable Reign. Amen.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Monday 28 July 2008

This piece by Merton is quite applicable to the games we play in politics today.

But someone will say: "If we once recognize that we are all equally wrong, all political action will instantly be paralyzed. We can only act when we assume that we are in the right." On the contrary, I believe the basis for valid political action can only be the recognition that the true solution to our problems is not accessible to any one isolated party of nation but that all must arrive at it by working together.

Working together!?!? Good grief, there is too much fear about the other to ever contemplate such an adventure. How do we move into this kind of working relationship? I think it involves the willingness to be vulnerable and to insist that the other be just as vulnerable. Most folks would dismiss this way because we would ask ourselves, "How can we trust them?!?" And yet, that question must really be directed back into our own lives. Will we enter into a political situation open to an honest sharing - even if we cannot be assured that our side will have its way or that the other side will also be vulnerable? Merton ends this piece well. We only are able to find the new and creative possibilities within any kind of political system when we move forward and work together. In that process, we are given the opportunity to discover all of our fears and all of the ways we see alike and see differently. At least at that point we are engaged with each other and relationships are being built even though we are not "best friends."

Connection: Take advantage of those times when we will find ourselves working with the ones we would rather avoid or the ones we have called our enemies. I think this is a difficult thing to do and yet as we call ourselves followers of is the way of his Reign.

Reconciling Lord, it is by your gracious power that we begin to sit down and share our lives with others who we do not see as our kind or people who agree with how we would like to world to move. Be our encouragement to enter into the journey of your peace making. Amen.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Friday 25 July 2008

More from "The Root of War is Fear" by Thomas Merton.

Perhaps in the end the first real step toward peace would be a realistic acceptance of the fact that our political ideals are perhaps to a great extent illusions and fictions to which we cling out of motives that are not always perfectly honest: that because of this we prevent ourselves from seeing any good or any practicability in the political ideals of our enemies - which may, of course, be in many ways even more illusory and dishonest than our own. We will never get anywhere unless we can accept the fact that politics is an inextricable tangle of good and evil motives in which, perhaps, the evil predominate but where one must continue to hope doggedly in what little good can still be found.

Hope...always hope! We must be realists who see how easily we fool ourselves and attempt to fool others. Those grand ideals we carry with us in order to distinguish ourselves from others do not make us who we really are - nor are the ones of our enemies. Hope is not an ideal. I would say it is a reality that is not yet in place completely. Hope pulls us into truth and honesty and peace and respect. Hope, as the hope in the Reign of God already complete at the end of time, takes the motives behind our grand words and actions and exposes them for what they are. There is no "us and them" with the Reign. There is no self-interest that must be guarded more than the interest of others. There is no wealth that is to be in the hands of a few who have been able to find way to bring it to themselves. Within the hopefulness of the Reign of God walls come tumbling down and we begin to engage one another as beloved of God - no matter what is the background or "issues" we carry with us. We are invited to walk in hope. Some will call that a nebulous vision...I would say it is not at all like has life that is really available.

Connection: Can we talk beyond ideals and be honest about what we fear and how we would rather have things go our way the any other way? It may bring some interesting discussion and give us the sense that we are beginning to live hope.

Lord of All Hopefulness, be our guide again in this day. We have this tendency to run out on our own convinced that our way into the future is the way. And yet, you continue to invited us to follow the way of your Beloved who was hope incarnate and becomes our hope today. Amen.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Thursday 24 July 2008

More insights from Thomas Merton on how we work with others.

In our refusal to accept the partially good intentions of others and work with them (of course prudently and with resignation to the inevitable imperfection of the result) we are unconsciously proclaiming our own malice, our own intolerance, our own lack of realism, our own ethical and political quackery.

Again Merton turns the picture around on us. We will not work with "them" and when we say this, it says more about us than them. It shows more about our limitations and unwillingness to move beyond our limitations or to even see them so that they do not block the way of our reaching across to others. Yes, there are folk out there who will trick and trade and be so self-consumed that they cannot enter into an honest working relationship, but, as Merton notes, we are always to be prudent in regard to our dialogical adventures with others - the adventure doesn't stop. We are to still move out beyond that which controls us and sets us up as part of the problem that is brewing in the world. This is not an easy adventure. In fact, it demands that we continually stay in contact with those we oppose in order to come into some type of understanding of what it is in us that creates the gulf between us. It is much easier to simply point...I do that well and I find it to be something of which I must continually move into repentance.

Connection: Again, we need that mirror to help us see us. Not us as we would like to be or us in comparison to others...but each of us as we are...with nothing to hide.

As you walk with us, O God, and as you attempt to move us into a position of honesty and hopefulness, guide us as we walk. There are too many ways we can be tempted to move and yet we know that you call us along the way of your beloved...lead us down that way. Amen.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Wednesday 23 July 2008

Today we continue with the piece quoted by Merton in yesterday's devotion.

...we make the situation (minimizing my own sins and compensating for doing so by exaggerating the faults in others) much worse by artificially intensifying our sense of evil, and by increasing our propensity to feel guilt even for things which are not in themselves wrong. In all these ways we build up such an obsession with evil, both in ourselves and in others, that we waste all our mental energy trying to account for this evil, to punish it, to exorcise it, or to get rid of it in any way we can. We drive ourselves mad with our preoccupation and in the end there is no outlet left but violence. We have to destroy something or someone. By that time we have created for ourselves a suitable enemy, a scapegoat in whom we have invested all the evil in the world. S/he is the cause of every wrong. S/he is the fomentor or all conflict. If s/he can only be destroyed, conflict will cease, evil will be done with, there will be no more war.

Yesterday I asked us to read this with a look at ourselves and how we are pulled into the power of evil within ourselves that is projected onto others. Something we must always consider before we look out at others. Today, we must also consider the fact that just as we will act as we do - so will others. Even the brightest and best of humanity are able to, and indeed do, perpetrate horrible acts of evil upon others because of the belief that "those" people are the cause of what is wrong and evil and dangerous to the rest of us. Our history is littered with such acts both grand and small. Glance around the globe and without knowing much of specific arenas of danger and war we can see an intolerance of others. Not just that. It is more a hatred of others that covers over this fear we have of the other. As we claim to be bold and brave, it is this fear of others (and the fear of what we know is possible because we are a part of what can become evil) that triggers our intense need to devour and destroy the other. Think of it...there are the conservatives...the liberals...the people of that skin color...the people of that ethnic group...the gay and lesbians...the Mexican people spilling over the border...the people of Islam...and on and on and on. On all sides, hatred and fear is brewing so consistently that we miss the opportunity to speak and act within the bounds of peace and reconciliation. One side will not take the time to hear the other side because fear is so deep we do not risk the adventure of peace making - we must hang onto what we think is our own "good" side that must - at any cost - be planted as the good for all. This whole process smells of war in all the ways it is able to break out among us.

Connection: Take the time to look at our world and the issues of the day. What is it that is feared in the contexts at which you look? A simple exercise and yet it may be profoundly important for the welfare of each of our lives.

Come Lord, come and bring your peace among us. Just as your beloved, Jesus, walked in a way contrary to the ways of fear and war, invite us and encourage us to walk in this way that is the way of your gracious Reign. Amen.

Tuesday 22 July 2008

Today continues a look at the evil we see in the world...and ourselves - Thomas Merton.

...we make the situation (minimizing my own sins and compensating for doing so by exaggerating the faults in others) much worse by artificially intensifying our sense of evil, and by increasing our propensity to feel guilt even for things which are not in themselves wrong. In all these ways we build up such an obsession with evil, both in ourselves and in others, that we waste all our mental energy trying to account for this evil, to punish it, to exorcise it, or to get rid of it in any way we can. We drive ourselves mad with our preoccupation and in the end there is no outlet left but violence. We have to destroy something or someone. By that time we have created for ourselves a suitable enemy, a scapegoat in whom we have invested all the evil in the world. S/he is the cause of every wrong. S/he is the fomentor or all conflict. If s/he can only be destroyed, conflict will cease, evil will be done with, there will be no more war.

Before doing too much with this text, read this as though it is a process each of us runs through - quite regularly for any number of reasons and in many different situations and with any number of people. It is starting with ourselves that we begin to prevent war. Wars may rage around us for many reasons but we will be given the opportunity to be a presence of peace if we are able to rest in the promises of our God that are alive for all people. In that way, before we begin to find scapegoats who we think will be able to make our life "right" we will see in the mirror many of the issues that must be addressed in ourselves and in our side and in our positions. Resisting war is no easy path. Resisting the temptation to enter into war involves facing all that we fear in our own lives and making sure that we do not make this a reason to strike out - even for reasons we have come to consider quite good reasons for going to war with others. I will return to this passage tomorrow.

Connection: Once again, pause, breathe, face the evil that is almost too close to see and hear...and begin to see and hear it. Not easy....but very necessary.

God of Love, you bring peace to our hearts and our lives. Encourage us to settle into that promise of your Reign and make this peace real among us. Amen.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Monday 21 July 2008

Thomas Merton with more on war and fear.

...we tend unconsciously to ease ourselves still more of the burden of guilt that is in us, by passing it on to somebody else. When I have done wrong, and have excused myself by attributing the wrong to "another" who is unaccountably "in me," my conscience is not yet satisfied. There is still too much left to be explained. The "other in myself" is too close to home. The temptation is, then, to account for my fault by seeing an equivalent amount of evil in someone else. Hence I minimize my own sins and compensate for doing so by exaggerating the faults of others.

Merton's words hit deeply and intend to take each of us on an inward journey. This is not easy nor will it be one of pleasure. It is always difficult to face the darkness within us before we project it out onto others. When we are able to enter this inward journey and face what must be faced, it seems as though there will be less of a chance of us striking out against the "other." I know that it is not easy to walk along this inward path. The temptation is too great to simply pick up a stone and throw it. When that happens, no one can be healed and made whole...we all come up short and the possibility of war increases - along with its brutality.

Connection: We are invited to be persistently reflective as we are engaging the events and people within this day. That means keeping our eyes on two worlds and bringing them together in a way that maintains peace. Who helps you do that?

Come, Lord of All Healing. Come and walk with us. Come and help us face our world and our selves with the truthfulness that is essential to your gracious Reign. Amen.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Friday 18 July 2008

We continue with Thomas Merton's thoughts on war and fear.

When we see crime in others, we try to correct it by destroying them or at least putting them out of sight. It is easy to identify the sin with the sinner when he is someone other than our own self. In ourselves, it is the other way round; we see the sin, but we have great difficulty in shouldering responsibility for it. We find it very hard to identify our sin with our own will and our own malice. On the contrary, we naturally tend to interpret our immoral act as an involuntary mistake, or as the malice of a spirit in us that is other than ourself. Yet at the same time we are fully aware that others do not make this convenient distinction for us. The acts that have been done by us are, in their eyes, "our" acts and they hold us fully responsible.

This is like the old bit of wisdom that notes that when we point one finger at the enemy the other three fingers point back at us. Unfortunately we don't see the ones pointing back at us. So much of our action and work has to do with finding those who commit crimes and finding ways to subdue them. And yet, in that process, we cannot see how our side or our own individual lives are tied into the many evils of the world that we so hate in others. When we are trying to make a world for ourselves, there is a very good chance that we will do whatever we think is necessary to make that world come into being - even if what we do is seen as evil by others. And yet, we would never, ever call it evil. Most often it is something that we think "must be done" for every one's good. Well...that doesn't hold. Everyone thinks their world and their views must be guarded and protected against the other. As we all know, the only result of our thinking is what we all say we hate - war.

Connection: There can be war even in the day-to-day aspects of our lives. We must think and act in ways of peace...which means lives of honesty and truthfulness. This is not always easy but it is always necessary.

Be our Peace, O God, and be with us as we face ourselves and our world with your truth. Amen.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Thursday 17 July 2008

From "The Root of War Is Fear" by Thomas Merton.

It is not only our hatred of others that is dangerous but also and above all our hatred of ourselves: particularly that hatred of ourselves which is too deep and too powerful to be consciously faced. For it is this which makes us see our own evil in others and unable to see it in ourselves.

One of the exercises I have couple do in pre-marital counseling has to do with looking at images of people from their growing up years - everyone from parents to sibling to extended neighbors and even child-care folks. They are to grab hold of positive and negative images. Then we move through the deep connections of how we pick or do not pick the people with whom we intend to enter into a deeper relationship. Sometimes, older couples don't think they need to do this because they "know" who they are and what they need. NOT! When I think of why we are at war today, I often think of who we are. We do not like the aggression of others and the utter self-interest of others and the need to be secure at any cost even if it means attacking others. Well...this is us as much as it is them. So what do we hate about ourselves that drives us nuts for war and what makes us resist peace? We are do often pulled through the day by what we fear and how we can take control of the day rather than face the fears we have. At this moment, I'm terribly afraid of what is going on with my ruptured Achilles tendon and how I will recover. There are moments when I am so frightened that I have to settle back and take note of it otherwise I can get pretty picky - ask my wife.

Connection: Peace is such a good way to follow. And yet, during the day, war (in one shape or another) is our choice. It is not only good to identify the things we fear. It is also good to identify the feeling that move us to be fear-filled. It can be embarrassment or frustration or impotence in a situation or threat of loss -any kind of loss. We can all benefit from staying close to what we are feeling before entering any warfare.

Lord of Peace and Justice and Mercy, hold us and lead us through the many turns and bends of this day that can throw us into the powerful grasp of our fears. Then, help us rest and see a new way to be present. Amen.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Wednesday 16 July 2008

Today I'd like us to more into Merton's chapter called: "The Root of War Is Fear."

At the root of all war is fear: no so much the fear people have of one another as the fear they have of everything. It is not merely that they do not trust one another; they do not even trust themselves. If they are not sure when someone else may turn around and kill them, they are still less sure when they may turn around and kill themselves. They cannot trust anything, because they have ceased to believe in God.

To kill another is to claim the position of being God. It is making the decision (for what ever the reason may be) that my life is worth more than the other person. It may be because of my religious nation of economic need to be better than others...or my thought that I am less...etc. I would agree with Merton that much of this sense of need to go to war because of all the reasons I noted here is tied to fear. Going to war and having to kill another person is part of the breaking of the first commandment - the commandment that is broken when any of the others are broken. When we kill another - and that is what war does -we have taken the position that we have the wisdom and power as to whether another person can live or not. This is also set off by the fear of having the other person want to do the same to us for maybe the very same reasons we would kill them. War has no good side to it for we have given up the image of who we are - God's own beloved children...not just some...but all of us.

Connection: Fear is not something that is readily caught when we are in the midst of it and we are being led by it. That is a simple task for it when we are in it.

Gracious God, you have told us that you are the Lord, our God, and no other power is needed within our lives. You will be our foundation for life and you will sustain us in all thing. Continue to encourage our faithfulness. Amen.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Tuesday 15 July 2008

Sorry for the late posting. More on integrity and humility.

It is not humility to insist on being someone that you are not. It is as much as saying that you know better than God who you are and who you ought to be. How do you expect to arrive at the end of your own journey if you take the road to another person's city. How do you expect to reach you own perfection by leading somebody else's life? Another person's sanctity will never be yours; you must have the humility to work out your own salvation in a darkness where you are absolutely alone...
And so it takes heroic humilty to be yourself and to be nobody but the person, or the artist, that God intended you to be.

The journey that is ahead of us is always our own. That is what makes each of the unique gift we are to world and to ourselves. I know this sounds like the basic "children's" message again...and yet it is the message that is so difficult for us to take in and follow. What a wonderful experience it would be for all of us if we would find delight in being the one God's calls beloved. enough to transform us and heal us and guide us and deliver us into life that we do not see as a life that is truly available to us. If such a simple message is good for children, then one would think that it is a good message for children - no matter how old or seasoned or well-read or wise we might be. In fact, the wisdom of our humanity may be to follow the simplicity of God's promise to us.

Connection: Can you spot things during the day that show the living presence of the essence of you? What is it like to see and hear such stuff?

My Lord, what a gift you have given us. Inspire us to let it unfold within this day. Amen.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Monday 14 July 2008

More on humility and saints and the integrity of the two...Thomas Merton.

To the truly humble person the ordinary ways and customs and habits of people are not a matter for conflict. The saints do not get excited about the things that people eat and drink, wear on their bodies, or hang on the walls of their houses. To make conformity or non-conformity with other in these accidents a matter of life and death is to fill your interior life with confusion and noise. Ignoring all this as indifferent, the humble person takes whatever there is in the world that helps her/him to find God and leaves the rest aside.
This person is able to see quite clearly that what is useful to her/him may be useless to somebody else, and what helps others to be saints might ruin her/him. That is why humility brings with it a deep refinement of spirit, a peacefulness, a tact and a common sense without which there is no sane morality.

We are a gifted people - gifted by the love of God that promises to make us just who we are - beloved. It is not easy to keep that in mind as our days unfold and we take the journey of being the unique blessed person this each of us. The saint (baptized - beloved of God) does regular battle with everything that tries to grab our attention and turn our lives into a race or a competition when our lives are meant to be an unfolding gift that is not dependent on anything external to us. There is always a pull to conform and a pull to insist that others conform. And yet, the history of God interaction with God's people has been one in which God has insisted on keeping our eyes and our ears to the ways of God's reign. That is enough. That is plenty. That is the beginning of finding the blessedness that is mine alongside the blessedness that is you.

Connection: This is not always easy. But part of the way we will be just who we are to day when we are with others is to take time to listen to the other. In that way, we will hear where we connect and do not connect...we will hear how it is that the other is different...we will hear and begin to appreciate what is different between us and what is quite similar - without either one of us trying to be like the other. The differences may be just fine.

When you remind us of our place within your Reign, O God, you give us new eyes to see the world around us and new ears to hear the many voices within your creation. Keep your words of promise fresh in our hearts so that this day will truly look and sound new even when we are moving along the same old pathways. Amen.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Friday 11 July 2008

Today I'm repeating yesterday's piece with what follows - by Thomas Merton.

In great saints you find that perfect humility and perfect integrity coincide. The two turn out to be practically the same thing. The saint is unlike everybody else precisely because s/he is humble.
As far as the accidentals of this life are concerned, humility can be quite content with whatever satisfies the general run of people. But that does not mean that the essence of humility consists in being just like everybody else. On the contrary, humility consists in being precisely the person you actually are before God, and since no two people are alike, if you have the humility to be yourself you will not be like anyone else in the whole universe. But this individuality will not necessarily assert itself on the surface of everyday life. It will not be a matter of mere appearances, or opinions, or tastes, or ways of doing things. It is something deep in the soul.

On the sign at our church building this week it says "We are souls, we do not have souls." Deep in the soul...deep in the very essence of our being - there is the power of one who is beloved of God. That power is the power of me being me and you being you. As that power is let loose, each of us is free to become fully the image of God in whose glory we are formed. Those are grand words. It is no wonder we too often let them go to our heads and lose the meaning of those words as words of encouragement, to be at rest, and be content and wholly at peace with ourselves. Wonderful words of God love for us are meant to make us no more than who we are. And yet, upon hearing them, we often use them for "our own advantage" - that is an odd way to perceive God's love. It is for every one's advantage that we are beloved and expected to simply bring that love to life in no more than our own way.

Connection: Beloved. This is a simple mantra that can serve as a reminder of the power of life that is our very soul.

As you breathe on us, O God, there comes life that we may not have anticipated because we are so often trying to turn life into what we want it to be. Such turning is the way of warfare and disappointment. You breathe upon us and we are refreshed to be the beloved you have called us. Praise be to you, O God. Amen.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Thursday 10 July 2008

If for no one else, this writing by Merton on "Integrity" has been good for me.

In great saints you find that perfect humility and perfect integrity coincide. The two turn out to be practically the same thing. The saint is unlike everybody else precisely because s/he is humble.

For me, I would again translate saint into all who are baptized (and push that to all who are beloved of God and count on that love). There is no special act that makes them saints. Then again there will be the potential for a humility that honors others and self. This is a constant invitation for all of us. It demands that we see in the other the potential for wholeness that is in all of us...and then...we see the same in ourselves. No one needs to be like the other person. In fact, we do well to pray that each of us will be the person God loves for all times. For in the unfolding of that way, the peace and love and justice and hope and mercy of God becomes known to the world through each of our unique ways of being God's beloved. When we are that essential person - beloved - the saints of God find delight in our differences and how we can also be very much alike without having to lose ourselves by being someone we are not. Someone once told me to simply say "thank you" when offered a compliment...don't play it down...don't say it could be better - say "thank you." In those times, people are really thanking us for letting ourselves show through and that often is a delight for others.

Connection: Give praise and thanks to others and let those same words that are offered to each of us be taken as the gift of God's saints who long for the grand diversity that comes within the humility of our lives.

Precious Lord, lead us along the pathway of your love so that as we turn to face our world, we will face it "just as I am." Such a presentation in life will show all sides of our person and it will show others how thorough your love is...loving all sides...even those that are not visible. Amen.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Tuesday 8 July 2008

Today we move to a chapter called "Integrity" in "News Seeds of Contemplation" by Thomas Merton.

Many poets are not poets for the same reason that many religious people are not saints: they never succeed in being themselves. they never get around to being the particular poet or the particular monk they are intended to be by God. They never become the person or the artist who is called for by all circumstances of their individual lives.
They waste their years in vain efforts to be some other poet, some other saint. For many absurd reasons, they are convinced that they are obliged to become somebody else who died two hundred years ago and who lived in circumstances utterly alien to their own.
They wear out their minds and bodies in a hopeless endeavor to have somebody else's experiences or write somebody else's poems or possess somebody else's spirituality.

First, I must comment on the use of saint here. It appears that for Merton we have an understanding of a saint as being one who becomes a saint through what is done during his/her life. I always use the word saint to mean who we are through baptism - therefore, we are all saints as declared just that by God through Christ. Even with the difference in the definition of saint, Merton's point still stands. As saints of God we are called into the life that is ours. Not someone else's life...just our own. We are called to be the truly human one who is blessed and called by God to come fully to life. The followers of Jesus may all be baptized, but each of us is called to unfold as the person who is me and you. To attempt to be anyone else would be to defy and resist our very nature. We are each beloved and we are each invited to boldly live within that definition. So, if we are each saints, we are not marching in step with one another. We are moving into this day side-by-side as persons who are blessed to be just the persons we are. When we sing "Rise Up O Saints of God," we are addressing each and every one of us who are told to let our lives unfold both as unique individuals and as a body of many together - saints. This is a journey of integrity.

Connection: Some days it is vital to remember whose we are and what that means for the life of the world in which we participate. Each of us is called to do that with a sense of joy in our own being.

Lord of New Life, help us to be the children you bless with a fullness of life that is our own. As we enter that blessedness inspire us to live with a sense of joy and hope. Amen.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Wednesday 9 July 2008

More on "integrity" - Thomas Merton.

There can be an intense egoism in following everybody else. People are in a hurry to magnify themselves by imitating what is popular - and too lazy to think of anything better.

Hurry ruins saints as well as artists. they want quick success and they are in such haste to get it that they cannot take time to be true to themselves. And when the madness is upon them they argue that their very haste is a species of integrity.

Isn't this what commercialism is all about?...convincing people that we all need the same kind of life and material goods with which we will move through life? Therefore, there are fashions that come and go and we are told that we will be somebody if we take part in this essential coming and going of mere fashion. When this is the case, the somebody I become is simply a part of the everybody around me. Do we lose ourselves as we enter into that pursuit? To a point....yes. But we must consider how many ways outside of fashion that we lose ourselves through imitation as we search to be someone. Our God has made us each to be unique. That is the blessedness of each of our lives. We are invited to trust that move by our God!

Connection: It may not be easy to come to grips with who each of us is when we are so used to being seduced by the forces around us. We can be a part of a community without being consumed by the community.

When you create us, O God, we are each a part of a wonderful mural. In that picture, none of us is to be lost in the vastness of the project. Rather, we need to be reminded by your Spirit that as we become the person you created, the whole mural becomes more brilliant. Amen.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Monday 7 July 2008

More from "Solitude is Not Separation" by Thomas Merton.

Physical solitude has its dangers, but we must not exaggerate them. The great temptation of modern humanity is not physical solitude but immersion in the mass of other people, not escape to the mountains or the desert (would that more people were so tempted!) but escape into the great formless sea of irresponsibility which is the crowd. There is actually no more dangerous solitude than that of the person who is lost in a crowd, who does not know s/he is alone and who does not function as a person in a community either.

What is it to not know one is alone but to also not know that one is not a part of a community?!? The other day I was at an event at which a woman was to appear in a parade...a quite public event. I didn't know she was going to be in the parade but I noticed that from the time she stepped out of her car she wore the biggest smile I have ever seen. I could be that it wasn't the biggest...but rather it was the length of the smile...the stamina...the endlessness to it. The smile on this person's face was meant to attract others - a politicians smile - and yet, it saw in it a smile that made absolutely no connection to others. The smile seemed to be a way to be noticed and yet it was also a type of facade that kept some distance from the crowd while being deep within it. I was taken back by the lack of life present. I wondered how hard one had to work to keep that smile in place and what was the expectation behind the smile. Maybe it is to be known in the crowd without having to know the crowd.

Connection: It is good to know when we are moving into places of solitude. That is a healthy move. And yet, when we are with others it is good to be with them and not simply among them. "Being with" others demands our attention and our commitment.

Lord of Life, you make us social people and when we are with others we need be empowered to give ourselves to the life of the community. In that engagement, we make more of ourselves and bring new life to the community. Remind us of the joy of community and the wonder and joy of intentional solitude and retreat. Amen.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Thursday 3 July 2008

Here's a simple comment that follows from yesterday's devotion. (Merton)

Go into the desert not to escape other people but in order to find them in God.

Sometimes we can be so close to other people that we do not see them as they are before God. They are simply our enemies or work mates...etc. Often time, we run away from the presence of such people. We do that simply by "going home" and secluding ourselves with ourselves. At other times we may do that by being only in the presence of those who are just as we other words, secluding ourselves with ourselves. But we are invited to step away and re-view all things as we contemplate the presence of the Living God nurturing in us this love that is often beyond our comprehension. The desert magnifies the love and it magnifies what life looks like when love is absent. Our God is a God who makes it quite clear that we will find others as we long to find God. And re-viewing others - even those from whom we flee - God dances with us and invites us to take hold of those from whom we thought we needed to escape.

Connection: I know I often want to be with people like me...and yet I always find that as I am urged to move beyond myself, some bit of the beauty of God's images comes into view in those from whom I have been trying to separate myself. is an amazing power that can really destroy everything.

Lord, with your wind of life you move us to come closer to one another. It is not easy and it is not at the top of our life agenda...but you keep blowing through our lives and we find ourselves facing one another and beginning to experience the life you have promised from the beginning of time - life full of your love. Amen.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Wednesday 2 July 2008

Here are some more insights about solitude - again, Thomas Merton.

True solitude is the home of the person, false solitude the refuge of the individualist. The person is constituted by a uniquely subsisting capacity to love - by a radical ability to care for all beings made by God and loved by God. Such a capacity is destroyed by the loss of perspective. Without a certain element of solitude there can be no compassion because when a person is lost in the wheels of a social machine s/he is no longer aware of human needs as a matter of personal responsibility. One can escape from people by plunging into the midst of a crowd!

Again here is that important distinction between a person and an individual. The person - the whole me and you - is complete within the play between solitude and community. In fact, the person is made whole by just such a movement. The individualist finds any journey to be a journey with one's self and for one's self - beginning and end of story! The key word is love. Love bring community into being. Love is the power the bridges the separation that is so easily established between us and is the very sin that fights against the love of God. The interesting and important move in today's piece is to establish that we lose our sense of self and the meaning of community when we simple choose to slip into the world of social activity that does not call forth relationship or the need for growth of self and others. Simply being with people is not being in community. Many churches know what that means. Sometimes we come together but never let ourselves be together as one body...only a mixture of is so much more than that.

Connection: Some folks say it is important to go visit other countries and cultures because a brief visit can often open up our eyes to the expansiveness of our humanity. Well, this can also happen within this day...within the places we find ourselves....and, without leaving home. But...we must be willing to let go and let in.

Come, Living Water, and pour your life over us. When we are drenched with your presence and see that you pour yourself over all your people, we may then be liberated and find that in, with, and under the life of community, we each blossom and then flower into persons in your image. Amen.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Tuesday 1 July 2008

From "Solitude is Not Separation" - Thomas Merton

Humanity seeks unity because it is the image of the One God. Unity implies solitude, and hence the need to be physically alone. But unity and solitude are not metaphysical isolation... Solitude is not and can never be a narcissistic dialogue of the ego with itself. Such self-contemplation is a futile attempt to establish the finite self as infinite, to make it permanently independent of all other beings. And this is madness. Note, however, that it is not a madness peculiar to solitaries - it is much more common to those who try to assert their own unique excellence by dominating others. This is the more usual sin.

As we are always drawn back into the unity of the whole, we find that the solitude in which we enter is always very connected to the unity of the image of God. The way I best envision this is when I find myself far away from the community of faith in which I serve. Out there, in solitude, my mind and my vision and my openness to the future and my imagination spring to life and is very involved in the ongoing creation of community. Solitude helps in that is quite necessary. It is good to hear that the madness that can become a part of a narcissistic adventure in solitude can be the same kind of madness that comes about within a community in which a person seeks to dominate the others in community. I would agree with Merton that this second madness is really the usual way we encounter sin. The person in solitude who may be narcissistic is not someone who would have a great impact on others.

Connection: One of the responsibilities we have as followers of Jesus is to make sure that others among us do not fall prey to isolation. We do not simply seek community for ourselves, we are also called to respond to the others who grace our table with their presence. If they are not around, we all lose a bit of this image of God among us.

Lord of Life, you shine throughout the gathering of your saints so that as each of us looks around, we are reminded of the essence of your being that comes to be more complete as we continue to gather and come to life as one body. Thanks to you, O God. Amen.