The essay, “The Time of the End is the Time of No Room” is a sober statement about the climate of our time, and the message of Christmas. I could quote Merton at length – his wording is so strong, precise, and clear – but I wonder what the point is. If anyone who happens to read this is truly interested in Merton’s thoughts on end times and Christmas, they should get the book and read the essay.
It would be better for me to say, in my words, what I hear Merton saying. Let it filter through my psyche and soul.
I have been exploring the nature and role of silence – in Merton’s writing and thought, and in my own reaching for a contemplative way of being in the world. The practice of silence, the essence of silence, is central to my “survival” in a world of constant noise, 24 hour news, rushing, and crowd. It is also the message of Christmas. Not a silence of detachment and evasion from the world, but a silence that responds and speaks. The Word, silently exploding upon the world.
As Merton knew in his time, I know that my own world is in a state of crisis and insanity, riddled with fear. The Time of the End. The symptoms of a world bent upon destroying itself are even more glaring now than they were in 1960. It often seems likely that some sort of Apocalyptic End will happen in my lifetime. Anytime now.
Despite all the *talk* of religion, most of it I find to be cagey and pretending. Another place to hide at best; a prop for power and war-mongering at worse.
Since I was about 6 years old, I have been out-of-step with the “Christmas spirit”. I could never understand the hoopla and cheer, and figured that there was something wrong with me.
Now I am beginning to understand that I was too close to the Inn - the massed crowd - and hypnotized and distracted by the noise. But if I move away from the Inn, and follow the shepherds out a ways, I find that there is a silence too in this world.
If I but walk out into the darkness of night and look at the sky, I can see that there is a star there for me, as well, to follow.
“And one by one the shepherds, with their snowy feet.A silent Christmas to all …
Stamp and shake out their hats upon the stable dirt
And one by one kneel down to look upon their Life.”
(excerpted from “A Christmas Card”, FIGURES FOR AN APOCALYPSE, Thomas Merton)