Saturday, May 26, 2007

waiting, dark hope

The following excerpts are taken from the Introduction to Jonathan Montaldo’s book, “Dialogues with Silence, prayers and drawings”. They capture something of what draws me toward Merton’s personal prayer – or what we can gleam of it from his writings. The not-knowingness, the waiting, the dark hope:

“Monastic life inculcated in Merton [this] heightened awareness, an alertness to the possibilities of the hour, what he called “the grip of the present”. Alert expectancy was a habit he cultivated for a fruitful, examined life. His monastic stability and its enclosed horizons ironically made all the keener his innate tendency to be more ready to depart than to settle down in fixed ideas or perspectives. Merton was never afraid to walk away from himself when, through experience, prayer, and study, he found himself still too narrow and noninclusive to be a thoroughly catholic human being.”

“By appropriating the insights of a long monastic tradition, Merton learned that waiting for a “word” he could not speak to himself was the essence of prayer. Stillness, poverty of spirit, keeping vigil, guarding thoughts, and fasting from one’s own selfishness were essential attributes of his practice of monastic humanism.”

“Merton had learned early to keep vigil in silence with his heart’s eye on the horizon of the next moment. The next moment could reveal in light or in shadow the presence of the Beloved he awaited. He kept his mind’s eye open for the unexpected epiphany. Waiting without projecting his own needs into the next moment became a dark form of hope. In committing some of his personal prayers to writing, Merton’s gift to his readers was his honesty in communicating the darkness what was his rite of passage into God’s presence.”

“Not to know where his life was going was always to begin again in Merton’s journey to love learning and desire God. Ignorance acknowledged was a stimulus to new experience. Ignorance acknowledged was an exciting wisdom that poised Merton for God’s “next thing”.

“Darkness acknowledged kept Merton leaning toward the “thin places” between night and the edge of light that signals dawn.”

- Jonathan Montaldo, "Dialogues with Silence", 2001, pp. xiv-xv

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Lax photography

Robert Lax (1915-2000), Untitled, 1970s; black and white photograph, 11 x 17 inches; Robert Lax Archives. St. Bonaventure University ...