My spiritual reading has been broad, but Merton is the writer that I have stayed with consistently, reading many of the same books over and over again, for years. I have begun to realize that Merton is my primary spiritual director – and the voice that I most trust.
Sometimes others who write about Merton help me to better understand Merton. I have especially appreciated the writings of James Finley, Roger Lipskey and Jim Forrest.
But Kathleen Deignan’s writing on Merton is special. In her “Book of Hours”, she has been able to lift from Merton’s writing (and mostly his poetry) not just his thought, but the secret of his soul: Praise.
The following are excerpts from her introduction to the “Book of Hours”:
The Territory of Praise: “Le Point Vierge” of Paradise
“This is the burning promised land, the house of God, the gate of heaven.” (Entering the Silence, p. 473)
In the several decades of his monastic life, Thomas Merton became a dervish of praise spinning around a still point of presence manifesting on the surface and in the depths of everything, especially the human heart. He labored to name this mysterious center of being, “a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes of our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our mind or the brutalities of our will.” (Conjectures of a Guilty
Bystander, p. 158). He called it “le point vierge” – the “virgin point” of the spirit where one meets God, and which is the glory of God in us. It is like a “pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven”… Merton had no program to suggest for this seeing; it was in his experience the wide open secret to which so few attend: “paradise is all around us and we do not understand.” (CGB, p. 132). But the return to paradise, and the delineation of access routes for its discovery, was the passion of his life … (Book of Hours, pp. 30-31)
The Time of Praise: “Le Temps Vierge” of Eternity
“You have given me roots in Eternity” (Entering the Silence, p. 473)
If the territory of paradise is here, it’s time is now – each and every seminal moment that plants seeds of spiritual vitality in the human soul. But few of us are receptive to these pregnant germs of grace because we do not sense time as the field of encounter with divine presence. Rather we live in a time of no room, “obsessed with lack of time, lack of space, saving time, conquering space, projecting into time and space the anguish produced within them by the technological furies of size, volume, quantity, speed, number, price, acceleration. (Raids on the Unspeakable, p. 70). There is no room for the mysterious spaciousness of being, no time for presence; no room for nature, no time for quiet, for thought, for presence. We are “worked to the point of insensibility, dazed by information, drugged by entertainment, surfeited with everything, nauseated with the human race, and with ourselves, auseated.” (Thomas Merton Reader, pp. 363-364) …
We fear the thief of time that steals from the treasure we did not take the time to discover hidden in the cracks between CHRONOS – “a linear flight into nothingness” (Seasons of Celebration, p. 32) – and KAIROS the time of possibility and abundance that opens as we return to the immediacy of what is real. “Be the son of this instant”, Merton advises because the present is our right place, where the mind is at home. (BOOK OF HOURS Introduction, pp. 32-33)
Probably much to long for a blog entry, but I needed all of it this morning.