Reflections on Thomas Merton

December 28, 2021

I have loved preaching our current sermon series: Dusk. Dark. Dawn. Day. The Fourfold Path of Transformation. It's been a great joy to share a new approach to the Gospel account and introduce us to a four-fold pattern of transformation offered in the Gospels.  In many respects, I feel like we are just beginning to scratch the surface of this content and good news! 

This Sunday, we turn to John's Gospel account and the question that awaits us: "How do we receive joy?" It's quite a question! The Gospel of John will reveal to us the good news that joy does, in fact, await us on the other side of great suffering.   

As I've reflected on that question, the words of Thomas Merton have come to mind and have been part of my daily reflections this week. Merton was a Trappist Monk and mystic who lived in Bardstown, KY, at the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani in 1941 until his death. His words highlight how joy/light/love breaks through our ordinary lives and offer a moment of transcendence by which we come to see the kingdom of God, here and now. I offer them to you and pray they will be a gift for you this day. 

"In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world. . . .  

This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud. . . . I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now that I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun. 

Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God's eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed. . . . But this cannot be seen, only believed and 'understood' by a peculiar gift." 

― Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander 

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