* Big latte to start the day -- check.
* Two hours of unhurried reading after a big hot breakfast -- check.
* 4.5 mile walk on trails around Lake Mary -- check.
Pretty darn glorious day up here. I am giving myself an A+ when it comes to vacationing...
An unexpected surprise on this trip has been a book I threw in my bag at the last minute. During a visit to a used bookstore in June I found a tattered orange copy of The Monastic Journey by Thomas Merton, written in 1978. I have read Merton occasionally in these last three years as I read books on Benedictine spirituality and authors like Nouwen, Palmer, Willard, Foster... Merton's writings would come up at times in my reading, and I got curious.
Thomas Merton was the son of artists, born in 1915, with a fascinating, curious past, who became a monk. I read his autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, during my trip to Italy this past spring because I had heard it told of his conversion experience. I was not disappointed. First of all, he is a very literary, imaginative writer, and tells a good story. I couldn't put it down, and was surprised to be intrigued as well by his calling to monasticism.
That isn't to say I agreed with everything he wrote... but that would be boring to only read people you agree with, right?
Currently I am only about sixty pages into this new (new to me, that is) book, because I find myself lingering over the things he writes. I do not feel called to live apart from the world, cloistered and comtemplative; I want to be out in the world, preaching and teaching, learning and struggling with what it means to be part of the church's mission. But the only way I know how to persevere in that often gritty job over time is to keep going deeper and deeper into intimacy with God. Merton describes that pilgrimage in compelling ways. For example:
The monastic life is a search for God and not a mission to accomplish this or that work for souls.
I find myself on that same search. Intimacy with the Lord is not a task to check off of a list. It is relationship and as Merton describes it, a life in the Spirit... in which we are moved not by our own desires, tastes, aptitudes, feelings and nature, but by the will and love of God.
There are many other sentences I could quote, but this one especially humbled me:
To have a truly spiritual life is then to think and love and act not just as Christ would act in a given situation, but as He precisely does act, by His grace, in us, at the moment.
After being immediately reminded of the "What Would Jesus Do?" bracelets and chuckling, I realized, wait a minute, he's right, I do not want to act like Jesus... I want to be Jesus wherever I go -- not in a self-aggrandizing way, naturally -- but be his hands, his feet, his words, his love, to others. With the grace of His Spirit in me, this should be possible. Merton underscores this point by quoting from 1 Corinthians 2:
We have received God’s Spirit (not the world’s spirit), so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us. (verse 12)
Do I live in such confidence? Do I readily share such "wonderful things"?
Finally, this short paragraph hit me hardest -- I'm adding a little of my own running commentary in parentheses or emphasis in bolding:
The monk (and I would say, the follower of Christ) does not in fact, exist to preserve anything, be it even contemplation or religion itself. His (or her) function is not to keep alive in the world the memory of God. God depends on no one to live and act in the world, not even on His monks! On the contrary, the function of the monk in our time is to keep himself alive by contact with God.
It is never I who am helping out God when I serve; it is, and always will be, God's great mercy in allowing us to serve Him, because I know Him more intimately as a result.
I will keep reading and thinking and praying about such things up here, where it is quiet and still blanketed in a light layer of snow. I am grateful for such refreshing times.
(Today's featured photo was taken by my iPhone at Convict Lake. We stopped here to remember our sweet friend Claire, whose ashes were strewn here about a year ago. It was the perfect spot.)