Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled (Matthew 5:6).
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
— Thomas Merton[i]
One New Year’s Eve, during the first holiday season after separating from my wife of a quarter century, I made the mistake of taking my first silent retreat at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia. I could not blame the monastery, and Lord knows I usually found solitude and silence very healing. But somehow in that place and in that season with other silent people the gulf between us felt as wide as the Pacific. I desperately needed someone to make eye contact, but nobody came there for that. In theory, I knew God held us in a wide embrace as we sought God in our hearts, but my pain was too raw to rest in that knowledge.
After the last night in which I stubbornly refused to heed the 4:00 a.m. bell for vigils, I wandered aimlessly around the place, reduced to tourism. On a wall thick with sacred art, I found the Merton Prayer in cross-stitch. I read it for the first time. It said everything my mute heart could not. I opened my notebook and started to copy it.
Just then I heard a laugh, and I turned and saw a beautiful olive woman with long black hair walk into the hall as she bid a monk adieu. She caught my eye and said, “That prayer changed my life!” I said, “It’s changing mine right now!” She laughed and said, “You don’t have to copy it. They give it away on bookmarks in the monastery store.” She walked on.
I keep it in my Bible. I keep it in my heart. I pray it when I don’t know what to pray, and it always hits the mark. It connects me to God because it spills my hungering and thirsting for God’s love, strangely filling me. It occasioned my only eye contact in a sacred, lonely place.
[i] Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude. (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1956, 1958), p.79.
Shining Like the Sun With Thomas Merton on Fourth and Walnut, Louisville
Black Friday Pilgrimage to Thomas Merton’s Grave
Filled Through Longing and Loving
Photograph by John Howard Griffin. Used with permission of the Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University.