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  • Writer's pictureDavid Carlson

Day 253: Nov 24, 2020: A long loving look at the Real

“Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody's business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy.”

― Thomas Merton

Joy and Sadness: A Lesson from Merton's Hermitage

By Franciscan Richard Rohr

In 1985 my Franciscan “guardians” (as Francis called our superiors) gave me a year’s leave to spend in contemplation. It was a major turning point in my life, and ultimately led to the formation of the Center for Action and Contemplation.

The first thirty days of my “sabbatical” were spent in the hills of Kentucky, in Thomas Merton’s (1915–1968) hermitage about a mile away from the main monastery. I was absolutely alone with myself, with the springtime woods, and with God, hoping to somehow absorb some of Merton’s wisdom. That first morning, it took me a while to slow down. I must have looked at my watch at least ten times before 7:00 AM! I had spent so many years standing in front of crowds as a priest and a teacher. I had to find out who I was without those trappings—the naked me alone before God.

In the mornings I would put my chair in front of the door and watch the sun come up. In the late afternoons, I would move my chair to the other side of the hermitage and watch the sun go down. The little squirrels and birds came closer and closer. They’re not afraid when we’re absolutely still.

Father William McNamara’s definition of contemplation as “a long loving look at the real” became transformative for me. The world, my own issues and hurts, all my goals and desires gradually dissolved and fell into proper perspective. God became obvious and ever present. I understood what Merton meant when he said, “The gate of heaven is everywhere.”

I tried to keep a journal of what was happening to me.

Back then, I found it particularly hard to cry. But one evening I laid my finger on my cheek and found to my surprise that it was wet. I wondered what those tears meant. What was I crying for? I wasn’t consciously sad or consciously happy. I noticed at that moment that behind it all there was a joy, deeper than any private joy. It was a joy in the face of the beauty of being, a joy at all the wonderful and lovable people I had already met in my life.

Cosmic or spiritual joy is something we participate in; it comes from elsewhere and flows through us. It has little or nothing to do with things going well in our own life at that moment. I remember thinking that this must be why the saints could rejoice in the midst of suffering.

At the same moment, I experienced exactly the opposite emotion.

The tears were at the same time tears of an immense sadness—a sadness at what we’re doing to the earth, sadness about the people whom I had hurt in my life, and a sadness too at my own mixed motives and selfishness. I hadn’t known that two such contrary feelings could coexist. I was truly experiencing the nondual mind of contemplation.

Prayer for Our Community:

O Great Love, thank you for living and loving in us and through us. May all that we do flow from our deep connection with you and all beings. Help us become a community that vulnerably shares each other’s burdens and the weight of glory. Listen to our hearts’ longings for the healing of our world. [Please add your own intentions.] . . .

Knowing you are hearing us better than we are speaking, we offer these prayers in all the holy names of God, amen.

“Finally I am coming to the conclusion that my highest ambition is to be what I already am. That I will never fulfill my obligation to surpass myself unless I first accept myself, and if I accept myself fully in the right way, I will already have surpassed myself.”

Thomas Merton


Advice to a Young Prophet


Keep away, son, these lakes are salt. These flowers

Eat insects. Here private lunatics

Yell and skip in a very dry country.

Or where some haywire monument

Some badfaced daddy of fear

Commands an unintelligent rite.

To dance on the unlucky mountain,

To dance they go, and shake the sin

Out of their feet and hands,

Frenzied until the sudden night

Falls very quiet, and magic sin

Creeps, secret, back again.

Badlands echo with omens of ruin:

Seven are very satisfied, regaining possession:

(Bring a little mescaline, you’ll get along!)

There’s something in your bones,

There’s someone dirty in your critical skin,

There’s a tradition in your cruel misdirected finger

Which you must obey, and scribble in the hot sand:

“Let everybody come and attend

Where lights and airs are fixed

To teach and entertain. O watch the sandy people

Hopping in the naked bull’s-eye,

Shake the wildness out of their limbs,

Try to make peace like John in skins

Elijah in the timid air

or Anthony in tombs:

Pluck the imaginary trigger, brothers.

Shoot the devil: he’ll be back again!”

America needs these fatal friends

Of God and country, to grovel in mystical ashes,

Pretty big prophets whose words don’t burn,

Fighting the strenuous imago all day long.

Only these lunatics, (O happy chance)

Only these are sent. Only this anaemic thunder

Grumbles on the salt flats, in rainless night:

O go home, brother, go home!

The devil’s back again,

And magic Hell is swallowing flies.


Taizé - Laudate Omnes Gentes

McCoy Tyner - Contemplation

My Favorite Things

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