One of the books I will be reading and meditating upon during my sabbatical is Thomas Merton’s Thoughts In Solitude.
A well-known passage from this book has been called, “The Merton Prayer” (see below). This prayer acknowledges that, despite our human tendency to think we know what life is about and how we can manage it, we really have no clue. As the Jews say, “Man plans; God laughs.”
“The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.” (Prov 16:9)
In the chapter following this prayer, Merton writes, “In our age everything has to be a ‘problem.’ Ours is a time of anxiety because we have willed it to be so. Our anxiety is not imposed on us by force from outside. We impose it on our world and upon one another from within ourselves.
“…Contradictions have always existed in the soul of man. But it is only when we prefer analysis to silence that they become a constant and insoluble problem. We are not meant to resolve all contradictions but to live with them and rise above them and see them in the light of exterior and objective values which make them trivial by comparison.”
Merton suggests that it is learning to live in “silence” that enables us to live at peace with the contradictions that lie within us. The contradictions remain, but they cease to be a problem for us.
The prayer that precedes this counsel expresses the peace that comes from knowing and trusting in God’s presence in a life with so many unknowns and irresolvable conflicts.
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 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, “Thoughts in Solitude”
© Abbey of Gethsemani