The Sign of Jonas is the published Journal of Thomas Merton. It begins in the year 1947, Merton’s 5th year as a monk in the Trappist Monastery, The Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani in Kentucky. It’s enjoyable to read; Merton is intelligent and sensible, often just writing in a matter-of-fact way about what happened on a given day, sometimes with spiritual reflection or description of the weather. I find it is somehow comforting and calming, I’ve been reading the book at night before bed but I find myself thinking about it many times during the day…
…below I’ve just typed up a few entries from the first section of the book, I’m still reading it but moving slowly…
Nativitas est hodie sanctae Mariae Virginis (Today is the nativity of Saint Mary the Virgin). We have just come from first Vespers of Our Lady’s birthday. I am full of those happy antiphons, and glad because of the feast and because of what it means, for through her we come to heaven. Coeli fenestra facta es (Thou art become the window of heaven). I am glad that in our Order we still enter heaven through the window. I believe that line of the hymn was reformed in the roman liturgy so that the rest of the Church goes in more decorously through the door. But we Cistercians still get in by the window.
The brothers came out for Benediction with new torches sheltered in red glass. They looked as if they were carrying burning hearts upon the ends of poles. I do not say it was beautiful, but it was at least curious.
Between me and the shadow that is under the cedars, gnats dance in the sun. It is cooler. It is definitely September now. This afternoon I was content looking at the low green rampart of woods that divides us from the rest of the universe and listening to the deep silence: content not for the sake of the scene or the silence but because of God. And now I hear a car in the distance, a solitary car coming down the road. The sound of action reminds me that I must soon wash my neck and go and read Monsignor Sheen to the retreatants at their supper.
That is how everything stands, Mother of God, after the first Vespers of your Nativity in the year 1947. Dona nobis pacem (Give us peace). Keep us in your heart until next year and the year after and until we all die in peace, disposed in the four corners of America in new foundations, and myself perhaps you know where, alone with you and with God. His will is my cell. His love is my solitude. Dona nobis pacem.
November 11 FEAST OF SAINT MARTIN
To discover the Trinity is to discover a deeper solitude. The love of the Three Divine Persons holds your heart in its strength and builds about you a wall of quiet that the noise of exterior things can only penetrate with difficulty. You no longer have to strive to resist the world or escape it: material things affect you little. And thus you use and possess them as you should, for you dominate them, in making them serve the ends of prayer and charity, instead of letting them dominate you with the tyranny of your own selfishness and cupidity.
We tend to think of “the martyrs” as men of a different stamp from ourselves, men of another age, bred in another atmosphere, men somehow stronger and greater than we. But it turns out that we too are expected to face the same sufferings and confess Christ and die for Him. We who are not heroes are the ones God is choosing to share the lot of His great warriors. And one look into our own souls tells us that there is nothing that invites the combats of the mighty saints. There is nothing magnificent about us. We are miserable things and if we are called upon to die we shall die miserably. There is nothing of grandeur about us. We are null. And perhaps we are already marked for sacrifice – a sacrifice that will be, in the eyes of the world, perhaps only drab and sorry and mean. And yet it will end by being our greatest glory after all. Perhaps there is no greater glory than to be reduced to insignificance by an unjust and stupid temporal power, in order that God may triumph over evil through our insignificance.
On my way up to see Dom Benoit, I ran into the young Swiss Abbot, Dom Marie Joseph, in a corridor of the guest house. I had a package of holy pictures in my hand – a few of those pious pictures that some people seem to love so much. Dom Marie Joseph immediately began telling me how terrible these pictures were and I was so surprised and delighted that I nearly fell over backward. He said he had removed thirty bas statues out of monasteries that come under his jurisdiction. By now I was convinced that I must have a long conversation with him and made arrangements to do so. He said our whole Rule is the service of Christ the King: Christo vero Regi militaturus. Every month, for us, belongs to Our Lady.