Thomas Merton, 1949


God never does things by halves. He does not sanctify us patch upon patch. He does not make us priests or make us saints by superimposing an extraordinary existence upon our ordinary lives. He takes our whole life and our whole being and elevates it to a supernatural level, transforms it completely from within, and leaves it exteriorly what it is: ordinary.

So the grace of my priesthood, the greatest of my life, was to me something far greater than a momentary flight above the monotonous lowlands of everyday existence. It permanently transformed my ordinary, everyday life. It was a transfiguration of all simple and usual things, an elevation of the plainest and most natural acts to the level of the sublime. It showed me that the charity of God was sufficient to transform earth into heaven. For God is Charity, and Charity is Heaven. 


                 December 22

Yesterday, the Feast of Saint Thomas, was, as I think, an important day. It was warm and overclouded and windy but tranquil. I had a kind of sense that the day was building up to some kind of deep decision. A wordless decision, a giving of the depths and substance of myself. There is a conversion of the deep will to God that cannot be effected in words – barely in a gesture or ceremony. There is a conversion of the deep will and a gift of my substance that is too mysterious for liturgy, and too private. It is something to be done in a lucid secrecy that implies first of all the denial of communication to others except perhaps as a neutral thing.

I shall remember the time and place of this liberty and this neutrality which cannot be written down. These clouds low on the horizon, the outcrops of hard yellow rock in the road, the open gate, the perspective of fence-posts leading up the rise to the sky, and the big cedars tumbled and tousled by the wind. Standing on rock. Present. The reality of the present and of solitude divorced from past and future. To be collected and gathered up in clarity and silence and to belong to God and to nobody else’s business. I wish I could recover the liberty of that interior decision which was very simple and which seems to me to have been a kind of blank check and a promise.

To belong to God I have to belong to myself. I have to be alone – at least interiorly alone. This means the constant renewal of a decision. I cannot belong to people. None of me belongs to anybody by God. Absolute loneliness of the imagination, the memory, the will. My love for everybody is equal, neutral and clean. No exclusiveness. Simple and free as the sky because I love everybody and am possessed by nobody, not held, not bound. In order to be not remembered or even wanted I have to be a person that nobody knows. They can have Thomas Merton. He’s dead. Father Louis – he’s half dead too. For my part my name is that sky, those fence-posts, and those cedar trees. I shall not even reflect on who I am and I shall not say my identity is nobody’s business because that implies a truculence I don’t intend. It has no meaning.

Now my whole life is this – to keep unencumbered. The wind owns the fields where I walk and I own nothing and am owned by nothing and I shall never even be forgotten because no one will ever discover me. This is to me a source of immense confidence. My Mass this morning was transfigured by this independence.

They are pulling down the horsebarn. The Traxcavator was tethered to it, in the rain, after dinner. The barn was already half in ruins. And house upon house shall fall. The roof was down in a hoisted heap spreading its red old wings clumsily over the wreckage of the stables. The other half of the barn was tied to the monster and ready to fall. The stone pillars were already crooked and awry. When I was at work I could hear the engine roar but did not hear the fall of the old building.

I seek no face, I treasure no experience, no memory. Anything I write down here is only for personal guidance because of my constant gravitation away from solitude. It will remind me how to go home. Not to be like the man who looked in the glass and straightway forgot what manner of man he was: yet I shall not remember myself in such a way that I remember the person I am not.

As I re-discover solitude, prayer in choir becomes difficult again. But the other day – Tuesday at the Night Office – Psalm 54 had tremendous meaning for me. I felt as if I were chanting something I myself had written. It is more my own than any of my own poems:

Cor meum conturbatum est in me, et formido mortis cedidit super me.
Timor et tremor venerunt super me, et contexerunt me tenebrae:
Et dixi: quis dabit mihi pennas sicut columbae et volabo, et requiescam?
Ecce, elongavi fugiens, et mansi in solitudine.
Expectabo eum, qui alvum me fecit a pusillanimitate spiritus, et tempestate.

My heart is troubled within me: and the fear of death is fallen upon me.
Fear and trembling are come upon me: and darkness hath covered me.
And I said: who will give me wings like a dove, and I will fly and be at rest?
Lo, I have gone far off, flying away; and I abode in the wilderness.
I waited for Him that hath saved me from pusillanimity of spirit and a storm.

It is fear that is driving me into solitude. Love has put drops of terror in my veins and they grow cold in me, suddenly, and make me faint with fear because my heart and my imagination wander away from God into their private idolatry. It is my iniquity that makes me physically faint and turn to jelly because of the contradiction between my nature and my God. I am exhausted by fear. So that yesterday, for example, I thought I would fall with the ciborium, distributing Communion to the brothers. But last night in the middle of the night I was awake for an hour and a half and the last line I quoted there was verified. All five lines are truer of my life than anything I have ever written, and this gives me great confidence in the liturgy. This is the secret of the psalms. Our identity is hidden in them. In them we find ourselves, and God. In these fragments he has revealed not only Himself to us but ourselves in Him. Mittit crystallum suum sicut buccellas. 


Psalm 55 (KJV)

To the chief Musician
on Neginoth, Maschil,
A Psalm of David.

1 Give ear to my prayer,
O God; and hide not thyself
from my supplication.
2 Attend unto me, and hear
me: I mourn in my complaint,
and make a noise;
3 Because of the voice of the
enemy, because of the oppression
of the wicked: for they cast
iniquity upon me, and in wrath
they hate me.
4 My heart is sore pained
within me: and the terrors of
death are fallen upon me.
5 Fearfulness and trembling
are come upon me, and horror
hath overwhelmed me.
6 And I said, Oh that I had
wings like a dove! for then
would I fly away, and be at rest.
7 Lo, then would I wander far
off, and remain in the wilderness.
8 I would hasten my escape
from the windy storm and tempest.
9 Destroy, O Lord, and divide
their tongues: for I have seen
violence and strife in the city.
10 Day and night they go about
it upon the walls thereof: mischief
also and sorrow are in the
midst of it.
11 Wickedness is in the midst
thereof: deceit and guile depart
not from her streets.
12 For it was not an enemy that
reproached me; then I could
have borne it: neither was it
he that hated me that did magnify
himself against me; then
I would have hid myself from
13 But it was thou, a man mine
equal, my guide, and mine
14 We took sweet counsel
together, and walked unto the
house of God in company.
15 Let death seize upon them,
and let them go down quick into
hell: for wickedness is in their
dwellings, and among them.
16 As for me, I will call upon
God; and the Lord shall save me.
17 Evening, and morning, and at
noon, will I pray, and cry aloud:
and he shall hear my voice.
18 He hath delivered my soul
in peace from the battle that
was against me: for there were
many with me.
19 God shall hear, and afflict
them, even he that abideth of
old. Selah. Because they have
no changes, therefore they fear
not God.
20 He hath put forth his hands
against such as be at peace with
him: he hath broken his covenant.
21 The words of his mouth
were smoother than butter, but
war was in his heart: his words
were softer than oil, yet were
they drawn swords.
22 Cast thy burdens upon the
Lord, and he shall sustain thee:
he shall never suffer the righteous
to be moved.
23 But thou, O God, shalt bring
them down into the put of
destruction: bloody and deceitful
men shall not live out half their
days; but I will trust in thee.


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