RECAP OF PREVIOUS MEETING
On November 11, 2020, Merton’s book The Silent Life became the springboard for lively discussions about the history of monastic life, Merton’s own vocation, and what we can glean from Merton’s insights to apply to our own lives.
Topics discussed included obedience, poverty, love (usually referred to as “charity” in Merton’s book), Centering Prayer, the late Fr. Thomas Keating, The 10 Oxherding Pictures, silence, solitude, trust, life, death, dying…
And almost everything in between.
And all because Thomas Merton’s book opened up topics to discuss that seemed endless, one leading to another, and ranging from very personal to broad in their application.
By the way, The 10 Oxherding (or Bull) Pictures are a series of images that depict the life of someone on a spiritual journey – in this case, Zen. They start with someone seeking the Ox (enlightenment). The journey ends where it started – only this time the person stands in the marketplace with open arms and helping hands, ready to assist others.
“How may I help you?” is the question we are compelled to ask once we have gained what we sought on our journey.
We got on this topic when someone (Jim? Jack?) commented that it would have been interesting to know what Merton would have become had he not died in Bangkok on December 10, 1968. He seemed to have gone full circle from being out in the world, to becoming a monk, to becoming a hermit, to returning to the world.
That brought to mind The 10 Oxherding Pictures, the story of which can be read here:
Jim Lozer said that since he began practicing Centering Prayer in 2005, he has come to see others as messengers. Karen, a fellow practitioner of Centering Prayer, concurred. Jeff who leads a Centering Prayer group (until COVID-19 put the kibosh on it) at St. Sebastian Catholic Church, agrees that Centering Prayer is a profound way to make oneself open to God, in effect saying, “Here I am. Use me.” He said that Centering Prayer is like “hanging out with God” and that “over time, you noticed that something is happening to you.”
Obedience was a hot-button topic for many of us, with Jim suggesting that obedience was difficult for him, as was poverty. (Both traits we assumed were requisite for the monastic life, but Jeff said poverty was not one of the vows for Trappists at Gethsemani.)
Joan shared that she has “grown in my trust with God in unexpected ways,” finding “blessings and beauty” in sad circumstances of deaths of people close to her, including her husband. (Thank you, Joan, for sharing that with us. It touched us deeply.)
Jack said that obedience does not “get rid of our personal responsibility.” He cited Nazi war criminals who testified that they did what they did because they were ordered to.
Jeff shared an incident at Gethsemani that happened around the turn of the last century when an abbot was clearly out of his element and had to be replaced. It was not possible to be obedient to the abbot.
Jack shared Romans 8:28, which the NIV translates as follows:
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
We’re all familiar with that verse. However, Jack pointed out that others – for example (as I learned this morning) the Scottish theologian William Barclay – translates Romans 8:28 this way:
“God intermingles all things for good for those who love Him.”
Understanding that God “intermingles” good and bad in our lives helps us trust him and understand our world a little better. We can embrace all of life more readily when we know good and bad are part and parcel of it.
Dr. Reimel said, “God gets us out of nothing and through everything.”
Brett said that he’d always wanted to have a deeper relationship with his mom and that the Merton group, as well as Merton’s book Contemplative Prayer and Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross, helped give him some tools with which to build bridges with his mom. (Thank you, Brett, for sharing that. If we can be of service to you in any other way, please let us know.)
Jeff commented that Michael Casey’s book Strangers to the City: Reflections on the Beliefs and Values of the Rule of Saint Benedict helped him understand humility and trust in a profound way. (The Rule of Saint Benedict is the foundational guide for many – most? – monastics in the world today, including Merton’s monastery the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani, a Trappist order.)
It was so nice to see everyone: Jeff, Jo, Beth R., Joan, Karen, Jim L., Bob P. and Brett. (Bill sees Beth and their cat Larry – who made an appearance last night by walking across the desk top – all the time. It’s always nice to see them. But Bill thinks he could do without seeing Larry’s hind end in his face when he’s trying to talk to people on Zoom.)
Our next book is the compelling Zen and the Birds of Appetite, which sheds a spotlight on Merton’s interest in Zen and why he felt pulled to journey to the East. Merton author/scholar Bob Hudson remarked “Whoa! Good choice.” when I announced this book.
For January, we’ll discuss the following chapters in Zen and the Birds of Appetite:
The Study of Zen
A Christian Looks At Zen
Total: 58 pages. Totally do-able in two months.
If you need a copy, please contact Baker Book House directly to order.
Monday—Friday: 9 am – 9 pm
Saturday: 10 am – 6 pm
2768 East Paris Ave SE
Grand Rapids, MI 49546
Speaking of Baker Book House, please continue to share the love there. They have wonderful items, especially for the holidays. We purchased some Advent candles and devotional books at Baker yesterday. (Thank you to Jeff for the encouragement to celebrate Advent in earnest this year.)
We hope everyone has a blessed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. We’ll see you on Wednesday, January 13th. Where? We don’t know yet. Probably on Zoom. But we’ll wait to hear from Baker Book House.
By the way, we don’t meet in December because of all the hustle and bustle. We decided when we first started this group nearly five years ago that we’d never compete with people’s time and attention during one of the busiest times of the year. Hence, we don’t meet in December.