As I came to a close in the semester (though probably not within my practice of Merton’s prayer book), I definitely did/do not feel like my struggle with prayer is over. But I am not too discouraged, I mean struggle and conflict is if anything, a sign of life. I always tell my YL kids, ‘when you are pissed at God, or are asking questions that fly in the face of right belief, you are being incredibly faithful, incredibly committed.’ I believe that because by investing so much emotional energy into the journey, they are attesting to the difference God can make in the world and in a life.
Another thing I recognized in my time with Merton is that environment is important. The positive feeling I got when doing this, often was connected to where I was. If I was at school or another populated area, it is not normally a great experience. If I am at the abbey in Mt. Angel, much more room change.
“You have called me to be repeatedly born in the Spirit, repeatedly born in light, in knowledge, in unknowing, in faith, in awareness, in gratitude, in poverty, in presence, and in praise.”
Sometimes I am lost, sometimes I feel right at home, but God is in both extremes. Merton seems to make that clear in his writing and prayers. I guess I will see if it ever levels out.
“Grant us to seek peace where it is truly found! In your will, O God, is our peace!” As time went on with Merton and my prayer life, peace became a subject I knew/know I have to deal with more. I do not think peace is something defined objectively in the sky and then I have to figure out if I can attain the standard. I think it is something that is particular to me, and my relationship to the world and to God. That said as I pray it is not always that peaceful. I enjoy being quiet but not because I rest in silence, because the voices in my head tend to be more compelling (and at times depressing) than the voices in an evangelical prayer circle. My mind is not often silent, if it is I am somewhere extraordinary. But it does not happen often.
“Christian holiness can no longer be considered a matter purely of individual and isolated acts of virtue. It must also be seen as part of a great collaborative effort for spiritual and cultural renewal in society, to produce conditions in which all can work and enjoy the just fruits of their labor in peace.” This one was compelling. I reflected on this and wrote, “So what society am I collaborating with? Is it the universal ‘church’? It can’t be because if it is, then really all that means is, I still do individual acts of virtue, with the security of knowing that in doing so, I am united with others, somewhere, somehow, I am pretty sure. That can’t be right because that is what has many of us in this mess in the first place. So what society am I collaborating with? Maybe Silverton? Family? SUMC? The people in my head (If so then there isn’t much I have to change)?”
After the first few weeks (and honestly for the rest of the semester) I stayed fairly consistent to the practice, but still missed or found myself unmotivated from time to time. I realized how I felt less motivated when I was frustrated, something Jesus speaks to specifically. I also found myself reflecting a lot on the question: is prayer for me encouraging because I am relating to God, or because I am learning? I truly enjoy learning and thinking, and a lot of times I experience a time of prayer that seemed encouraging, I look back and find that it was the exact same feeling I get when I am totally challenged by a particular author or idea. I did not ask this questions because I felt like it was a dualism, either it is learning (intellectual experience), or relating to God (personal experience). But on the other hand it seemed like an important thing to break down. I still struggle with this dilemma.
The first few weeks of my prayer practice with Thomas Merton was rocky for a couple reasons. First off, I had been struggling with what prayer was for exactly, and my ability to understand it seemed to be slipping away. Secondly, this feeling had been taking away some of my motivation for prayer, which made a spiritual practice that was built around prayer, a hard thing to stay committed to. What eventually got me in a routine, was the way Merton writes. I love to read, and do so on a much more consistent basis than I pray. Because of this, Thomas Merton’s Book of Hours allowed me to see the wisdom and language behind a prayer practice I could follow. It began to stimulate me intellectually as well as it calmed my soul (some of the time) spiritually. My journal has lots of ‘what am I praying for’ comments, as well as some cynical tangents where I allowed my mind to give in to rabbit trails.
In the first week I wrote down the Examen section from Wednesday during the day, I remember it stuck with me. It says, “One of our great problems is to see clearly what we have to resist. I would say that at the moment we have to understand better than we do the war mentality. IF we do not understand it, we will run the risk of contributing to its confusion is and thereby helping the enemies of man and of peace. The great danger is that under the pressures of anxiety and fear, the alternation of crisis and relaxation and new crisis, the people of the world will come to accept gradually the idea of war, the idea of submission to total power, and the abdication of reason, spirit and individual conscience. The great peril is the deadening of conscience.”
For my ‘A’ contract I need to turn in my faith practice journal.
The syllabus said to do so via the blog. Since I did my journaling in a notebook (a particular notebook that helps me find release), I will work over the next few days to turn those notes into a presentation on my blog. Below is an idea of the bizarre methods (blurred at the moment) of journaling I have done while practicing the Thomas Merton Book of Hours, as well as the journal I use.