Happy Birthday, Thomas Merton

Today is the 101st birthday of Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk and author of more than 70 books and 2,000 poems. Merton also kept a personal diary that spanned much of his lifetime, and seven of his journals were published posthumously. My spiritual director introduced me to Merton. Many Americans were introduced to Merton as one of the four Americans Pope Francis mentioned last fall in his speech to Congress, calling him “a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions.”  In addition to being a prolific writer, Thomas Merton was both social activist and peace activist. During his last years, he became deeply interested in Asian religions, especially Zen Buddhism. The Dali Lama praised him in 1968 for having a more profound knowledge of Buddhism than any other Christian he had known. Later in 1968, Merton died of accidental electrocution in Bangkok where he was attending a conference on East-West monastic dialogue. Published in 1962, Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation is packed not only with insights about living contemplatively but also about living as God intended us to be. “Our vocation is not simply to be, but to work together with God in the creation of our own life, our own identity, our own destiny.” Imagine that—we co-create our lives with God! Then there’s Merton’s observation about living authentically: “Many poets are not poets for the same reason that many religious men are not saints: they never succeed in being themselves. They never get around to being the particular poet or the particular monk they are intended to be by God. They never become the person or the artist...

Honoring Care of Creation Day

Pope Francis has designated September 1 as a World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, following the release of his encyclical this summer, Laudato Si (Praise Be to You). In this document, the Pope urges all of us to take urgent action to care for and save God’s creation. This prayer is from a Christian Prayer in Union with Creation: “Father, we praise you with all your creatures. They came forth from your all-powerful hand; they are yours, filled with your presence and your tender love. Praise be to you!” In honor of this day and the gift of our beautiful Earth, here’s a poem I wrote this summer while walking by a nearby lake, in awe of what has come forth from His all-powerful hand. Now Here Who can fathom the flight path of the blue dragonfly and its silver wings glistening in the sun? Who can see the beeping quail calling to one another in the oleanders? Who can find the living thing rustling in the leaves of the bush? Who can decode the sad who-whooing of the mourning dove’s song? Who can appreciate the softness inside a purple flower as the hummingbird sucks its supper? Who can feel the wind rattling the cottonwood’s leaves and whooshing the pine’s needles? Who can predict the path of the falling yellow leaf in its dizzy dance to earth? Who can catch the leaping fish rippling the water’s surface? Who can wait silently and still like the great blue heron paused in the lake? Who can taste this one-of-a-kind, never-come-again day? Me. I can. I am Now Here.  ...

Signs and Wonders Are Everywhere

Spiritual direction can help you see what’s right in front of you. I wrote this poem-prayer after a walk through my neighborhood. You don’t have to walk far to see Divine signs. Signs and Wonders O God, we ask for signs And you give us trees ablaze with yellow blossoms. We ask to hear your voice And you give us the song of one small bird joyously proclaiming a new day. We ask to feel your love, to know it in our bones And you give us treasured friends with kind, encouraging voices. And we ask—no, we beg you—for everything we think we need And you give us a thousand ways to die through big and little suffering.   O Father, help us to wake up from our sleepy living and see you in every blessing you put before us each day, Open our plugged ears to hear your quiet whispers in the silence and in the sounds that surround us. Guide us to see your love in everyone we meet and in every burden you ask us to carry, Until we see your shining face and the radiant face of your Son when finally, joyfully, you welcome us home....