On The Feast Day of Thomas Merton

“We are living in a world that is absolutely transparent and God is shining through it all the time. God manifests Himself everywhere, in everything – in people and in things and in nature and in events.  The only thing is we don’t see it. I have no program for this seeing.  It is only given. But the gate of heaven is everywhere.” –Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton died 45 years ago today.  Born on January 31, 1915, Merton became a famous 20th century Catholic writer. He was a Trappist monk from the Abbey of Gethsemani, Kentucky, but at the same time he was also a poet, faithful activist, and a student of comparative religion. At General Convention 2009, Merton was added to our Calendar of Saints in the Episcopal Church to be commemorated on December 10.

Among the many lasting themes of Merton’s writing was the call to see God at work in the ordinary arenas of daily life. Merton was concerned that people carry their experience of God out from their communities of faith into their everyday lives. Do we look for God in the ordinary arenas of home and work, economics and politics? Can we imagine that God is using us in our various roles as employee, parent, spouse, friend, citizen, and volunteer, to extend God’s love, blessing, and steadfast care of all creation? Can we, in short, see God at work outside the familiar environment of the Church?

This question is one I’m pondering as I prepare to preach this Sunday on the story of John the Baptist, isolated and disillusioned in Herod’s prison.  He asks a common question of the human heart, “Are you then the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus does not give John a direct answer.  He says in effect, “I cannot answer for you. You have to decide on your own whether I am for real.  Look at the evidence.  What do you see?” (see Matthew 11:2-6).

Advent is a time to “open the eyes of our heart” to discern how each day unfolds against the background of God’s loving design. Where will you see God’s transforming presence manifest today? In what person will you see and hear the wisdom and compassion of Christ?  In what actions of your own will you perceive the inspiration of the Holy Spirit?  I appreciate the honest way Merton ends the quote above: “I have no program for this seeing. It is only given.  But the gate of heaven is everywhere.”

Be hopeful and watchful in Christ.