Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Thomas Merton and "The Merton Prayer"

I came across this prayer courtesy of a blog from the American Christian Writer Anne Lamott, author of "Travelling Mercies" and other I believe important books about contemporary Christian life in America.

 As mush as I find this prayer below inspiring, I also must confess not knowing a lot about Father Thomas Merton (1915-1968) apart from his reputation as an intellectual, from reviews of his most famous book "The Seven Storey Mountain" (1948) and documentaries about his life as a monastic--ordained as Father Louis in 1949--and his travels and dialogues with people of other faiths, including Buddhist leaders and thinkers in India and other parts of Asia. It was in Thailand where he died due to an accidental electrocution.

He was born in France, and his father was a New Zealand painter, Owen Merton, and his mother an American member of the pacifist Society of Friends (The Quakers.) She died of cancer when he was six years old.  After Attending boarding schools in France and the United Kingdom, Thomas studied in Clare College at Cambridge University in the early 1930s and after some wild times as an undergraduate he withdrew from the college. At eighteen he had his first spiritual awakenings on a trip to Rome. 

From Wikipedia: 

"Two days after arriving in Rome in February 1933, Merton moved out of his hotel and found a small pensione with views of the Palazzo Barberini and San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, two magnificent pieces of architecture rich with history. In The Seven Storey Mountain, Merton remarks:
I had been in Rome before, on an Easter vacation from school, for about a week. I had seen the Forum and the Colosseum and the Vatican museum and St. Peter's. But I had not really seen Rome. This time, I started out again, with the misconception common to Anglo-Saxons, that the real Rome is the Rome of the ugly ruins, the hills and the slums of the city.[17]
Merton began going to the churches, not quite knowing why he felt so drawn to them. He did not participate in Mass but simply observed and appreciated them. One day, he happened upon a church near the Roman Forum. In the apse of the church, he saw a great mosaic of Jesus Christ coming in judgement in a dark blue sky and was transfixed. Merton had a hard time leaving the place, though he was unsure why. Merton had officially found the Rome he said he didn't see on his first visit: Byzantine Christian Rome.
From this point on in his trip he set about visiting the various churches and basilicas in Rome, such as the Lateran BaptisterySanta Costanza, the Basilica di San Clemente,Santa Prassede and Santa Pudenziana (to name a few). He purchased a Vulgate (Latin Bible), reading the entire New Testament. One night in his pensione, Merton had the sense that {his father} Owen was in the room with him for a few moments. This mystical experience led him to see the emptiness he felt in his life, and he said that for the first time in his life he really prayed, asking God to deliver him from his darkness." 

  He came back to America and finished his university time at Columbia University in New York City in the late 1930's. His spiritual and intellectual interests began in this period as he was exposed to secular professors like Mark Van Doren and from reading the works of St. Augustine and listening and heeding the recommendations of scholars, both Christian and of other faiths. 

He sought a monastic life for much of his adulthood  as a teacher for two decades at the  Geshsemeni Monastery in the state of Kentucky. He also wrote over 70 books and many essays and spoke out against racism in America and the war in Vietnam.

The Prayer: 

"LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. Amen."--Thomas Merton

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