Merton’s Prayers: January 16, 1941

More than a year has passed since Merton included a prayer in his journal. But I must emphasize that the intervening months contain ample evidence of his prayerful life, largely shaped by Roman Catholic liturgy and the liturgical calendar. Merton is praying and writing about prayer during this time. And I would go on to add my sense that Merton’s journal keeping was a form of prayer for him—what we sometimes call “praying your life.”

But then….on January 16th, Merton’s journal explodes with prayers and related reflections, based on his reading of Saint Anselm’s ‘Proslogion,’ a consideration of God’s attributes written in a prayerful style. He does not say what prompted the reading, he only shares the fruit of it. This is a rich day of prayer for Merton. It will take a number of posts to harvest that fruit. Here is the first entry—one that shows the meditative flow from thinking into praying,

“Now, little man, turn away a little from your cares, hide a bit from your anxious thoughts. Lay down your burdensome concerns, and put aside your worries. Give a little time to God, and rest a short time in him. Enter into the cell of your mind, exclude everything but God, and that which helps you to seek him, and, with your door closed, seek him. Say now, sincerely, to God: I seek your face, your face I seek, O Lord. (Psalms 26.8) Now, I ask you, Lord, my God, teach my heart where and how it might seek you, where and how it might find you. Lord, if you are not here, but absent, then where shall I seek you? If you really are everywhere, then why don’t I see you here? But surely you live in inaccessible light.“ [1]

In this reflection-prayer, we see how prayer brings the singular devotion we need as we seek to find and follow God’s will. Prayer is the means of grace by which we enact Jesus’ invitation to “ask (inquire), seek (explore), and knock (enter into) with respect to our lives. In this prayer, we learn that our questions are often the means to reveal God’s will for us. Questions asked in prayer are not dead-end streets, they are doorways to discovery. This kind of praying does not always provide “an answer,” but it does sustain our relationship with God and keeps the conversation going.

[1] Thomas Merton, ‘Run to the Mountain: The Story of Vocation’ (HarperCollins, 1995). By referencing the date, you can find the prayer in any version of the journal you have.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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