A 40 Year "Retrospective Journey"

“Be good, keep your feet dry,
your eyes open, your heart at peace
and your soul in the joy of Christ.”
Thomas Merton

December 1, 2008


December 1, 1968
"He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." Prophet Isaiah

"Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming." Matthew 24:42


Advent in Kandy

"It is hardly like any December or Advent I have ever known! A clear, hot sky. Flowering trees. A hot day coming. I woke at the sound of many crows fighting in the air. Then the booming drum at the Temple of Buddha's Tooth. Now, the traffic of buses and a cool breeze sways the curtains. The jungle is very near, it comes right to the top of the city and is visible a bare hundred yards from this window. Yet I am on a very noisy corner as far as traffic is concerned." AJTM p.219

Merton spends the first Sunday of Advent with Bishop Nanayakkara. They visit a local monastery, a seminary, and an Anglican ashram. He has some quiet time in the afternoon - "...I walked a little by the lake in the cool breeze, thinking of my Advent sermon to be preached in the cathedral where I said the most crowded evening Mass." AJTM p.220

Advent Prophets
Advent is, of course, a wonderful time of the year to remember the prophets. Merton would be familiar with the cycle of Advent readings, including the two above, which likely would have been the readings for the First Sunday in Advent in Kandy in 1968. Thomas Merton lived and wrote in the tradition of the Prophets.

Franciscan priest and teacher Richard Rohr describes the prophet not so much as "one who sees into the future", but rather as "one who sees clearly in the present". It's less about "foresight" and more about "insight". The prophet is one who stands in the midst of the community, tells it like it is, and says WAKE UP! Merton was such a prophet.

Fiery Words
Merton's passion for the prophets is reflected in a short piece he wrote about a "typical day" in the Gethsemani hermitage. In "Day of a Stranger" Merton writes..."There is the deep vegetation of that more ancient forest than mine: the deep forest in which the great birds Isaias and Jeremias sing. When I am most sickened by the things that are done by the country that surrounds this place I will take out the prophets and sing them in loud Latin across the hills and send their fiery words sailing south over the mountains to the place where they split the atom for the bombs in Tennessee." WTSN p. 170

Advent with Thomas Merton
Thomas Merton will be my companion through Advent thanks to a little book published by the Redemptorists "Advent and Christmas with Thomas Merton." A sample...

"Many of the Zen stories which are almost always incomprehensible in rational terms are simply the ringing of an alarm clock, and the reaction of the sleeper. Usually, the misguided sleeper makes a response which in effect turns off the alarm so that he can go back to sleep. Sometimes he jumps out of bed with a shout of astonishment that it is so late. Sometimes he just sleeps and does not hear the alarm at all..." Thomas Merton - Zen and the Birds of Appetite

Good night... Rob

"To see clearly is poetry, prophecy and religion—all in one."
John Ruskin

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