Thursday, June 29, 2006

Thomas Merton Retreat


Day before yesterday, I was with the people who are with us on retreat. We gathered in the upper room of the retreat house. It was late afternoon and we had all left what we were doing to be with each other to share some words on Thomas Merton.

The lights were out but the room was not dark. Victor Kramer, a professor of religious studies who is a Merton scholar, asked us if we wanted the lights turned on and we said no, that it was good. We were able to see quite well. The darkened room perhaps gave a welcome allusion that it was not really close to one hundred degrees outside.

I sat near Victor as he spoke about Merton. He spoke warmly about Merton’s writings and the relevance of his works to this day.

From where I sat I could see the faces of everyone. A window was letting in a generous amount of light. I looked at the window and saw the branches of a tree, with blossoms on it, swaying gently in the soft breeze of a late June afternoon. The light was soft. Those sitting nearest the window were bathed in that light and they looked especially beautiful. They were bright and I thought of angels as I looked at them and wished I could have taken a picture, to capture that image, to keep it.

We listened to Victor’s finely crafted words. I listened and watched the light shine and the breeze blowing and the people, their smiles and eyes, and wondered about their hopes for the weekend. I suppose that one sure hope is that they come away from us with a better appreciation of Thomas Merton and our life here.

The Gospel that morning told a story of terror, fear, power and awe. Jesus speaks to the winds and calms the seas. He rebukes the disciples for having little faith. They are awed by who he is and what he does, how his words are possessed of great power.
And so it is that this Gospel might inspire one to ponder the power that is God and to seek a way to bring it back – it is common to pray to God to alter the weather, to still the seas, to detour the wind.

We look for great things from God. We turn to him to show us his power, to calm the winds and seas of our lives.

Yet the seas heave and the winds come.

Jesus would tell of God’s power as manifested in the small, the hidden, the obscure, the every-day, the seemingly mundane. And people would ponder the meaning of small things, trying to learn the meaning of a seed bearing power, of common bread and wine as divine food, of a flower revealing splendor and glory.

And we gathered in a room with light and each other, and a gentle breeze and the hope that we understand something of God, the God who comes in light and darkness, in the wind and in the smiles and eyes and hopes of people.

It can take years to appreciate the splendor of any single day. The awesome gift that is any late June afternoon, when people gather to better know Who it is who is in them, seeking the light that shines everywhere, wanting to hold the winds that caress each branch. We try and capture it with a camera or our words as if to hold still what we are – while God’s love and power take it back, only to give us more.

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