Mount Calvary Monastery
Santa Barbara, CA
With this joyful offering of my whole self last summer so that Jesus could become all that is seen in me, I came to closely identify with these words from Thomas Merton:
"For now, oh my God, it is to you alone that I can talk, because nobody else will understand. I cannot bring any other man on this earth into the cloud where I dwell in your light, that is, your darkness, where I am lost and abashed. I cannot explain to any other man the anguish which is your joy, nor the loss which is the possession of you, nor the distance from all things which is the arrival in you, nor the death which is the birth in you because I do not know anything about it myself, and all I know is that I wish it were over -- I wish it were begun. You have contradicted everything. You have left me in no-man's land."
-- The Seven Storey Mountain, page 459
I so loved (and still do love) these words from Brother Merton, who has become like a spiritual father to me in so many ways. These words resonate with the experience of light and dark, apprehending and distancing, leaving and arriving that this giving over of self has been like for me. There are so many contradictions here, and yet all the contradictions are true. It is strange to talk about, and there really are no sufficient words. Merton does as good a job as I could ever hope for, so I'll let his words do the talking.
It's been interesting to notice the peace that has descended upon me since those two spiritual friends asked me that momentous question about gift in the midst of my inadequacy. Once I realized God was answering the prayer I had enjoined with him over one full year ago, all the fiery anger and indignation and frustration and self-striving that had been my experience over this past year went completely out of me. I accepted the inadequacy. I began to welcome it. I even began giving thanks for it.
It was like my huge, indignant balloon deflated in that one moment. I became willing to learn to be emptied. After more than a year of fighting against myself and against God and against circumstance, I finally gave up the ghost.
Since then, I've noticed an increasing quiet taking up greater habitation inside my soul. This, too, is hard to describe, but it is as though I am present while absent at the same time, especially when engaged in my listening practice. I feel myself fully attuned and alert and present to the other person, but I also feel myself not present, in the sense that it's like I've stepped aside so that God can stand in my place.
It's a strange experience, at least when trying to describe it in words to another, but it actually feels like home. It feels like how my soul was meant to live in the dance of life with God. It's a loud, silent, profound peace that pervades the whole of my insides, and in this place I don't need to say anything. I don't even notice time. I don't need to know where things are going or have any answers. I don't need to feel awkward or worry whether I'm saying and doing the right things.
I simply hold the space. I stay present. And I let God and the other person talk and move toward one another . . . because, after all, that is what a true listening practice is all about.