Learning from a master
Most of the days of my silent retreat, I moved between two books by Thomas Merton that speak to the life of silence and contemplation. While the books, as a whole, said many helpful things that made me think, a couple quotes in particular made me put the books down and let them work on my insides to change me.
The first quote to have this effect on me is here:
To be one with One Whom one cannot see is to be hidden, to be nowhere, to be no one: it is to be unknown as He is unknown, forgotten as He is forgotten, lost as He is lost to the world which nevertheless exists in Him. Yet to live in Him is to live by His power, to reach from end to end of the universe in the might of His wisdom, to rule and form all things in and with Him. It is to be the hidden instrument of His Divine action, the minister of His redemption, the channel of His mercy, and the messenger of His infinite Love.
-- The Silent Life, p. 3
Hmmm. Sounds a bit like learning to be hidden, doesn't it? That's how it struck me, and it brought me back to that prayer for hiddenness that I had prayed in 2009 and which had eventually brought me to the journey through the woods with God.
The second quote I read in the Merton books that impacted me was this:
But if I am true to the concept that God utters in me, if I am true to the thought of Him I am meant to embody, I shall be full of His actuality and find Him everywhere in myself, and find myself nowhere. I shall be lost in Him; that is, I shall find myself.
-- New Seeds of Contemplation, p. 37
This, too, got me thinking on that original prayer for hiddenness, but it also got me thinking about surrender. If we are emptied so that God completely fills us up, that implies a full surrender of ourselves. But what does it mean to be fully surrendered? Do we even know when we've done it? How do we really know when we've surrendered everything to God? Can we ever really know?
View through trees
This brought me back to the woods. And this, my friends, is where the story gets pretty interesting.
I was laying in bed on the second night of my retreat, reading these words of Merton's and dwelling on the nature of surrender, and eventually felt moved to sit up in bed, face the wall, get on my two knees on the bed, and hold my palms up before me.
It was a sign of surrender to God, but it was also a posture of holding my hands open for whatever he might choose to place in them (if anything).
And there I was, in my mind's eye, standing in the woods with Jesus again. I could see that we had stopped on the path and had turned to face each other. In the image, I was holding my hands out before me in that same gesture, offering him my surrender.
But as I stood there facing him, I still wasn't sure how I would know I had really surrendered everything to him. Sure, the intent and gesture might be there, but would that surrender really get down deep inside me and be true?
And so I began to give him everything I had on my person.
That's right. I took off my shoes and gave them to him. I was wearing a watch around my wrist; I took it off and handed it to him. I had some kind of leather band around my waist with a pocketwatch attached to it; I unbuckled the leather band and handed it to him. I gave him the necklace I was wearing, too.
Then I reached up and felt my hair. Suddenly, I knew that I would allow it to be completely shorn off for him, so out came the scissors. I dropped all the sheared tendrils and masses of hair down at his feet and stood before him, shorn.
In the image, I was wearing a purple corduroy skirt, and I pulled that off, too, and handed it to him. I was also wearing a small blue jacket, and I shrugged it off and handed it over. This disrobing of my clothing wasn't sexual at all, of course . . . just an attempt for me to get at the root of my surrender, to see that I had given Jesus everything I had.
There I stood, nearly bare, wearing only a knee-length cotton slip in the shape of a light tank dress. At least, that's all I thought I was wearing. But as I looked closer at the image, I saw that I was also still wearing my beloved wedding ring. And shining in my ears were a pair of sapphire and diamond earrings.
I simply couldn't take them off. These three items -- the slip, the wedding ring, and the earrings -- stayed fast on my person, and I couldn't seem to lift a hand to remove them. Not one single finger. My body seemed immobilized.
So there I stood before Jesus, attempting to disrobe and disown all that was mine in order to make myself fully his . . . and I simply couldn't bring myself to go any further. I couldn't give him these final parts of myself. I just couldn't. I knew I was still wearing those three items, and he knew I was still wearing them, too. I just stood there in silence, staring at him, and he kept staring back at me.
Stay tuned to hear what happened next . . .