As you may have already read, “I am a Solitary Christian, following my Christian faith with a Celtic slant, in solitude. I am not a hermit (yet) and do not live off grid…” You may also be aware that Thomas Merton is one of my personal heroes. I have been fascinated and somewhat preoccupied with why people like Thomas Merton withdrew into solitude.
One thing I am beginning to understand, is man’s need to explain things, especially those things which appear to be a mystery. But, the need to explain a mystery has a negative aspect. A mystery, especially one of faith, is usually associated with a mystical power. When you “explain” a mystery, whether correctly or incorrectly, you tend to reduce or take away the power from that mystery. For example, the Eucharist… yes it is a simple meal shared by a man with his friends the night before he died. But I think there is something more. I recently suggested this to a friend, but this was immediately ‘poo-pooed’ as simple superstition and just a load of hocus pocus. But for me there is an unexplainable mystery associated with the Eucharist. Don’t ask me to explain it…
So, to return to Thomas Merton. To withdraw in such a way, I’m sure the majority would put down to escapism, running away from society, even cowardice. Then you read his musings… in some cases it appears he’s not sure himself;
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going…” starts one of his most famous prayers.
Of course if you read on, the prayer turns into one of the greatest reassurances for those who seek discernment on their own personal path. His past studies and work all served him well as he writes but the only thing that seems to preoccupy his meditations from the point of his withdrawal is the next step he is to take with his Creator. A simple step, which must always aim at bringing him closer, in love, to his Lord.
I like to think his need to withdraw was simply a mystery. I think he had reached a point in his spiritual walk with his God where the things of this earth really did start to grow strangely dim.
I think Mahler sums it up so well – “Ich bin der welt abhanden gekommen…”
“I am lost to the world
With which I used to waste much time;
It has for so long known nothing of me,
It may well believe that I am dead.
Nor am I at all concerned
If it should think that I am dead.
Nor can I deny it,
For truly I am dead to the world.
I am dead to the world’s tumult
And rest in a quiet realm!
I live alone in my heaven,
In my love, in my song!”
“I live alone in my heaven, in my love, in my song”.
I think this is where Merton had come to in his life. Yes his writings were, and still are of great significance, but I like to think that what was really going on between him and his God to this day remain private, and a mystery.
From my own path, it is something I aspire towards and seek more and more (I have yet to find my hermitage…), but how that will come to be, remains a mystery.