Community Lectio Divina: Thomas Merton

button-lectioWith November comes a new invitation for contemplation. This month I invite you into a lectio divina practice with one of my favorite readings from Thomas Merton. I ran across it again this past week as I was contemplating the feast of All Saints and All Souls and what it means to live into our individual call to become saints, our truest deepest selves created by God.

How Community Lectio Divina works:

Each month there will be a passage selected from scripture, poetry, or other sacred texts (and at some point we will engage in some visio and audio divina as well with art and music).

For the year I am choosing an overarching theme of discernment. I feel like the Abbey is in the midst of some wonderful transition, movement, and expansion.

How amazing it would be to discern together the movements of the Spirit at work in the hearts of monks around the world.

I invite you to set aside some time this week to pray with the text below. Here is a handout with a brief overview (feel free to reproduce this handout and share with others as long as you leave in the attribution at the bottom – thank you!)

Lean into silence, pray the text, listen to what shimmers, allow the images and memories to unfold, tend to the invitation, and then sit in stillness.

The lakes hidden among the hills are saints, and the sea too is a saint who praises God without interruption in her majestic dance. The great, gashed, half-naked mountain is another of God’s saints. . . For me to be a saint means to be myself. Therefore the problem of sanctity and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I am and of discovering my true self. Trees and animals have no problem. God makes them what they are without consulting them, and they are perfectly satisfied. With us it is different. God leaves us free to be whatever we like. We can be ourselves or not, as we please. We are at liberty to be real, or to be unreal. We may be true or false, the choice is ours.

—Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation

After you have prayed with the text (and feel free to pray with it more than once – St. Ignatius wrote about the deep value of repetition in prayer, especially when something feels particularly rich) spend some time journaling what insights arise for you.

How is this text calling to your dancing monk heart in this moment of your life?

What does this text have to offer to your discernment journey of listening moment by moment to the invitation from the Holy?

What wisdom emerged that may be just for you, but may also be for the wider community?

Sharing Your Responses

Please share the fruits of your lectio divina practice in the comments below or at our Holy Disorder of Dancing Monks Facebook group which you can join here. There are over 800 members and it is a wonderful place to find connection and community with others on this path.

You might share the word or phrase that shimmered, the invitation that arose from your prayer, or artwork you created in response. There is something powerful about naming your experience in community and then seeing what threads are woven between all of our responses.

You can see the full fall calendar of invitations here>>

Join the Holy Disorder of Dancing Monks Facebook group here>>

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12 Responses

  1. Mary Ellen, I am taken with your phrase “a sense of held-ness” (my computer insisted on heedless, hence my hyphen; in receiving your image today I am definitely heeding each nuance, as it unfolds!).

    I imagine the scene you describe so tenderly, the way birdsong [birthed] and “songbird dying” bookends the experience, so like life, ever the tension between seeming opposites, ever the continuum. And how marvelous that we are held, always, along that life line, by Mystery, a loving Presence.

    Are you by chance the MaryEllen I danced with at Grunewald?

    Laurie

  2. This has apparently been working in me quite nicely and invisibly since I first read it beginning of the month. Below is a piece of something I posted a couple days ago in an online class, not yet recognizing Merton’s voice in it.

    “And yes, I wake to birdsong. And yes, today was a day with a songbird dying. I arranged her warm body with a pine broom and pine cone. I stroked her beautiful feathers and thanked her for her living. And I did better with holding gratitude rather than despair than often I do. I returned to the house with a sense of heldness, and with a clear knowledge that the little sweet chickadee died today a saint, as much as any person.”

  3. The times in my life when nature has been a powerful metaphor and messenger for my spirituality are many. The portion of text that emerged for me is “..and the sea too is a saint who praises God without interruption in her majestic dance. ” This dance, this constant movement…praising God with every wave, every swell, without thought…I wish to be like the sea…where every move I make brings praise…I wish to be me…without having to stop and ask myself, “is this the true me?”

  4. The “great, gashed, half-naked mountain” spoke to me. Though my Vermont mountains are softened, rounded, gentle ones, I find their presence a message of patience and strength, saintly qualities surely, as Merton finds within his mountain. The mountains, and Merton’s words, suggest that if I will choose my best self, always, and trust in that, I can endure and be blessed as well.

  5. How I do this process: I record myself reading the words to ponder and then play the recording when I sit down to pray..usually two or three times. This gives me just enough distance from the act of reading to more deeply hear the words. I feel that at this time in my life I’ve finally become the ‘real’ me…I’ve shed the false images and expectations of others, I’ve gained enough experience and maturity to be comfortable with myself and what works for me. Yet, when I hear the words ‘…the problem is finding out who I am and discovering my true self’ I feel the prickle of tears in my closed eyes. Perhaps I’m not as “perfectly satisfied” as God’s trees and animals! Perhaps my message is that discernment is an ongoing process and that by staying soft and supple, I continue to evolve deeper into my true self. That’s what this month will about.

  6. when i think of this text, i find myself focusing on mountains, remembering mountains in places i have lived, and how i have loved running in those places. sometimes long long runs, relishing the solid earth under my feet. and i think of myself as a mountain today, now not in any detailed sense or expressed in words, just feeling like a mountain. i could elaborate, but attaching the words and images doesn’t feel right. the words and images are in merton’s text. i am just ruminating on them.

  7. We can be ourselves or not…

    “The lakes hidden among the hills are saints, and the sea too is a saint who praises God without interruption in her majestic dance. The great, gashed, half-naked mountain is another of God’s saints. . . For me to be a saint means to be myself. Therefore the problem of sanctity and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I am and of discovering my true self. Trees and animals have no problem. God makes them what they are without consulting them, and they are perfectly satisfied. With us it is different. God leaves us free to be whatever we like. We can be ourselves or not, as we please. We are at liberty to be real, or to be unreal. We may be true or false, the choice is ours.”
    —Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation

    “We can be ourselves, or not.” A tree can only be itself. As for me, I can try to hide – discard – and diminish my true self. I can desire myself to be smarter, more organized, and way more affluent ( in whatever kind of currency is most valuable at the time).

    Letting go of the should of’s sometimes allows for the actual ‘of’s’ to be and to breathe.

    Living in the “true self” means letting go of other’s expectations of what image you portray.

    Living in the “true self” means making some space to say “No” to one thing in order to honor what is true.

    Living in the “true self” sometimes means discarding what so easily entangles: pride, fear, failure – to be embraced by God that created and longs to see, hear, and celebrate the true self that was made in his own image.

    The world would rather we hide away our real self, in order to fit in and cause no disruption. However, what the world needs is real selves that live out their real lives to address the real needs that surround us.

    May your great joy meet the great need of the world – or better said:
    “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
    ? Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC

    True self – show up. The world really needs you – and you, and you, and you, and…

    Earlier this week I took a bit of a risk and had my hair cut quite short. I’d been attempting to grow it out, but kept feeling weighed down by the effort and energy of the seeming never-ending process. It was time for it to go – and my freer true self has been thanking me for it since. From haircuts to deep wrestling to release the ‘true self’ – we can choose to be ourselves or not. God help me to choose truth.

    Shalom,
    Tara

  8. Wow, this was really powerful for me. I did some painting for me response. First I collaged some images that are important to me: pictures of patrons and ancestors, a rosary, a compass, a postage stamp, etc. Then I drew squiggly lines over them, painted in the lines and a heart with a wave in it emerged. I did some visio divina with the picture the next day and was reminded of St. Catherine of Siena’s saying, “The soul is in God and God is in the soul, just as the fish is in the sea and the sea is in the fish.” I’m focusing this month on releasing and just being who I was made to be.

  9. Caught up in Elijah’s whirlwind
    The desert winds fan embers
    Of Pentecost tongues of fire
    The Spirit of the Lord fills all things
    We have knowledge of His Voice
    The primordial fire at the heart of things
    Flashes Presence in Hopkins visions
    And Merton Earth Monastery beckonings
    Even as I rock at Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall
    Glimmers of Heavenly Jerusalem shimmer
    The fire is a saint, too,
    Uniting loved ones through ash
    New Fire and Easter candle Light
    To Glory everlasting…
    Our God is a consuming Fire

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