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Monk in the World Guest Post: Susan Blagden

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Susan Blagden’s contemplative photographs and poems inspired by the work of Thomas Merton.

As a contemplative photographer, coach and priest, I seek to live my days in a contemplative way.  For me, this means paying attention to my external world in a way that often makes surprising connections with my inner world.  My daily contemplative walk, complete with camera, invites me to be responsive rather than grasping.  My reading on this particular morning had included a short extract of Merton’s writings that caught my attention: ‘The sky is my prayer; the birds are my prayer’.  I was intrigued by this and carried it with me as I went on my walk.  Observing this colony of terns, rather unexpectedly gifted me the experience of feeling that deep oneness which is at the heart of mystical prayer.  As the birds rose ‘en masse’ over my head, Merton’s words came back to me.  These are my reflections on that experience.

The sky is my prayer (after Thomas Merton)

The sky is my prayer …
Vast, open sky-scapes
Dark and foreboding in the early morning light
A reminder that prayer does not always or immediately pierce the storm
As the sun peaked out from behind the clouds a rainbow appeared
Assurance of being remembered and deeply loved
But then more rain came, 
gently at first before thundering down, 
bouncing off the car 
creating a sharp, metallic sound in the early morning air.

Yes, like prayer, sometimes bouncing, sounding empty and hollow …

And then the wind came and blew the remnants of clouds out to sea
A warm light crept over the horizon
The clouds thinned
Solid black gave way to vibrant blue
The world seemed to have expanded
Possibilities were emerging
Hope rose up through the break in the clouds

Yes, this is prayer: expansive, silent, heartfelt.

The birds are my prayer (after Thomas Merton)

Tern colony, Ynys Môn, Wales, UK
These graceful birds are my prayer:
long-distance travellers navigating by moon, wind and tide
Living in daylight more than darkness.
Their arch-enemy, a hungry, greater black-backed gull
now scans the colony seeking food.
The birds rise in unison with a great whoosh 
and then turn as one, giant swathe of birds
To fly back over the ground,
Hiding everything and confusing the great bird 
by their sheer volume and graceful movement.

Prayer is like this: it too seeks the light
And may travel vast distances seeking grace and safety.
These birds remind us that we do not pray alone.
We are part of a great company of presences who pray
In the furthest, far-flung places of our world.
The birds are my silent prayer.
In that moment of uplift, I am one with them,
Rising with the whoosh of their wings
Confident of grace and community.

Susan Blagden (ACC/ICF) is a contemplative photographer, life coach, Anglican priest, and spiritual director based in North Wales, UK. The natural world and the Christian mystics are typically an integral part of Susan’s ministry.  She is a keen citizen scientist and delights in overseeing the ecological management of her local churchyards.

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