I grew up in a family that prayed before each meal (and in very early times, after each meal also) and also did a family devotional almost every day. The family devotional consisted of a reading from the Bible, an audible prayer and a song. The singing seems remarkable to this day: we young children learned four part a cappella singing via imitation, and sang through our hymnal. I also remember our family’s gathering in the living room where we knelt in prayer, asking God for rain. (We were farmers.)
Surely this religious discipline helped to shape us kids. Exactly how, however, is beyond my ken. I am not now sanctimonious but I think that my early childhood encouraged, rather than discouraged, my quest to commune with God. While my theology has taken a trip and my God has changed size and shape and character and function, yet I carry treasured habits from long ago. For example, hymns and gospel songs, some of them almost sappy in their sentimentality, often pop into my head in the morning and I don’t chase them away. And I frequently find myself at the edge of, and occasionally inside of, a divine presence almost as though it were here and now and all around me.
Thus it will not surprise you to know that I have enjoyed reading Thomas Merton, whose journals and books enrich my own experience in meditation. He doesn’t explain how to meditate. But he names what it is, and exemplifies the meditational life. Here is a treasured quotation.
“Contemplation is the highest expression of [the individual’s] intellectual and spiritual life. It is that life itself, fully awake, fully active, fully aware that it is alive. It is spiritual wonder. It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of being. It is gratitude for life, for awareness and for being. It is a vivid realization of the fact that life and being in us proceed from an invisible, transcendent and infinitely abundant Source. Contemplation is, above all, awareness of the reality of that source. It knows the Source, obscurely, inexplicably, but with a certitude that goes both beyond reason and beyond simple faith.”
No, I am not tempted to deify Merton, nor even inclined to collect mertonabilia, but I have eagerly signed up to participate in the annual Merton Retreat at Gethsemani in Kentucky in September. Mark Hudson, a new friend, invited me to go with him.