Saturday, September 5, 2009

Unfailingly There

On football Saturday mornings, in the Big 10 university town in which I live, it seems easiest to place the blame of distraction on the fanatics that parade through the streets in their school colors on their way from tailgate to stadium to tailgate. But on those mornings when I wake to early morning conviviality and as I drive against the football traffic to church, I kid myself, for they are hardly a distraction compared to the things that interrupt my daily prayer life and that I allow to disrupt my walk with God. It's these things, not raucous neighbors, that gnaw at the edges and weaken my foundation.

So what have I done but find another reason to escape. I think, If only I could escape this place I could be free of all temptation, all distraction, I could pray unceasingly, I could leave behind my the universities and studies, the people I dislike in my community, the Midwestern humidity and fickle weather. If only I...and I could...and I would...I...I...I.

Somehow along the way I have self-centeredly equated the difficulties in my walk with God with the difficulties and imperfections of my environment and I've been in search of an escape, an exit from the city to the hills. In this escape from the hard things in life, I've been risking running from God. A mid-twentieth century Trappist monk once admonished:

Some men have perhaps become hermits with the thought that sanctity could only be attained by escape from other men. But only justification for a life of deliberate solitude is the conviction that it will help you to love not only God but also other men. If you go into the desert merely to get away from people you dislike, you will find neither peace nor solitude; you will only isolate yourself with a tribe of devils.

But he adds these encouraging words:

No matter how distracted you may be, pray by peaceful, even perhaps inarticulate, efforts to center your heart upon God, Who is present to you in spite of all that may be going through your mind. His presence does not depend on your thoughts of Him. He is unfailingly there; if He were not, you could not even exist. The memory of His unfailing presence is the surest anchor for our minds and hearts in the storm of distraction and temptation by which we must be purified.

So I learn to keep praying, unceasingly, knowing God is there even when I cannot keep my heart centered. In the wildest moments of the day I reflect on his presence, "God is here. God is here," and depend on him to be my anchor, to keep me from running aground in a sea of distraction and temptation.

--quotations from Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation (1961), pp. 52, 224

1 comment:

  1. Ah Kirsten, even though your descriptions of the local college football fanatics always make me laugh, I know too well about the effects of meddling distractions. I am always amazed at how easy it is find myself feeling completely derailed without a clue as to how it happened. It's a painful retracing of steps. I really like this passage by your Monk-"despite all that may be going on in your mind." That is a God I need to know better.