I wouldn’t be who I am today
Or, where I am today
If, when I was 19 years old, I hadn’t stumbled upon the book Raids on the Unspeakable by Thomas Merton. I can no longer find it on my bookshelf, but what I remember of that book is that on every page I underlined something and scribbled countless notes in the margins. Even though I read it cover to cover, it never registered with me that Thomas Merton was a monk. A Trappist monk. As in vows of silence and poverty and never leaving the monastery. Over the next several months, I read as many of his books as I could. Devouring them. His writing about life and faith and God and prayer touched something deep within me. Something I was looking for/needing, but didn’t know I was looking for it until I found it. Twice, in the next several years, I was privileged to visit and to stay at the monastery where he had lived. I sat in the same Chapel in which he had sat. I prayed the same Offices he had prayed. As I said, I am who I am today because of him.
All that came back to mind because a week or so ago, I wrote about wanting to find a different way to start my day. Rather than opening up the paper or my tablet and being swallowed up by the news, I decided I would take my cup of coffee and sit for a few minutes in our backyard allowing the quiet of the morning instead of the headlines to be the start to my day. After a day or two, I also took a book.
Maybe it is, that as I get closer to retirement, I am reaching back to my roots for grounding and direction. Anyway, the book I picked up to take into the backyard with me was a book of short excerpts from Merton’s writing. Each morning I read a page or two. A sentence I read a day or so ago has stuck with me. “In a world in which men have forgotten the value of prayer, it is the monks who pray for the world and for all those in the world who have forgotten how to pray.”
The word prayer is a part of my vocabulary.
But, I realize it may not be a part of yours.
So, what about this…
Instead of pray/prayer, insert the word kind/kindness.
Which translates to something like this:
In a world in which people have forgotten the value of kindness, we are the ones who practice kindness for the world and for all those in the world who have forgotten how to be kind.
Whether it is we pray…
Or intentionally practice kindness…
Or intentionally extend hospitality…
Or make understanding and compassion central to our lives…
We do so not just for ourselves or the other.
We do so on behalf of the world.
And, on behalf of all those who have forgotten how to be kind or compassionate or welcoming or understanding.
I am grateful that when I have forgotten how to pray there are those who have not. I am grateful when kindness eludes me there are those who practice it for me and others. I am grateful…
When the world has forgotten, we can remember.
And this note…
This is the time of the year when A Curious Faith takes its summer sabbath. We will take a deep breath and hope you do as well. See you again in the fall.
Paul Alcorn is the pastor at Bedford Presbyterian Church in Bedford Village, NY.