A Sacred Pause By the River

I continue to be a bit under the weather, sleeping more than usual, cooking, nesting, and purging closets and drawers long neglected, in a seasonal display of releasing...

This afternoon, after running some errands, I grabbed a croissant and coffee, and headed down to the river. It was a wonderfully breezy day, and I could see a legion of undulating ripples passing me by. I carefully made it down to the rocks to survey the river more closely, and realized I had not come down to spend some time from this vantage point, in perhaps a year. The configuration of rocks and the landscape were not as familiar as they once had been. As I looked out, on the broad expanse of the river, I knew that in a few short weeks or days, the colors would be changing...

I watched one kayaker carefully arrange his fishing gear and launch into the water, as I reflected first, on the role this river has played in my life, and then on some passages I had read recently...

Last night, before I drifted off to sleep, I finished reading the book, Compassionate Fire: The Letters of Thomas Merton and Catherine de Hueck Doherty, two of my favorite 20th century mystics. I did not know that they had known each other - or at least I did not remember it. But I know I was not aware that they had corresponded for several decades until Merton's death.

Catherine began her life as a Baroness in Russia, and fled during the Russian Revolution after nearly all of her family was executed. She was called to a Lay Apostolate, and founded both Madonna House and Friendship House, where she embraced a life of social action and solidarity with the poor.

The editor of the book, Robert A Wild, believes that Catherine played a significant part in Merton's vocation. I was fascinated by their spiritual letters, for that they were - and this type of correspondence has been of great interest to me since my days in graduate school, studying spirituality. At one point, I envisioned myself writing a dissertation on such a topic - and for years poured over the spiritual letters of so many others - Francis de Sales and Jeanne de Chantal, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, and so forth...

Here are some excerpts from the letters that spoke to me. It is Catherine who seems to convey the deepest feelings and who seems most transparent to me....

"If writing is your vocation, go ahead and write. But always with a prayer in your heart and diffidence in your soul, for a written word is such a potent weapon for evil and for good. There cannot be any connection between talent of any sort and pride. Real talent is very humble..."
(Catherine to Merton - on his writing)

"...I know there is nothing keeping me from God anymore - I can belong entirely to Him by simply consenting to each trial as it presents itself, and that is enough! It is everything."
(Merton, on the occasion of his entering the Trappists)

"For nothing is more sacred than a letter or a conversation in which one human being opens his or her heart to another, who factually has no right to that confidence..." (C)

"I know that there is no need of letters between us, because we are together in the heart of Christ." (C)

"All I can offer you is the wine and oil of my love, the oil of my understanding, the inn of my heart, and the alms of my prayers, humble as they may be." (C)

"Once you have passionately fallen in love with God, contemplation becomes the very essence of you." (C)

"Love, not knowing space or time, intuitively senses things that cannot be really spoken in words." (C)

I thought of passages such as these, and enjoyed a few more moments filled with gratitude for so many interior gifts, and went back home to tackle more closets!


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