Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone - we find it with another — Thomas Merton, Love and Living
Since the beginning of the year (aka the last week), I've been reading entries from A Year with Thomas Merton, which I received from a seminary friend last year. The following is the litany from the Sunday Dark devotion:
Teach me to go to this country beyond words and beyond names. Teach me to pray on the side of the frontier, here were these woods are. I need to be led by you. I need my heart to be moved by you. I need my soul to be made clean by your prayer. I need my will to be made strong by you. I need the world to be saved and changed by you. I need you for all those who suffer, who are in prison, in danger, in sorrow. I need you for all the crazy people. I need your healing hand to work always in my life. I need you to make me, as you made your Son, healer, a comforter, a Savior. I need you to name the dead. I need you to help the dying cross their particular rivers. I need you for myself whether I live or die. It is necessary. Amen.
At first, reading a prayer that used the phrase "I need" so many times felt uncomfortable, but as I fell asleep with these words on my mind last night and woke up to them again this morning (I went back over last night's because I fell asleep during the time intended for silence), I thought about how many of these requests are more for the other than they are for the self. Having spent time at Gethsemani, I thought about the fact that the brothers who reside there have all of their basic needs met: food, shelter, water, clothing, and even work. So when it comes to their prayers, it makes sense for their intercessions to focus on all those outside the cloister.
Then, I had to think of my own prayers in recent and distant months. I am horrid at praying for others (and often just as horrid at praying for myself). One thing I've liked least about working retail is the pervasiveness of the message, "You need this." It's rarely spoken directly, but it is present everywhere: the abundance of a certain product, the layout of the store, the bright colors and big letters, the small print of the original price. Working there, It is thrown in my face, and more often than I care to admit, I succumb to its deceit. Often it comes in the forms of sweets or confections (since I have an insatiable sweet tooth), but other times it comes in the form of books, kitchen gadgets, clothing, or things completely useless. Escaping the temptation of "need," of materialism, is difficult.
Most of us will never live behind the walls of an abbey, and there are certain truths that come with that reality...
Most of us need money, but very few of us need a lot of it. We will need to provide shelter and food for ourselves and those in our families, but even the simplest foods (even if repetitious) can fill both the stomach and the soul. We need clothes, but labels mean nothing (neither does secondhand status). Please understand: I write this as much for myself as I do for anyone else. Consider it a self-directed imperative (more practical and less spiritual than the likes of Henri Nouwen). I like labels. I like fancy food. I like seeing a large number in my bank account. But when having these things, having these "needs" met, changes how I view others in the world around me, then they've done harm.
I hope to go back to Gethsemani soon (or some other abbey). The silence is hard, the food is plain, the clothes don't matter, and the floors are cold. Most of all, the silence is deafening, and in it one cannot help but hear the voice of their own heart. If you ever have a chance, go. Listen to your soul, and don't be afraid to let it speak freely. It may not be easy to hear the truth, but once you have, then you can be free to surrender yourself to the other and to let their needs guide your own. Until then, peace.