While Merton’s map of four imperatives resemble an inward turning spiral starting with community and daily life, then moving to inner reflection and personal integration, one can also visualise a reverse of that spiral. This would begin with formation, cultivating the insight that our inmost personal identity arrives already integrated, only requiring a critical education encouraging intentional reflection across history, cultures, community in order to allow celebration and move towards the transformation of the whole community.
Perhaps, like the double dance of a strand of DNA, it is appropriate to travel in both directions to understand the paradox Merton points to in the closing lines of “New Seeds of Contemplation,” where he echoes both Hindu and Buddhist images in his deeply Christian understandings of creation:
“For the world and time are the dance of the Lord in emptiness. The more we persist in misunderstanding the phenomena of life, the more we analyze them out into strange finalities and complex purposes of our own, the more we involve ourselves in sadness, absurdity, and despair. But it does not matter much, because no despair of ours can alter the reality of things, or stain the joy of the cosmic dance which is always there. Indeed, we are in the midst of it, and it is in the midst of us, for it beats in our very blood, whether we want it to or not.”
So if we assume, as Merton does, the universe is one fabric, we can take this to a cosmic level. Perhaps the nature and style of the whole creation is to move from mystery (chaos) into a newborn ordered reality (cosmos), emptying and opening into (kenosis) an incomplete/unfinished journey (and in that, inevitably travelling into detours and dead ends), where sometimes, by surprising processes, we see the reality of our self-transcending nature in something that might even look like love (kairos), and are able to begin again.
My own subjective experience of the church year in the southern hemisphere echoes this. From Michaelmas to Advent surprising new beginnings spring up with fresh promise and priorities. Summer’s Christmas, Epiphany and Lent let new life bloom and grow as well as meet with contradiction, communities and corruption. Holy Week and Eastertide confront with autumnal diminution, destruction and death — yet we re-encounter the mysteries of death and life when the season of Pentecost returns us — changed yet surprisingly the same — to a new beginning. This understanding is reflected in “Seasonal Gatherings” and “Resources for Revisioning,” and if you’re interested in “Spiritual Directions,” check that out too.
Finally, if all this is too wordy (or worldly) for you, in October we’re starting a Sunday evening Silent Meditation gathering @ Holy Trinity Cathedral in Wangaratta!
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