It is January 3, 2020, and I can’t seem to get started in this new year. Perhaps this is due to my still processing the last of 2019. I checked my sister out of the hospital on August 19, 2019 and took her to our family home (where our parents once lived) located on Big Cypress Bayou outside of Jefferson, TX. The plan was to spend about three weeks there caring for her as she recovered from a partial foot amputation. Unfortunately, the healing did not go as well as hoped and three weeks turned into three months!
Outside of her foot not healing and my missing my home and wife, who did come and stay a few days a couple of times, it was a different and mostly good three months for me. We visited, reminisced, watched television, and each had ample time to ourselves. I spent a lot of my free time on the porch rocking, reading, journaling, writing poetry, and simply watching in awe the natural world surrounding me. My journal entry from October 14th sheds a bit more light on the experience:
I’ve chopped and diced vegetables and the soup is simmering in the pot. It is marvelous sitting on the porch. The heat has finally – I hope – moved away and the cool air is welcomed. Actually, it is raining with a steady chorus of drops making their “pits, pats, plops” on the tin roof. Drips are becoming steady ropes of water running off the roof’s edge. The river is pelted and puckered with raindrops. The rain and gray sky meld to form a haze surrounding the trees across the water. Quite calming and restful!
Yet, I feel a bit anxious and unsettled. Perhaps ambivalence might be a more apt description. I have been here for almost two months caring for my sister following a partial foot amputation. The healing has not gone as well as hoped, and she is still under doctor’s orders to put no weight on the foot. I have kept busy with her care, meal preparations, laundry, cleaning, and mowing. I have pressure washed a 10’ X 60’ porch and the front of the house. I have dusted, vacuumed, or mopped everything in the house. I have cleaned and reorganized much of the huge pantry and the bedroom walk-in closet. I have taken down, washed, and replaced every curtain and drape in the house – at least all those that could be removed.
I have rewired and configured the TV antennae and cables. We now get 25+ channels instead of the previous eight to ten. And, yes, I must admit that I have watched more TV in the last two months than I have in the last two years. I have played too numerous to count solitaire games on my computer (no internet or cell service down here) to the point I believe the program is duplicating games. I have mowed two acres of grass sometimes going over the taller areas two to three times. I have used the weed eater trimming the tall grass on the riverbank until my elbow hurts.
I have made four trips home to Tyler for personal appointments and commitments and two trips to Henderson for doctor appointments. All totally about 1000 miles on the road. I just returned from three days at home catching up on paying bills, household concerns, and social and civic commitments.
Why the ambivalence? Using Brother Lawrence’s words, “to chop wood, and carry water” along with the quiet, serenity, and solitude of the surroundings seems to have precipitated some shift within my being as I feel more centered and settled. As I ponder on that for a bit, my thoughts return to my reading of October 3rd:
I find more and more the power—the dangerous power—of solitude working in me. The easiness of wide error. The power of one’s own inner ambivalence, the pull of inner contradictions. How little I know myself really. How weak and tepid I am. . . . Everything has meaning, dire meanings, in solitude. And one can easily lose it all in following the habits one has brought out of common life (the daily round). One has to start over and receive (in meekness) a new awareness of work, time, prayer, oneself. A new tempo—it has to be in one’s very system (and it is not in mine, I see).
And what I do not have I must pray for and wait for.
—from A Year with Thomas Merton: Daily Meditations from His Journals (October 25 and 30, 1965, V.309-10)
Perhaps therein lies the basis for my ambivalence. Perhaps I fear losing it all upon returning to “common life (my daily round).” Perhaps my 2020 is to be a time for “a new tempo.”
NOTE: Tomorrow, January 31, 2015, marks the 100th birthday of Thomas Merton. I thought I would pass along this tribute.
Remembering Thomas Merton, Interfaith Dialogue Champion by Leroy Seat on EthicsDaily.com*
Growing up in rural northwest Missouri, I didn’t have much opportunity to know people who belonged to the Roman Catholic Church.
My years in two Baptist colleges and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary didn’t afford much possibility of getting to know Catholics, either.
Actually, as I think back, I guess my first Catholic friend was a Canadian priest, Zénon Yelle, who lived in the same city in Japan.
In the 1970s, he became a member of a book discussion group that my wife, June, and I attended monthly.
Zénon was a thoughtful man and a good scholar; getting to know him helped me gain a more positive idea about Catholics.
It was also probably in the 1970s that I first became aware of, and then read a book by, Thomas Merton, an outstanding Catholic thinker and prolific author. Merton was born on Jan. 31, 1915, 100 years ago tomorrow.
The first of Merton’s more than 70 books that I read was “New Seeds of Contemplation,” and I have read it a time or two since. And then a few years ago I read “The Seven Storey Mountain,” his highly acclaimed autobiography.
Partly in honor of his memory, this month I have read Merton’s “No Man Is an Island,” one of his most widely read books on what he calls “the spiritual life.” These books are quite beneficial for Protestants as well as Catholics.
In 1941, Merton became a Trappist monk in the Abbey of Gethsemani near Bardstown, Kentucky. That was his home for the next 27 years before his untimely death.
E. Glenn Hinson was one of my teachers at Southern Seminary in the spring semester of 1960 – and after all these years I still exchange emails with him regularly.
In the fall of 1960, Hinson began taking students to Gethsemani. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in any of his classes that did that, so I never had the privilege of meeting Merton or hearing him speak – or of learning more about Catholics.
But the contact with Merton was quite meaningful to the seminary students who did go to Gethsemani with Hinson, and in a recent email Hinson wrote, “Merton had a very profound impact on my life and ministry.”
Through the years, Merton became a strong proponent of interfaith dialogue, engaging in deep discussions with Asian spiritual figures, including the Dalai Lama, the Japanese writer D.T. Suzuki and the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh.
In December 1968, Merton went to Thailand to attend an interfaith conference between Catholic and non-Christian monks.
From there he intended to go on to Japan to learn more about Zen Buddhism. After speaking at the conference in Thailand, though, he suddenly died.
It is generally concluded that while stepping out of his bath, he was accidentally electrocuted by an electric fan.
It was a tragic loss to the religious world and to all who knew him. It is impossible to know how much more good he could have done if he had lived.
One chapter in “New Seeds of Contemplation” is titled “The Root of War is Fear.” Several times I have quoted the concluding words of that chapter, and they are words worth remembering and worth considering over and over again: “If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed – but hate these things in yourself, not in another.”
*Leroy Seat was a missionary to Japan from 1966-2004 and is both professor emeritus of Seinan Gakuin University and pastor emeritus of Fukuoka International Church. A version of this article also appeared on his blog, The View from this Seat, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @LKSeat.