Quaker Universalist Conversations

The 96th birthday of Thomas Merton, Universalist

Today is the 96th birthday of Thomas Merton, as Wendy Gieger, a Friend from Florida, reminded us.

In his pamphlet “The Place of Univeralism,”  Dan Seeger writes of Merton’s Universalist Catholicism:

A Christian of profound spirituality and deep social awareness, Thomas Merton, clearly ended his life as a universalist, without diluting his Catholicism or his commitment to his Trappist community at all.” (See http://www.universalistfriends.org/seeger-84.html)

Merton encountered Quakers through his not very religious mother and didn’t think much of them when he first converted to Catholicism and wrote “Seven Storey Mountain.” But as Seeger observed, Merton became a more much inclusive Catholic, open to many contemplative traditions, and one hopes his views on Quakers changed. But certainly Quakers have thought highly of Merton and his deep commitment to silent worship, spirituality and prophetic witness. Included here are testimonials by two Quakers from very different traditions:

Wendy Geiger writes of Thomas Merton and Fran Hall:
Today, January 31st, 2011, is Thomas Merton’s 96th birthday.  Well, for around here, anyway.  Thomas Merton is way beyond – if that’s the right word – birthdays.  “Thomas Merton is beyond personality” is the message I received from my angels a few years ago.  And, Fran Hall was a blessed European American Quaker man – a “Quaker yogi” was one person’s description.  I knew him just the last year of his life.  That has happened with a number of folk: I meet them, and then they transition through the Veil (sometimes very soon after meeting).  Someone once said to me, “Being your friend may be hazardous to one’s health.“  Oh, well. I hope we’ll be friends anyway.

Today’s offering was written when I was 19.

“To Francis Hall and Thomas Merton”
by Wendy Clarissa Geiger

Quietly contemplating
the Universe
and titmouse -
speaking with the dawn
in silent reverence
of the Quiet Contemplation 


Wess Daniels a released minister from Camas Friends Church in Camas, WA, quotes this prayer by Merton on his blog. Wess writes: “This is a prayer from New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton that I find to be moving, challenging and intriguing. Take a moment to be drawn in to the Spirit as you read this prayer.”

Justify my soul, O God, but also from Your fountains fill my will with your fire. Shrine in my mind, although perhaps this means “be darkness to my experience,” but occupy my heart with Your tremendous Life. Let my eyes see nothing in the world but Your glory, and let my hands touch nothing that is not for Your service.

Let my tongue taste no bread that does not strengthen me to praise Your great mercy. I will hear Your voice and I will hear all harmonies You have created, singing Your hymns. Sheep’s wool and cotton from the field shall warm me enough that I may live in Your service; I will give the rest to Your poor. Let me use all things for one sole reason: to find my joy in giving You glory.

Therefore keep me, above all things, from sin. Keep me from the death of deadly sin which puts hell in my soul. Keep me from the murder of lust that blinds and poisons my heart. Keep me from the sins that eat a man’s flesh with irresistible fire until he is devoured. Keep me from loving money in which is hatred, from avarice and ambition that suffocate my life. Keep me from the dead works of vanity and the thankless labor in which artists destroy themselves for pride and money and reputation, and saints are smothered under the avalanche of their own importunate zeal. Stanch in me the rank wound of covetousness and the hungers that exhaust my nature with their bleeding. Stamp out the serpent envy that stings love with poison and kills all joy.

Untie my hands and deliver my heart from sloth. Set me free from the laziness that goes about disguised as activity when activity is not required of me, and from the cowardice that does what is not demanded, in order to escape sacrifice.

But give me the strength that waits upon You in silence and peace. Give me humility in which alone is rest, and deliver me from pride which is the heaviest of burdens. And possess my whole heart and soul with the simplicity of love. Occupy my whole life with the one thought and the one desire of love, that I may love not for the sake of merit, not for the sake of perfection, not for the sake of virtue, not for the sake of sanctity, but for you alone.

For there is only one thing that can satisfy love and reward it, and that is You alone (p. 44-45).


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