I dropped Collin off with P. tonight and they left this morning for trip back to the east coast, so I’m on my own until the 11th. I decided today that I want to get up at 5 am while Collin’s gone to make the most of those wonderful morning hours. We’re supposed to be back near 100° over the weekend, so I want to take advantage of the cooler hours of the day.
It’s more than the coolness, though. I love the quality of the morning light and the newness of the day, the spiritual feel of those hours that is so different from any other time of the day. I love to sit at my desk in the morning and look out on the new day, as I drink my coffee and do my thinking. My thoughts seem to have more clarity first thing in the morning too.
Today I just finished reading Thomas Merton’s autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain. He’s been quoted in so many books I’ve read over the years, but I only now felt moved to read his books because I found out he had explored, or tried to explore, solitude. I took out volume three of his journals, which focuses on solitude, but first I wanted to read his autobiography to get a sense of where he was coming from.
There’s a wonderful place in the book where he’s reading in the Catholic Encyclopedia about Trappists, and European hermitages:
I found out that the Trappists were Cistercians, and then, in looking up Cistercians, I also came across the Carthusians, and a great big picture of the hermitages of the Camaldolese.
What I saw on those pages pierced me to the heart like a knife.
What wonderful happiness there was, then, in the world! There were still men on this miserable, noisy, cruel earth, who tasted the marvelous joy of silence and solitude, who dwelt in forgotten mountain cells, in secluded monasteries, where the news and desires and appetites and conflicts of the world no longer reached them.
They were free from the burden of flesh’s tyranny, and their clear vision, clean of the world’s smoke and of its bitter sting, were raised to heaven and penetrated in deeps of heaven’s infinite and healing light.
They were poor, they had nothing, and therefore they were free and possessed everything, and everything they touched struck off something of the fire of divinity. And they worked with their hands, silently ploughing and harrowing the earth, and sowing seed in obscurity, and reaping their small harvests to feed themselves and the other poor. They built their own houses and made, with their own hands, their own furniture and their own coarse clothing, and everything around them was simple and primitive and poor, because they were the least and the last of men, they had made themselves outcasts, seeking, outside the walls of the world, Christ poor and rejected of men.
Above all, they had found Christ, and they knew the power in the sweetness and the depth and the infinity of His love, living and working in them. In Him, hidden in Him, they had become the ‘Poor Brothers of God’. And for His love, they had thrown away everything, and concealed themselves in the Secret of His Face. Yet because they had nothing, they were the richest men in the world, possessing everything: because in proportion as grace emptied their hearts of created desire, the Spirit of God entered in and fill the place that had been made for God.
Last weekend, Mom and I were talking about simplicity and I was saying that whenever you create emptiness--through simplicity, solitude, fasting or meditation--you create space for Spirit to enter. How neat to find the same sentiment expressed here in this book this week.
Later in the book Merton mentions the Biblical story about the wealthy young man who approached Jesus, asking for eternal life, and Jesus told him, “ Go, sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and come, follow me.”
It may have been a literal command, but I see now there was more to it. We need to empty ourselves not just of things, but of all sorts of mental and egoic garbage before there’s room enough for Spirit to enter.