Straddling the sacred and the secular

thomas merton

We are living in a world absolutely transparent, and God is shining through all the time’ Thomas Merton 

 I love this quote from Thomas Merton…the thought of God’s piercing light radiating in our world … shining in places and people, where hurt and fear prevail. Straddling the spiritual and the physical realm can be a difficult achievement. Yet one man in the 20th century has shown us the way.

Out of all the 20th century mystic spiritual writers, the most influential is Thomas Merton. His early life was a tumultuous one, and he became a Roman Catholic through the influence of a Zen Buddhist master. He affirms that ‘contemplation’ is the gift that God gives us…and through contemplation our Love for God increases. However, he warns that contemplation will not be given to those who willfully remain at a distance from God. His story is one that touches the hearts of most people, as he brings all of his life’s experiences to God and is rewarded by being one of the most prophetic voices in the 20th century.

Thomas Merton was born in 1915 in France, and was educated In France, America and England. He grew up in the 1920s and 1930s and tried his hand at many pastimes. While in England he attended Cambridge University and his peers often called a womanizer and philander, enjoying company in the clubs.( he is supposed to have fathered a child at this time ). For a short time he embraced communism, yet it was Catholicism which in turn catapulted him to a strictly cloistered life in a rural Kentucky monastery.

The writings that flowed from his monastic cell over the next 27 years examined spirituality (of the west and east), the Cold War, the civil rights movement and the challenges for the individual in the post-modern world. In short, Merton’s writing took on many of the struggles of the 20th and 21st century. And it is for this reason that many people turn to him for guidance and inspiration.

Thomas Merton died by accidental electrocution while traveling in Asia but remains one of the most widely read and written about spiritual figures of the modern era. On a personal note, I find the spirituality of Thomas Merton refreshing. He does attempt to straddle the sacred with the secular, and in doing so he enables us to see the radiance of God’s Love in the most unexpected places.

Radiating God,

In the times when we falter, steady us

In the times when we doubt, inspire us

In the times when we feel disappointed, embrace us

Radiate your love in the shadow places of our lives.

So all may witness your glory

As we turn radiate your love to others.



Advent ….Seeking the ‘thin places’ where earth meets heaven

The statement would be do you prefer Christmas or Easter?It’s a little like that joke, which came first the chicken or the egg.You see you cannot have Easter without Christmas, and you cannot have the meaning of Christmas without the impact of Easter.

Christmas, and more importantly Advent is about waiting to find that special place where God creeps bedside us, where he slips into the world. Advent is a time to prepare for that moment, and in the gospel of Matthew Jesus states, we should be ready and prepared for the moment.

Can you remember when Jesus came and crept in beside you ?

I can recall many instances this year where God slipped in beside me. You see advent is not so much about the arrival, but the journey we take to arrive at that, moment. It is important that we travel, spiritually, emotionally and some physically through the seasons in search of that ‘thin place’ where God is waiting.. I say thin, because we may miss it.

‘Thin places’, where earth and heaven merge even for a short time are all around if we are prepared to look.

As a nurse I remember a women who was dying , she did not welcome visitors, but she would always want a chair pulled up next to her bed. Everyone was really concerned that she deterred visitors and even refused visits. Her room was always one of peace and tranquilly, yet none of us could work out why until she told us. She said that she imagined that all her family and friends who had gone before her were sat close, very close to her, and Jesus sat there too, talking and laughing with her.

Are we prepared to look for the thin places and find God?

In Advent, many people seek a mountain top exhilaration, and excitement of the Christmas season, however you may feel it has been an uphill slog for quite a while. If you have been ill, unemployed, bereaved, disappointed and especially at Advent we remember those people who have been affected by the HIV/AIDS Virus…  yet it is in the mundane and ordinary where God shows his face, I want to recall two such incidences that I have met God in a thin place .

For me Zambia is a place where I have always felt God presence, not in the wealth, for there is little wealth, but in the poverty. I have been truly blessed to meet God in the thin place, that veil of a place between heaven and earth , the heaven showing the reality of God’s love ,and the earthly poverty of human selfishness and greed . At home I have a pot, a clay pot, similar to the clay pot recalled in Jeremiah, where God breaks a pot and then puts it back together. The pot was given to me by Maria , an elderly Zambian lady who lives in the bush. In her I see all the hope for her family, the joy of her grandchildren and the pain of living with a deadly Virus, HIV/AIDS. She has brought up her 13 grandchildren, as her children have all died of the virus. In that pot… she holds her dreams, her hopes for the world she lives in , she hold the pain, and suffering , but she also hold the love and peace of God , and she waits… she knows she waits with God.

Yet in her face, I have meet God,

her eyes crinkled with joy of motherhood,

and yet eyes that have cried so many tears,

her skin and hands rough from working the land,

are the hands that held me in warmth love and genuine affection.

As I looked at Maria, I truly felt the love of God enfold me through the pain of her living.

Secondly, on a dark August night, I undertook a 24 prayer vigil at church. As I waited patiently for the hour and minute  hand to move around , a wonderful thing happened, I felt a peace,  a tranquillity, an unhurried presence , where I rested in God’s presence.My calling a minister was affirmed that night , where as a looked a mirror to aid my prayers , I stared at my reflection and  felt God say to me  you are my daughter with whom I am pleased.

Our calling through Advent  is to stand firm to our promise and our calling as disciples… to be faithful to God and all that God asks of us.  As you stand on the brink of waiting for God to creep beside you, remember that God delights in you, and for you who wait and stay alert….. glorious things will happen .

We are always waiting for what God would want of us, and God creeps besides us in the ordinary and the mundane.God may present an opportunity, a thin and spiritual place may occur and he will see who is awake and who is sleeping !!! As we light the Advent candle each week , I pray that God will continue to lightened our journey, not just as individuals but as people who are committed to serve and to allow Jesus to serve you, through the many people who work in his name

Which statement do you prefer, Easter or Christmas, don’t forget that you cannot have one without the other, you cannot have the waiting without the result.