When the body of my body wants to stay in bed, and my energy leans more toward sleep, it takes enormous motivation to get up before the sun rises and the alarm goes off. But I’m not always master of my wakings. Sometimes I lie there and just contemplate the day and wish to pull the covers over my head.
Ever have days like that? Since January I’ve been like that. My energy is not back fully, and staying in bed has greater appeal than facing the day with a bowl of oatmeal and a cup of tea. But if anything can entice me to change all of this, it’s this book. No, I’m serious! A book that reflects an understanding of the very challenges of rising and offering gratitude.
by Thomas Merton
edited by Kathleen Deignan & illustrated by John Giuliani
Sorin Books (Ave Maria Press folks)
This new book literally wakes me up every time I read it. It’s a kind of breviary, a prayer book based on the writings of Thomas Merton. The texts are taking from poems, essays, journal entries and his autobiography. Deignan is an artist in the way she places the texts at the four “hours” of the day, modeled after the monastic day of prayer. From Dawn to Day to Dusk to Dark (those are the “hours” she provides) we are treated to a body of writing from a man who clearly lived a life of prayer. And this book is powerful evidence how Merton’s life was imbued with a sense of wonder, gratitude and prayer. His daily hours are reflected in his words. I have been reading Merton since 1972, but in this setting I’m more aware of Merton as a man connected to God and nature than I have been before.
I have frequently been challenged by some of Merton’s poetry, especially his pieces in “Cables to the Aces” but in the context of a collection of prayers, suddenly his words make sense as they reflect the mind and body waking in the morning. Cleverly, Merton’s words become hymns, psalms, prayers and exhortations. Suddenly, the Merton who at times can be dense and challenging is at once inviting, comforting and understanding.
I can’t give this book high enough praise. Something powerful is happening with this book! Maybe with me. But maybe it’s just the beauty of this book. But the eyes of my eyes seem to open when I use this book to start or close my day. Giving rhythm and meaning to the day is a challenge for anyone. And this book helps to make that day possible.
Read this “psalm prayer” (a prayer that literally follows and echoes the psalm) from Thursday Dawn:
“You fool, it is life that makes you dance: have you forgotten? Come out of the smoke, the world is tossing in its sleep, the sun is up, the land is bursting in the silence of dawn. The gentle earth relaxed and spreads out to embrace the strong sun. The grasses and flowers speak their own secret names.” (The text is from “Atlas and the Fatman” in The Collection Poems of Thomas Merton, p. 691)
Each “hymn,” “psalm,” “litany,” and all the texts in this book are all cited. You can read the book as segments of Merton’s writings, as a daily prayer book or even as a leaping off point for learning more of Thomas Merton. Deignan provides all the sources for these pieces in her notes in the back of the book.
But possibly the single most important aspect of this book is the call to be silent. The foreword by James Finley is an eloquent invitation to listen. The book is mystical, poetic and prayerful. But at its heart, it’s a calling to be still, to go deeper, to allow the words to fade away in order to find, as Merton would say, our True Selves.
You deserve a life such as this. We all do.