Notes from the Waxhaws

Prayer from the dark side

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I’ve been revisiting some of the works of Thomas Merton, a contemplative Trappist monk whose writings greatly influenced me during my formative years. It was Merton who first introduced me to the dark side of Christianity. Up to that point, growing up in the Catholic Church, I had only been exposed to what’s known as the cataphatic tradition…or the via positiva…which believes that God can be known and described through positive affirmation of His qualities. The flip side of the coin, so to speak, is the apophatic tradition, or the via negativa…what I like to refer to as the dark side of Christianity (don’t worry, Star Wars fans…in this case, the dark side is good). It essentially views God as being unknowable. His ways are beyond our ways…His mind is beyond our understanding. Reading Merton led me to a 13th century mystic…Meister Eckhart. For me, Eckhart summed up the via negativa when he prayed something to the effect…”I pray to God to rid me of God”…at least, to get rid of our usually small-minded concepts of God…of Who and What we think He is. Teresa of Avila (The Interior Castle), and John of the Cross (whose description of the Dark Night of the Soul seems apropos at the moment) later followed in the same tradition.

This whole idea of God, and His methods and means, being unknowable has been troubling to one who has always sought to understand what’s going on…especially during a time of floundering such as the one I (as well as others)  find myself in at present. I guess that’s why Psalm 3:5 has become my personal mantra of late…”Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding”. 

I came across a prayer of Thomas Merton’s today that seems to convey the same sentiments. I would have loved to have met Father Louis, as he was called at the Abbey of Gethsemani, in Kentucky. He seems to have been a kindred soul…

MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

– Thomas Merton,  Thoughts in Solitude

I hope this helps others who may be wandering the same path…

Written by Jim

June 12, 2011 at 7:36 pm

Posted in Grieving, Musings, Spiritual

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One Response

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  1. Thanks Jlm, this was both helpful and informative. pg


    June 13, 2011 at 12:40 pm

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