Friday, November 8, 2013

A Hidden Wholeness

My favorite dead monk, Thomas Merton, wrote so much that it is hard for my students to believe his productivity.  Merton died in 1968 and had not yet reached his sixtieth birthday.  Tragically executed in a bathtub in Bangkok, Thailand, where he had travelled to speak at an interreligious monastic conference, Merton’s death shocked the religious world.  Partly because of the changing media in the mid-20th century, Merton became famous in his own time.  Indeed, it seems ironic that someone would join a contemplative monastery in the middle of nowhere in Kentucky, taking a vow of silence, and then become famous because of all of his words!           

But that’s Merton.  He is such a fascinating guy because it is impossible to pigeonhole or stereotype him.  In many ways his life is fraught with ironies and, sometimes, contradictions.  Part of his appeal is the chance to watch him work out his own spiritual journey in fear and trembling, and yet with the confidence in a God and God’s grace that is reassuring to any of us also working out our own spiritual journey.  Merton is a challenge and a comfort.           

Merton was not only a writer of books and articles.  He also was a photographer of some note.  And he was a fairly prolific poet.  It is to his poetry I would like to turn for some inspirational thoughts.  Perhaps his most famous poem is entitled, Hagia Sophia.  Hagia Sophia is a pair of Greek words that can be translated, “Holy Wisdom.”  And when Wisdom is being used like this, it typically refers to God’s Wisdom or Divine Wisdom.             

The opening lines of his poem, Hagia Sophia, read like this.  “There is in all visible things an invisible fecundity, a dimmed light, a meek namelessness, a hidden wholeness.  This mysterious Unity and Integrity is Wisdom, the Mother of all, Natura naturans.  Those amazing two sentences could demand one hundred pages of commentary!  Clearly the punch line for me is the idea of a “hidden wholeness.”  Two things are affirmed in that phrase.   

First there is a wholeness.  I am heartened by that conviction.  It suggests to me that in spite of all the mayhem, confusion and, sometimes, chaos of our lives, there is a hidden wholeness.  In spite of the fragmentation, contentions, and, sometimes, conflict in our lives, there is a hidden wholeness.  Although we may not have much of a sense of that wholeness, it is a hope and a worthy goal.  In a sense it is the object of the spiritual journey. 

Secondly, the wholeness is hidden.  If we concern ourselves with only the surface of our lives, the wholeness is hidden.  In fact, there may be little clue that there is “in all visible things an invisible fecundity.”  Only Merton would think to use a word like “fecundity” in the case of hidden wholeness.  Fecundity means fruitfulness.  We might feel like life is sterile and impotent, but there is an invisible fecundity---a potentiality pregnant with more than we can imagine.  We may feel spiritually mired in poverty, but there actually is unbelievable spiritual fruitfulness awaiting us.

Merton continues to build up the invisible---hidden---wonders that are there beneath the surface of life.  There is a light---but a dimmed light to those who can’t see or know.  There is a meek namelessness that exists beneath all the noises of our crazy world.  On the surface there may be little reason to suspect that hidden in the invisible corners of our lives, we can expect to discover or be found by the very Holy Wisdom of God---Hagia Sophia. 

This Holy Wisdom is the spiritual unity and integrity of our own individual lives, which we come to know more and more fully as we live further into our spiritual journey.  The only way we can miss becoming acquainted with and live into this Holy Wisdom is to refuse to begin the spiritual journey.  If we prefer, we can remain on the surface of our lives---playing forever the boundary games of ego-driven, maniacal quest for the ultimately useless things of life. 

Give me Wisdom.  Gift me with Hagia Sophia.  Grace me with the desire and discipline to start that inner journey that will be lived out in my spiritual journey and bring me home---home into that hidden wholeness.  I very much like the idea of wholeness. 

Wholeness is my favorite synonym for salvation.  Salvation is to be found whole in my entire being.  Salvation is to become immersed in the hidden whole of the Divinity Itself.  Salvation is found with all other creatures in that Holy Wisdom, Who is the Mother of all.   

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