I’ve been reading Thomas Merton this week and found both helpful and challenging. I love this quote in particular:
“… in the the spiritual life there are no tricks and no short cuts. Those who imagine that they can discover spiritual gimmicks and put them to work for themselves usually ignore God’s will and his grace.”
This reminds me of a poem I wrote a few years back, earlier on in my journey of contemplative prayer. It contains a beginners wisdom that I’ve been in danger of loosing, and perhaps have already allowed to fade.
Clearly there is an influence of Eugene Peterson with in this poem who I continue to find helpful with his timely wisdom on the spiritual life. Spirituality, Peterson reminds us, is interested in what God is doing not what we are doing. What we do has some importance, but it is not the focus. A good spirituality asks “What is God doing and how can I get in on it?” To do this is to cultivate a beginners mind. “We do not want to be beginners.” Merton notes, “But let us be convinced of the fact we will never be anything else but beginners.”
Richard Foster recommends an exercise which fits well with this. He suggests spending time listing your personal list of ‘spiritual tricks’. He asks; “Which magical methods have you relied on in the past, or used as a way of manipulating God?” Could it be that we even manage to use good practices in manipulative ways? “Look God, I’m saying this, singing that, reading this, doing that! Meet with me!” Merton reminds us that the life of prayer and meditation is not one of ‘methods’ and ‘systems’ (though we may learn many helpful ways), but rather is is the cultivation of an attitude of: faith, openness, attention, reverence, expectation, supplication, trust and joy.
Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.
Do not be quick with your mouth,
do not be hasty in your heart
to utter anything before God.
God is in heaven
and you are on earth,
so let your words be few.