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 that 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 on the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem 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.
A Prayer of Thomas Merton
I was given a copy of this prayer at the end of a Pilgrimage Walk to Buildwas Abbey back on a hot summer's day in June, organised by Peace Church. For me was an amazing experience of worship and prayer through walking and talking; of faith and practice in transition and on the move, and of communion. Thomas Merton's prayer has stayed in my wallet for the past 4 months, and I often read it, contemplate it and pray the words. They reveal new layers of meaning to this poem by Housman, but also to the single words that I've collected at the bottom:
If truth in hearts that perish Could move the powers on high, I think the love I bear you Should make you not to die.
Sure, sure, if stedfast meaning, If single thought could save, The world might end to-morrow, You should not see the grave.
This long and sure-set liking, This boundless will to please, —Oh, you should live for ever If there were help in these.
But now, since all is idle, To this lost heart be kind, Ere to a town you journey Where friends are ill to find.
Poem XXXIII from 'A Shropshire Lad' by A. E. Housman
Come Love, come Lord, and that long day For which I languish, come away. When this dry soul those eyes shall see and drink the unseal'd source of Thee, When glory's sun faith's shades shall chase, Then for Thy veil, give me Thy face
by Richard Crashaw, put to music by Ralph Vaughan Williams
"Summer was gone and the heat died down And Autumn reached for her golden crown, I looked behind as I heard a sigh, But this was the time of no reply"
'Time of No Reply' by Nick Drake
Autumn always creeps up on me slowly. The sun, the warmth, the signs of living growth, all pass that tipping point, and then the inherent fragility of creation is revealed and everything falls. But my awareness of autumn often hits me suddenly, when the retrospective apprehension of what was staring me in the face for a long time becomes apparent.
"The time of no reply is calling me to stay: There's no 'hello' and no 'goodbye' To leave there is no way"
And this occurs at moments when, for example, I see a single leaf falling from a tree and drifting to the ground in the gentle breeze of a sunny autumn day, almost in slow motion. Witnessing this simple act appears to me as a miracle - as each leaf on every tree falls to the earth only once; and for that leaf, I was present and I saw it.
"I am hanging in the balance of the reality of man Like every sparrow falling Like every grain of sand"
from 'Every Grain of Sand' by Bob Dylan
Or, when I look at the fallen leaves and twigs on the ground, I see that two have found themselves lying on top of one another, at right angles, and it appears as if nature, unthinkingly acknowledges the crucifixion.
"and, gathered from the shorethe bone-like, crossed sticksproving that natureacknowledges the Crucifixion."
from 'At the End' by R. S. Thomas
As I incrementally try to build upon my Slants on Autumn I think about how my expectant waiting and attentive listening during this autumnal spiritual season can be redeemed and made fruitful in worshipful and prayerful ways. I can't help but ask myself: "what on earth have I been doing in the silence of Quaker Meetings for the past 3 years?" The tentative answer, is surely, what else other than a slow hollowing-out of my own self, in order to create the space to allow God's Spirit to flood in? Just as with autumn, the process of laying bare and hollowing out occurs, to reveal and expose the inward Light - that is tender, delicate and brittle, but is the seed which will spark new Life and Light.
But, accompanied with this is a sense of yearning, mourning and loss - that we have to wait patiently for the promise of new growth, that we must suffer the withdrawal of warmth and light, and the abject loneliness of short days and cold dark nights. During this silent, fallow time of no reply I feel the gentle longing most acutely - the craving for spiritual assurance and affirmation. Like I want to receive a colourful warm, woolly jumper that someone dear to me has knitted, and continually wear it throughout the winter to keep me warm.
On Saturday, in a form of pre-emptive awareness of all this, I sowed some stars ... I bought and planted some bulbs in big pots. So, I hope, that from January the bare and desolate garden will be lit with the flowering of ... white snowdrops, white crocuses, and white narcissi ... the first flush of spring growth. These will be my 'Peace Pots' - a kind of extension of the 'Peace Patch' at my brother's allotment.
At Meeting for Worship last thursday lunchtime, included in ministry were the words:
My mind turns to such thoughts of next year's growth almost spontaneously, as if I have an instinctual and inherent cyclical form of biding and yearning for something new, before the passing of present experiences. And I wonder that perhaps this is quite impatient of me.
I hope for growth and colour and light that's not too far away,