This is one of my very favorite paragraphs. It is actually the forward to one of Merton’s books. This intro is as worthy as the book itself! I hope it speaks to you as much as it has, and still is speaking to me throughout the years.
Sharing the Journey,
FORWARD BY DOUGLAS V. STEER to Thomas Merton’s Contemplative Prayer
(Tweaked by Maru for inclusivity)
“There is a line in William Blake that says that “we are put on earth for a little space that we may learn to bear the beams of love,” …. in this line we are given a clue both to the greatness of the human condition: that it is irradiated by love; but also the firm reminder of how much remains to be done to prepare us to bear the “beams of love.” Here in this last firm reminder are hints of both our longing for exposure to these “beams of love” and yet our fear of what may be involved to come within its transforming power. For if to pray means to change, it is no wonder that people, even devout people, hurry to fashion protective clothing, leaden aprons that resist all radiation, even beam-proof shelters within corporate religious exercises in order to elude the “beams of love” and to stay as we are.
In this book…. he does little but to point to the “beams of love,” and to compel us to acknowledge our contrived hiding places.
This may seem a negative task to seek to strip ourselves and others of our cloaks of evasion and to leave us exposed before the necessary decisions, but how else is one to describe genuine prayer. Prayer if it’s real, is an acknowledgment of our finitude, our need, our openness to be changed, our readiness to be surprised, yes astonished by the “beams of love.”
In an old-fashioned theater, there were often three or four fire curtains with lively scenes painted on them. At intervals before the play began, these painted curtains were lifted one after another. As a member of the audience, I was never quite sure whether it was still another painted curtain or the very play itself that was there before me. But finally the last fire curtain lifted and now there was nothing between me and the actors themselves. Real prayer may have many curtains that must rise before we are in living touch with the play itself…
When I look at the human condition, can I see it as irradiated by love?
What if I was to experience myself and others as irradiated by love? What would change? What do I fear?
What are my favorite hiding places/strategies/behaviors?
Is my prayer still a place of encounter, exposure?