Feb 28, 2023

Thomas Merton


His route to faith in Christ was circuitous.  While Thomas Merton (1915-1968) was baptized in the Church of England, he had little religious upbringing.  He lived a wild and reckless life in New York City.  During his early years at Columbia University, he considered himself agnostic.  He read St. Augustine’s Confessions and Thomas a Kempis’ Imitation of Christ at the suggestion of a friend.  He began to pray, took instruction in the Catholic church and was baptized.  He was rejected for candidacy as a Franciscan monk for having fathered a child out of wedlock and eventually joined a strict order of Trappist monks in rural Kentucky.  You can learn about more about his conversion in his autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain.  His book brought him considerable fame and attention, which troubled some of his superiors in the monastic order.  Uncharacteristic for a mystic, he wrote sixty books over his lifetime.  Today’s prayer holds a special place in my life. I came upon it during a time when there were several vexing problems in the church and some people were acting, how shall I say this, like jerks. This prayer was part of a collection of writings and prayers titled Thoughts in Solitude.  He began his prayer with words that resonate with me, “I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me.”  While he expressed doubt about following God’s will, he fell back on the confidence, “I believe that the desire to please you does, in fact, please you.”   He closed with the reassuring words, “You will never leave me to face my perils alone.”  Amen!

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 lead. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean I am actually doing so. Yet I believe that the desire to please you, does, in fact, please you. And I hope that I have this desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from this 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. Amen.

Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude, 1958.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain, 1948.

Rev. Dr. Peter James served 42 years as the senior of Vienna Presbyterian Church in Vienna, VA — 21 years in the 20th century and 21 years in the 21st century. He retired in 2021 and now serves as Pastor-in-Residence at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Even as a pastor, prayer came slowly to Pete. Read Pete’s story.