I find myself, once again, turning with an even deeper passion to the writings of Thomas Merton. I remember reading the works of Thich Nhat Hanh at a time when I felt I couldn’t have been further from the Catholic faith. A time when I thought I had put her behind me and had found what I thought was my true religious calling – Buddhism. I remember reading Thay’s books and feeling that I finally understood faith and found myself at his center in Ellenville, NY the Blue Cliff Monastery. I enjoyed my time there reveling in the quiet, the peace and calm, the lack of stodgy doctrine, it filled me with a freshness I had never known.
And then I read a line from one of Thay’s books, that said simply take the practice back to your own tradition. What? What did he mean, “my own tradition”? I felt betrayed, like an outsider still trying to fit in. Why was my beloved Thich Nhat Hanh not embracing me in my new found faith, but turning me back?
As it would turn out, Merton too was turned away – prior to embracing Catholicism, he had met a Hindu monk named Bramachari who recommended he turn his attention to Christian mystical work, namely, Augustine’s “Confessions”. Suggesting he turn to his own tradition left a profound impact on him – much like Thich Nhat Hanh had left on me.
My love is darkness!
Only in the Void
Are all ways one:
Only in the night
Are all the lost
In my ending is my meaning.
~ from The Night of Destiny
It is in the unknowing (perhaps The Cloud of Unknowing?) and in learning not to turn the Buddha into an idol or even his keenest insights of God into idols, Merton learned idols would lead him not into the darkness, but away from the darkness. Somewhere in Buddhism and in Christian mysticism Merton learned to see in the dark.
It is not the Christmas wrapped in images and perceptions, in customs and traditions – probably the fabric of what Thich Nhat Hanh had referred, but the post Christmas time, in the quiet, in the dark, I can get lost in the unknowing, in the dark and there meet Christ. The Christ who is the idol of the season, but is the essence of the light in the darkness.