Thomas Merton has fans. Lots of them. I’m not one of them. His spirituality is neither to my taste nor lined up with my theology in many respects.
Still, his classic book New Seeds of Contemplation has played a crucial role in my spiritual and psychological life, for which I am grateful. And in re-reading it these days, I again came across a powerful prayer, structured lightly by elements of the Lord’s Prayer and the Seven Deadly Sins. I could pray this one every day for quite a while:
Justify my soul, O God, but also from your fountains fill my will with fire. Shine in my mind, although perhaps this means “be darkness to my experience,” but occupy my heart with your tremendous life. Let my eyes see nothing in the world but your glory, and let my hands touch nothing that is not for your service. Let my tongue taste no bread that does not strengthen me to praise your great mercy. I will hear your voice and I will hear all harmonies you have created, singing your hymns. Sheep’s wool and cotton from the field shall warm me enough that I may live in your service; I will give the rest to your poor. Let me use all things for one sole reason: to find my joy in giving you glory.
Therefore keep me, above all things, from sin. Keep me from the death of deadly sin which puts hell in my soul. Keep me from the murder of lust that blinds and poisons my heart. Keep me from the sins that eat a man’s flesh with irresistible fire until he is devoured. Keep me from loving money in which is hatred, from avarice and ambition that suffocate my life. Keep me from the dead works of vanity and the thankless labor in which artists destroy themselves for pride and money and reputation, and saints are smothered under the avalanche of their own importunate zeal. Stanch in me the rank wound of covetousness and the hunger that exhaust my nature with their bleeding. Stamp out the serpent envy that stings love with poison and kills all joy.
Untie my hands and deliver my heart from sloth. Set me free from the laziness that goes about disguised as activity when activity is not required of me, and from the cowardice that does what is not demanded, in order to escape sacrifice.
But give me the strength that waits upon you in silence and peace. Give me humility in which alone is rest, and deliver me from pride which is the heaviest of burdens. And possess my whole heart and soul with the simplicity of love. Occupy my whole life with the one thought and the one desire of love, that I may love not for the sake of merit, not for the sake of perfection, not for the sake of virtue, not for the sake of sanctity, but for you alone.
For there is only one thing that can satisfy love and rewarded, and that is you alone. (pp. 44-45)