Wednesday, October 6, 2010

My Own Gethsemani

I'm reading The Sign of Jonas right now. Merton has let me into his journal, and I get to see life in Gethsemani.

This is an old book, maybe around since the 60s, and the jacket is frayed along the edges. The front and back inside covers have a black and white photograph of Merton walking through what I presume to be the Kentucky woods. His back is sort of diagonally to the camera, his right foot raised in mid-stride. Have you ever wanted to enter a picture?

Yes, it's like that.

Wait! Wait for me!
That's my feeling when I see it.

Sometimes I wonder if the restlessness I feel is actually a good thing. If the mild and vague sense of dissatisfaction is merely a sign of things to come. That life on earth can only get so good, and it's what comes after that is the true kick-ass part.

Please don't take vague dissatisfaction the wrong way. I'm mostly happy, mostly content, able to experience and witness and store away these lovely moments, generally with family and friends. But I don't know...there is this undercurrent, always an undercurrent, of wanting and needing more.

And I'm not sure if the undercurrent is God, or a sign from God, or the lingering dysthymia that never completely leaves me alone. What's funny is that I crave contemplation, aloneness -- or, at least, I think I do -- but the whole truth is that I wouldn't know what to do with myself there.

I'm not a still person. Sometimes I have to force myself to stop during those moments when the kids are taking their sweet time, and usually it's because they've noticed something, taken note of something in their surroundings that really requires stop and looking. All this is a good thing, but I get far ahead and have to double back, and I have to pull in that ingrained need to keep moving.

I wouldn't know what to do with still and silent. I wonder if that is something that can be learned. But then again, young children and a vocation for nursing aren't exactly leading me in that general direction, either. My life isn't quite chaos, but it isn't hand signals in dim light by the altar, either.

In the book, Merton writes about wondering if he's in the right place with the Trappists, or if he'd have been better suited for the Carthusians. Apparently, the Cistercians weren't silent enough. (And they're monks! Using sign language!)

Of course, Merton stays. He's chosen his particular version of stillness, and decided that that's exactly where God wants him. I have to believe that this is where God wants me, in the slight insanity of family life with my husband and children, moving among throngs of students, reading and writing, and yes, praying. It's a different form of contemplation, for sure. But every bit as valid and needed.

At least, that's what I tell myself as I put Lillian in time-out for the 80th time in an afternoon.


Do you know what I just reread on page 35? "The simplest and most effective way to sanctity is to disappear into the background of ordinary everyday routine."

I think I'm being told to go finish the dishes.