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A Vision and Calling

July 4, 2021
The face on this tree spoke to me when we visited New Achota, the former Capital of the Cherokee Nation.

Can you see the face in this tree? It spoke to me of the pain and the heartbreak of the Cherokee people as they saw the end of their nation coming. They had been betrayed by the US Congress, the US President, the leaders and people of the states that grew up around them, and by some of their own leaders. As we walked around this historic site, I could feel the pain, anguish, and suffering… I could also feel the anger, the pain, and the frustration…

Today I spoke about being a prophet and the challenge of not always having a message of sunshine and joy in a sermon or in my writings. This isn’t my challenge alone… it should be the challenge of everyone who calls themselves a Christ-follower. I keep coming back to the question for myself… the question of my calling and vocation. My own vocational calling, or should I say, my understanding of that calling, has deepened and been transformed by my experiences of life and ministry over the past forty years.

The young man who entered The Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani in Kentucky on December 10, 1941 was not the same man who wrote to Dorothy Day on August 23, 1961. Thomas Merton had entered the monastery thinking he would simply become a cloistered monk, a contemplative, for the rest of his life. He wrote to Dorothy Day about the crossroads he found himself at as a monk.

…I don’t feel that I can in conscience, at a time like this, go on writing just about things like meditation, though that has its point. I cannot just bury my head in a lot of rather tiny and secondary monastic studies either. I think I have to face the big issues, the life-and-death issues. (The Hidden Ground of Love, p. 140)

Three years earlier, he had written to Pope John XXIII about this change. It is not enough for qme to think of the apostolic value of prayer and penance; I also have to think in terms of a contemplative grasp of the political, intellectual, artistic, and social movements in this world—by which I mean a sympathy for the honest aspirations of so many intellectuals everywhere in the world and the terrible problems they have to face. I have had the experience of seeing that this kind of understanding and friendly sympathy, on the part of a monk who really understands them, has produced striking effects among artists, writers, publishers, poets, etc., who have become my friends without my having to leave the cloister. (The Hidden Ground of Love, p. 482)

Perhaps this is the calling that we need to respond to as people of faith, no matter what that faith looks like. Perhaps we are being called to look beyond ourselves and become a part of the larger discussion that is going on around us. That is what Merton seems to be challenging me to do. How will you respond, dear reader? A response doesn’t have to be gigantic. It can be small. But I believe that we are called to respond.

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