Days of Visitation

The wise one’s heart discerns both time and judgment. — Ecclesiastes

[photo: butsudan with Merton picture]

Opening the butsudan (Buddhist shrine) for meditation, I see among the Buddhas and bodhisattvas an image of Thomas Merton. The Trappist monk, who through his writings was a mentor for me from the time I was twelve years old, died almost forty-three years ago at the age of fifty-three, electrocuted during one of his few trips away from the monastery. I was nineteen years old then, losing my Catholic religion to reason and ethics, at loose ends in every way, a long way from making peace with my heart. And, although I could not have known it and would not have believed it in that time of war, I was a long way from death.

Nineteen then; sixty-one now. Almost a lifetime of seeking and struggling has passed, suffering of the sort that is lost unless it bears fruit for the future. Scripture tells us that there is a proper time for everything: now, I see, is the eschaton, the time of judgment, for me. However long it may last, this is my hour of krisis, the time for my life’s harvest to be gathered, weighed, and shared.

[photo: The Judgment]

For most of my life, I have followed Jesus’ advice to allow tares to grow with the wheat. I have had little choice: tares and wheat are confusingly similar. I have never been adept at distinguishing them, even after the more differentiated fruits, or ears, have appeared. And now I am presbyopic as well. If I were to attempt alone to separate and destroy the weeds, little wheat would remain. With the harvest at hand, how will I manage?

Fortunately, the discerning is not my task. I can reap everything and reserve the sorting to an abler wisdom. In the years since Merton first described it for me, I have met that wisdom, whose name is agápē, in my own heart, have seen its discerning power working carefully and effectively there. By now, I know that I can trust its judgment.

Feeling agápē‘s strengthening power within me, I am learning to allow it to shine continuously on the fields of my soul. In its light, differences are clearly seen. Shining on the harvest, the light of agápē will show me the wheat and the weeds. That which it identifies as useful and compassionate, that which reflects the light, I will store as treasure for distribution; that which it identifies as useless or harmful, that which absorbs the light, I will burn.

I will fulfill the time’s imperative and promise, then, by means of recollection, mindfulness, surrender, and fidelity. I will gather the harvest of my life. I will attend to agápē as its unsparing light illuminates my soul and leads me to divide aright. I will accept agápē‘s judgments and act on them, saving and sharing love’s fruits while I still live. This is the task and opportunity that remains for me, and, with gratitude to Merton and others who have helped to guide me here, I vow to devote myself to it.

Beginning now, as I take my seat on the cushions before the butsudan, and continuing through each uncertain day that remains, I will live this vow as if there were no tomorrow. For the time that was coming is now, and there will be no other.

[image: Gauguin-Harvest]

3 thoughts on “Days of Visitation

  1. George…..your blog really speaks to my condition.

    I have been struggling lately as a Quaker Theist (what a clunky technical sound that description has) to come into some understanding of Quaker Non Theism and able to find little common ground.

    It seems no accident that I stumbled upon your Blog because you are helping me tremendously. I may have been unlucky but much I have read by and encountered with Non Theists has just passed me by.

    I remember going to a workshop with a very well known and vocal non Theist here in UK and was amazed to hear him say at the beginning of his presentation…’Well of course no one in this room believes in a supernatural or personal God’ and then going on to parody Theism as being stuck in the view of a three tiered universe, a leftover of a pre scientific age. This was a primitive parody of Theism and Christianity as a whole. The light of intelligent reasoning would chase away the darkness of superstition.

    When I questioned him he said that really it was all about ‘what works for you’. My reply was that surely it was not about what worked for me (after all Racism and Homophobia and Fascism ‘work’ for some people) but about what is true and real.

    I came away very disappointed and disheartened.

    The first entry of yours I came across here just blew me away. A deep grounding in the writings of early Friends and an ability to truly ‘open’ them up to me. As I read I kept thinking, surely this can’t be written by a non Theist? I am hearing authentic Quaker spirituality illuminated, beyond vague liberalism and syncretism. This is the real McCoy!

    It was when you spoke so eloquently about Love that I felt a real opening. I realised that Friends actually don’t talk that much about love, particularly in the Theist, non Theist dialogue….how bogged down we get in beliefs and meaning and even our subjective emotional experiences (all of which are important) But Love, that is it. Agape love…surrendering to the power of Love can bridge all differences

    I thought of the question so often asked ‘What do Quakers believe in’ and how we can struggle with that and then I thought, the answer is ridiculously simple…Quakers believe in the power of Love. Not believe in as a tenet of belief but believe as one might say to another person ‘I believe in you’.

    One of the great insights of Christianity ( though it is not unique to it) is that ‘God is Love’. God and Love are one and the same. I don’t even need to refer to the Love OF God but simply Love itself. To know Love, to yield to it is transforming power is THE uniting experience for Friends.

    So now I feel I have found the unifying factor between us. There is not a necessary connection between Non Theism and Theism…in fact two Theist may be more far apart than a Theist and a non Theist. But all those who seek Love are one body, eat the same bread and drink for the same cup, are anointed by the same Spirit, led by the same Teacher.

    So my question now is not ‘Is this Quaker a Theist or non Theist but is s/he a lover? Do they place Love at the centre? Do they listen to Love, immerse themselves in Love. For me this makes so much more sense of Meeting for Worship.

    Am I willing to try to be led and transformed by Love? How more vital is this to me is that than what I believe in.

    I will continue to read your Blog with interest and gratitude.

    I apologise if I have misrepresented your views but this is how what I have read so far has spoken to me.

    In Friendship

    Jeff Hunter

  2. Thanks for the appreciation, Jeff. Thinking of contemporary Quakerism, I’m sometimes reminded of the Ch’an story in which Master Baso says to student Daiju, who has come seeking enlightenment, “You have your own treasure house. Why do you search outside?”

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