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