[Today, I'm leading our Come Away retreat in Orange county. I'd be grateful if you'd pray for the eight leaders who are setting aside the day for some space alone with God]
(Repost from August 2010)
Thomas Merton’s book The Last of the Fathers was written on the occasion of the eight-hundredth anniversary of Bernard of Clairvaux’s death. There is much richness in Bernard’s life, and in Merton’s book. Here’s one rich (and substantial) quotation:
“Saint Bernard’s idea that we fulfill the end for which we were created when, by conformity to Christ, we fully realize our own identity by becoming perfectly free and therefore by loving God without limit. Hopkins says: ‘This [conformity to Christ] brings out the nature of the man himself as the lettering on a sail or the device upon a flag are best seen when it fills.’” (Thomas Merton. The Last of the Fathers. New York: Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich, Publishers, 1954, p. 63.)
That first sentence takes some digesting. What is my purpose, according to Bernard of Clairvaux? Loving God without limit. I love the simplicity and richness of that little phrase. And how do I come to such an expansive love of God? By becoming increasingly free from all that I cling to in God’s creation rather than clinging to Him alone. This is our identity. This is who we are—lovers of God. There is no name we can make for ourselves that is better, more noble or more magnificent than this one. And, of course, our identity as lovers of God is rooted in the reality of His having always loved us first.
Merton then quotes a line from the 19th century English poet and Jesuit priest Gerard Manley Hopkins, who uses the metaphor of writing on a sail or flag standing up in the wind. I love this. Only when the sail or flag is responding to the force of the wind can their insignia be well seen. If the sail is down or the flag hangs limp, there is nothing to see.
My prayer, Father, is that the strong wind of Your Spirit would blow through my mind, my heart, my body, my hours and my days so that Who You mean me to be is plain to myself and to everyone else. Awaken my spirit, refresh my soul, invigorate my mind and stir my emotions by Your Spirit. Apart from You, I am a flag hanging useless and ineffective. Filled with You, I can be all You mean me to be.