I had a warm conversation yesterday with a young UM pastor from the Dakotas. We shared a bit about the places where we serve (some of the joy, and some of the challenge) and then shifted into personal "how are you doing" conversation. In the process he asked me what I have been reading lately.
The book that is on our coffee table or that sits beside the bed is always a good indicator of our mind set, our personal interests, and a statement about how we are growing in our faith and personal relationships. It can also speak volumes about how have fun.
Lately (in the last two weeks) I have been reading a bunch of Thomas Merton stuff. I visited Gethsemani Abbey two weeks ago so he is fresh on my mind. Merton lived within the walls of Gethsemani for 27 years before his death on December 10, 1968. His writings continue to impact many people who are searching for the inner realities of spiritual growth and discovering how to live "in the world but not of the world."
Once again (I am embarrassed to tell you how many times this has happened) I read Michael Mott's very complete biography of Merton. In addition I read Merton: A Biography by Monica Furlong. I also enjoyed a Merton biography by Jim Forest called Living With Wisdom. Both the Forest book and the Furlong biography have been updated and revised in recent years. The three books together provide a comprehensive picture Merton's life, thought, teaching, and struggle.
Here's a nutshell of what I gleaned from my Merton reading: Spiritual life is an up and down process! There is no constant experience that continues to move upward from left to right. In fact the growth curve (or sprirtual life chart) often looks a lot like a graph of the contemporary stock market. It has upward spikes, downward trends, and a roller coaster appearance. But like the stock market (which I understand always eventually -we pray- goes up) our spiritual lives that are focused fully on God will move through the cycle with an over all upward reality.
It is the Romans 8:28 principle in action! God (who is always good) will use our dedicated desire, our willingness to live by faith, and our committed discipline for ultimate good. It will be good for us and it will be a blessing to others. Our personal growth is always directed to the lives of others. It is never for our sake alone. We benefit, but our growing faith is really for the needs of the world and for people who do not yet know the joy of personal faith in Jesus Christ.
Bottom line...your personal journey may be on an upswing or you may feel like you are about to touch bottom...either way there is good news. God is faithful and wants to use this day to bring good into your life. Stay faithful, move forward, seek God...it may not be easy but the journey is good.
Honk if you like Merton!