Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thomas Merton on Celtic Monasticism

I've been on a bit of a Merton binge of late and happened to be looking at Mystics and Zen Masters (1967). There I located some additional thoughts on Celtic monasticism in the essay "From Pilgrimage to Crusade" which I wanted to comment on.  Some of the Fr. Merton's ideas are reminiscent of what he  said in Wisdom of the Desert, however what is new here is a wonderful discussion of how the Celtic understanding of pilgrimage can also be a  model of one's own faith journey.  Another example of old and new wineskins. The rugged and often extreme monastic, inner monk experience of the past is not something limited to the few. Rather our faith journey is to have the same sense of adventure and sacrifice as demonstrated by the Celtic monks of old. Merton notes:

"Peregrinatio, or "going forth into strange countries," was a characteristically Irish form of asceticism. The Irish peregrinus, or pilgrim, set out on his journey, not in order to visit a sacred shrine, but in search of solitude and exile. His pilgrimage was an exercise in ascetic homelessness and wandering. He entrusted himself to Providence, setting out with no definite aim, abandoning himself to the Lord of the universe."(pg. 94)

Not an easy thing that! And definitely a brand of faith which goes way beyond the platitudes one often encounters in the church, or religious television. This understanding of faith journey is not a one time thing. Rather its something which is ongoing-the change is ongoing. Yet it is within that process of journey, one finds their own salvation.  The concept reminds me of the biblical teaching that one finds oneself, when one loses oneself.

"The objective of the monk's pilgrimage on earth was described as the "place of resurrection"-the place divinely appointed, in which the monk is to settle down, spend the rest of his days in solitude, doing penance, praying, waiting for the day of his death. To leave Ireland in search of this privileged place was to "go on pilgrimage for the love of God" or "in the name of God". If the pilgrimage were a "navagation," then the monk was seeking for a "desert in the sea." The Irish has a predilection for lonely islands." (pg. 96)

Fr. Merton is saying something which is very important. And that is the Celtic notion of pilgrimage and faith journey is something which also applies to us today. The idea of venturing out, and taking risks, going into the unknown places, should be a regular part of our spiritual experience. And it's not something that is just intellectual. Authentic faith also includes life style, decisions about how we live and where we go. This is what Columba, Brendan, and Aidan did. And it is also what you and I should do as well.

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