21 April 2017

The old man lived in a council flat, not the monastery he loved more
than he could ever say.  He traded his white monk's cowl for an
"opportunity shop" hoodie.  His life went by largely uncelebrated and
then he was buried without superlatives.  Somehow or other his
well-thumbed prayer book (the Psalms and an eclectic 'library' of
prayers) came into my hands.  It always felt like a craftsman's prized
chisel; a scholar's priceless lexicon.

Most surprising and interesting were the old man's pencil-ed
additions.  His own thoughts?  Or did they belong to another
"traveller from the holy desert"?(1)  He always acknowledged the
authors of the prayers he painstakingly copied out.  Perhaps modesty
obliged him to leave his own thoughts lying about to
a good home?

"On my knees," he had written, "I seem to see an unrelenting
procession of souls intent upon Heaven's gates.  The massive doors
appear to be forced and held open by 'a Lamb standing upright,
yet slain (as I thought) in sacrifice'.(2)  I too am caught up in this
flood tide wherein 'mercy rejoices against, triumphs over, can laugh
at judgement'.(3)  This very great multitude wear the faces of
complete strangers I have already met.  Are these ones whose tongues
(silenced by ignorance, indifference, hostility) have been salved,
graced, loosened because of the prayers of all who live to pray?  Do
supplications sighed and wept in obscurity and blind faith actually
avail and prevail for all who cannot, do not, will not pray?  I
believe they do!

"That is why I am compelled to persevere with this way of life which
some may dismiss and mock.  And when the abyss of dumb futility yawns
and the noonday devils howl, I seem to see in the darkness a million tiny
coals burning red hot.  Around them (glimpsed as if from the corner of
my eye) dance the holy ones, showering us with incense unknown in this
world.  'The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the
saints went up before God from the angel's hand'(4) and Christ with
crowned head bowed and
eyes closed, smiles gently."

1)   'Figures of an Apocalypse' Thomas Merton (New Directions, 1947 USA)
2)   Rev 5.6 (Knox)
3)   Jas 2.13
4)   Rev 8.4