First and Second Halves of Life, Part II — Center for Action and Contemplation

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First and Second Halves of Life, Part II

Mystics and Non-Dual Thinkers: Week 6

First and Second Halves of Life, Part II
Friday, August 21, 2015

Today we will look at the latter part of Merton’s poem, “When in the Soul of the Serene Disciple,” [1] a map for the second half of life. My commentary is in italics.

It was a lucky wind
That blew away his halo with his cares,
A lucky sea that drowned his reputation.

This is the necessary stumbling stone that makes you loosen your grip on the first half of life and takes away any remaining superior self-image. (Merton is calling this crossover point “lucky” and surely sees it as part of necessary and good suffering that the soul needs in order to mature.)

Here you will find
Neither a proverb nor a memorandum.
There are no ways,
No methods to admire

Don’t look forward or backward in your mind for explanations or consolations; don’t try to hide behind any secret special way that you have practiced and now can recommend to all! (As we preachy types always feel we must do.) Few certitudes now, just naked faith.

Where poverty is no achievement.
His God lives in his emptiness like an affliction.

This is nothing you have come to or crawled down to by effort or insight. You were taken there, and your “there” is precisely nothing. (That is, it is “everything,” but not what you expected everything to be!) This kind of God is almost a disappointment, at least to those who were in any way “using” God up to now. There is nothing to claim anymore. God is not a possession of any type, not for your own ego or morality or superiority or for control of the data. This is the nada of John of the Cross and the mystics, and this is Jesus on the cross. Yet it is a peaceful nothingness and a luminous darkness, while still an “affliction.”

What choice remains?
Well, to be ordinary is not a choice:
It is the usual freedom
Of men [and women] without [their] visions.

In the second half of the spiritual life, you are not making choices as much as you are being guided, taught, and led—which leads to “choiceless choices.” These are the things you cannot not do because they are your destiny and your deepest desire. Your driving motives are no longer money, success, or the approval of others. You have found your sacred dance.

Now your only specialness is in being absolutely ordinary and even “choiceless,” beyond the strong opinions, needs, preferences, and demands of the first half of life. You do not need your “visions” anymore; you are happily participating in God’s vision for you. With that, the wonderful dreaming and the dreamer that we were in our early years have morphed into Someone Else’s dream for us. We move from the driver’s seat to being a happy passenger, one who is still allowed to make helpful suggestions to the Driver. We are henceforth “a serene disciple,” living in our own unique soul as never before, yet paradoxically living within the mind and heart of God, and taking our place in the great and general dance. [2]

Gateway to Silence:
“We are living in a world that is absolutely transparent and the divine is shining through it all the time.”  —Thomas Merton

[1] Thomas Merton, Collected Poems (New Directions: 1977), 279f.
[2] Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (Jossey-Bass: 2011), 164-167.

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