October 29, 2020

Why We Had Merton Week (with more such “weeks” to come)

McDowell Sonoran Preserve, Arizona 2015

Why We Had Merton Week (with more such “weeks” to come)

A couple of weeks ago I hit the wall.

I’ll spare you the gory details, but let’s just say I exhausted my capacity to concentrate and to speak without setting on fire the room around me.

I remember when this happened back in 2011. I packed my bags for Gethsemani Abbey and spent a week in silence, starting with a couple days of nothing but sleeping and eating and listening to the angels à la Elijah in 1Kings 19.

This year, at this time, I had no such luxury.

So I did the next best thing. I picked up Thomas Merton, shut my mouth, and listened.

In particular I was listening for two things: the renewing power of silence and the value of daily work well done. That’s why I, on this occasion, chose the quotes I did (apart from Tuesday, which came by way of recommendation from Ted).

Silence and work. These were the two aspects of my demeanor most obviously affected by my empty tank. I couldn’t focus on doing my work well. I couldn’t shut my mouth when frustrated.

There are times, dear friends, when the voice of Internet Monk needs to just shut up and listen.

I will tell you now, there will be more such times. And when they come, I will search out someone who has been a wise mentor to me and I will bite my tongue and listen.

And after “a sound of sheer silence” (1Kings 19:12-13), I hope that I will then be ready to hear God’s voice and go back to work again.


  1. Glad you were able , with help, to make some course corrections and still get some work done. Sometimes these collapses make work sheer torture, or worse…. or there IS no job. It’s a lot of pressure to be (in some minds) the “answer guy” on a daily blog. I know you are not under that pretense.

    Praying for your continued shalom.

  2. All for it. You are not beholden to this site. It is beholden to you. Man was not made for the sabbath, the sabbath was made for him. The world is a cacaphony these days. Silence happens to be a hallmark of ‘monks’ so I think it is good for Imonk to investigate it and to practice it once in awhile.
    On a completely unrelated note; The dyslexic atheist says there is no Dog!

  3. Merton week was exceptionally helpful & inspirational. Looking forward to similar weeks. Been coming here daily for about 3 years now and nearly always leave with in the state of having been spiritually fed. Thx for what you do.

  4. Michael McCann says

    Mike- As I’ve said to you many times; I don’t how you do what you do. The physical and emotional toll of hospice chaplain is enough on its own. The commitment to Sunday sermons at the Lutheran church, which I know you don’t take lightly or just phone it in. Just commiting to a blog post once a week (like I’ve been doing) is time consuming; much less nearly every day with the excellence you always achieve. Its no wonder you hit the wall. So I’m going to take the opportunity to put the word out to all the Imonk authors; Andy and Damaris, Lisa, Daniel, Rob, Jeff– c’mon guys help a brother out, pitch in with some posts a little more regularly, please! And I know CM has spoken to several of you about a guest post or two (I’m lookin’ at you, Miguel), where are they? It would be a shame if Mike burned out, I can’t imagine life without Imonk. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ (Gal 6:2)

  5. Ronald Avra says

    Grateful for all that you do and have done. Take a break, definitely.

  6. CM, I take this site, and therefore you, for granted; for that I am truly sorry. Thank you for all you do and, echoing those above, it is no wonder you hit the wall. May you find rest for body and spirit.

  7. CM, thank you for what you do. This site is such a daily blessing. I am glad you have the wisdom to know when to sit back and listen and am trying to learn that lesson for myself, it’s not an easy Be encouraged that you touch more lives than you know and that I and hopefully many others pray for you and your ministry.

  8. Reading Merton is probably easier than signing aboard the nearest whaler.

    “Call me Ishmael. Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.”

  9. Even, oh my heavens, an Off Day. You could simply call it “Off Day” or some such. See ya tomorrow… I think I would continue breathing. You can’t let this thing drain you or you’re no good to anyone.

  10. Praying for you and your family. Sometimes it really is one day at a time.

  11. Christiane says

    Ah, Chaplain MIKE, I think the ‘silence’ you seek is something more than the lack of noise. But perfect silence is good place to start your journey.

    You might find something familiar in the longing in this prayer of Aidan of Holy Island, Lindisfarne, a ‘tidal island’ attached to the mainland only when the tide receded to form a ‘land bridge’ twice a day.
    But when the tide came in and covered the land bridge, Lindisfarne was once more an ‘island’ isolated from the busy mainland, and the monks were left to pray in peace.

    Aidan’s prayer, written long ago in northern Britain
    circa 635 A.D.
    “Leave me alone with God as much as may be.
    As the tide draws the waters close in upon the shore,
    Make me an island, set apart, alone with You, God, holy to You.
    Then, with the turning of the tide
    prepare me to carry Your Presence to the busy world beyond,
    the world that rushes in on me till the waters come again
    and fold me back to you.”

  12. Your good work on IM is always appreciated, CM. Thanks for all you put into these posts.

  13. CM, sorry to hear your toll was so high, and glad to hear you seem to have found the best way thru. We have just come thru the darkest time of the year in many ways, and sometimes light therapy can only take the edge off for those so affected. Aside from what our calendars say, right now is the natural end of winter and the beginnings of spring, a time when the crocus begins to wake under the snow and robins down South dream of worms under Maple trees. It’s good to ride that flow if we can. Yes, the dying take priority if at all possible, but we don’t. Please let me add my voice to the others here. I am grateful for all that you do and do not see how you can do it. It would be more than understood if you took a day off here whenever needed, and as many as needed. In Norman Rockwell’s world you tacked a sign to the front door of your store, “Gone Fishing”. That would work here. Like there, everyone here would understand. Hope you can get to Gethsemani soon for real. Be blessed, be well.

  14. Rest, brother.