July 10, 2020

Merton Musings: I do not see the road ahead…

Geth Path Small

Note from CM: Here is the prayer I am praying while at Gethsemani this weekend (coming back later today). Full report in the days to come.

* * *

My Lord God, I have no idea of where I am going.

I do not see the road ahead of me.

I cannot know for certain where it will end.

Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.

And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

– from Thoughts In Solitude
by Thomas Merton


  1. Quite the opposite from the “God has a plan for your life, and all you have to do is do X, Y, and Z to find and follow it” stuff I was bombarded with as a young Christian.

    Come to think of it, this better fits the pattern of most called individuals in Scripture. 90%+ of the time, they were not given a road map… just told, “Follow Me.”

    • Amen, Eeyore! (On a related note, I HATE the way Jeremiah 29:11 tends to get used by religious people.)

      I love the last line of the article, which seems to fit with what you’re saying:

      “…you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

      It’s not, “you will take away my perils,” it’s “you will be with me during my perils”. Peril will come to everyone. Following Christ will not take them away (I could even argue that following Christ might add TO the perils). But we know he will not leave us to face them alone. That’s Good News!

  2. “But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.”

    But I know that I do not have the desire to please you in all that I am doing.

    Lord, have mercy.

    • Me too, Robert. Have mercy on me, Oh Lord. Change my heart to desire your ways.

    • Yes, but…

      I think we too often look at God as a judge who is only looking for the bad we do. I’ve recently found great comfort in these verses from Hebrews:

      Hebrews 4:12-13 – “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

      Hebrews 6:10 – “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.”

      When I combine these two together, I know there are two sides to the equation. Yes, God sees all the bad I do and I’ll have to give an account. But He also sees all the good I do and weighs that on the scale, too! He’s not a judge who takes only the bad we do and puts it on the scale, saying, “Look here, you scum!” That would be DISHONEST and UNJUST; we know He isn’t dishonest or unjust, for he weighs the good we do, too! Take comfort that any and all the good you do – any loving of your neighbor, any loving of God – gets credited to you by the God of Justice!

      (Additional: And no, I’m not even close to suggesting that the good we do could ever tip the balance in our favor. I’m just saying that we can take some comfort that God IS just. He DOES weigh the good we do, that He DOES look at intentions of the heart.)

    • Robert, the fact that you pray for mercy shows me there is at least a “mustard seed” of desire, a beating of life perhaps too faint for you to detect at times, but heard by God.

  3. Yes, Lord…change our hearts. Not because of our best efforts…but in spite of them.

  4. When I became a Christian God was always guiding me, my friends told me He had a plan for my life and through prayer I could discover what this was and live out my purpose.

    This worked for a while but now everything He gave me has become a disaster. My friends now tell me this is all a part of His will, God has something better in store. Maybe? They’ve been Christians much longer than me, but the only thing I can trust right now is that one day He’ll take me home. :/

    • Hang in there, Paul. You can be a Christian and not have to believe in the odd theology of, “this is all a part of His will, God has something better in store.”

      Take Jeremiah 29:11, for instance (which is a verse that perhaps some of your friends have recited to you in an attempt to “show” sympathy and compassion): “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

      Let’s examine how that worked out for Jesus in HIS life here on earth. What if Peter and John and others had recited that to Jesus during his final week!? When would they have stopped tossing that trite cliché in Jesus’ face? In the garden? In the courtroom? During the scourging? On the way to Calvary? Hanging on the cross?

      It’s just utterly ridiculous for Christians to say calamities are a part of God’s will, that He has something better in store, as if the “better” is something we’ll find during this life. Instead, we should caveat the cliché with “of course, the ‘better’ might be only found in Heaven.”

    • Paul,

      I want to speak a consoling word to you, and at the same time I’m afraid that if I say anything it might not only not console you, but exacerbate your suffering, and that’s something I very much wish to avoid. It’s a terrible thing to suffer without a sense of hope that things might get better. It’s hard to suffer, and it’s harder to cope with the apparent senselessness of this kind of suffering. It’s a dry and waterless land. I know, I’m trekking through that desert, too, brother. I don’t know how to make it better. My heart goes out to you, and I will remember you in my prayers, and hope that you find relief sooner rather than later. In the meantime, endure, Paul; endure, and let that count as faith.

      God’s peace, brother.

  5. I also have been asking the Lord through some internal struggles in faith. I will share a portion of Psalm 25. Verse 5: ‘Show me Your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths” and Verse 8, “Good and upright is the Lord; therefore will He instruct sinners in His way”, V. 10, “All the paths of the Lord are mercy and steadfast love…”. The whole of Psalm 25 is rich in the midst of uneasiness and searching that steady’s the mind and soul in God’s faithfulness. Blessings on finding the right map.

  6. This reminded me of a post that Jeff Dunn did back in November.

    And about this path we are called to walk. If you think it will be nice and straight and easy to follow, well, you haven’t read what Solomon had to say about it. “Who can straighten what God has bent?” asks Solomon in Ecclesiastes. I read this to one of our elders at church recently. “Oh yes,” he said, “God takes our crooked paths and makes them straight.”

    “That’s not what it says,” I said. I read it to him again. “It is saying that God takes our straight paths and crookeds them up. And that just doesn’t seem right to me.”

    It still doesn’t. And right now God has me walking a path with him that makes no sense at all. It is full of twists and turns so that I no longer have any idea which way is which. I’d turn around if I knew which way to go back.

    • How’s Jeff doing? Tell him we miss him and think of him often.

    • Joseph (the original) says

      …and not only does He bend paths, but I think He bends people too…

      I don’t say it’s out of malice or vindictiveness, but there are times I feel situations in my life left me bent from the weight of it…

      if we do carry in our mortal bodies all the scrapes, bruises, scars & scabs from the challenging elements of life, then I can understand what Solomon was hinting at…

      I’ve never felt abandoned by God, but I sure as heck have had some heated conversations with Him about the negative situations I have endured!

      but then to Whom shall we go? many things in my life don’t make much sense, but I have no hope apart from a God I cannot see. I don’t believe I am the only exception in all the universe that is the sad victim of God’s mean-spirited experiments, but sometimes I wonder if He does get a laugh out of the frantic ways I try to maintain some semblance of sanity in the midst of the craziness of life…

      yes Lord, have mercy on me…

    • Not to steal Chaplain Mike’s thunder, but Jeff posted on Gethsemani back in September 2011 (while Mike was there and Jeff moderated here in his stead). Great post:

  7. petrushkasrib says

    This has always been one of my favorites. Thanks for posting.

  8. Not sure how this fits with the “I do not see the road ahead” theme, but it might, possibly.

    I live in the Seattle area. A couple of days ago, a little further north, a huge landslide/mudslide took out a highway and several houses. Eight have been confirmed dead, with 108 missing and unaccounted for. The images of the destruction are horrific and haunting.

    Sometimes, life just comes along and obliterates the road ahead of us. Sometimes, life just comes along and even obliterates us while we’re safely ON the road. Maybe we should be thankful that we’re even ON a road and that we haven’t been obliterated. And to reiterate the closing thoughts of Merton: I will not fear, for He is with me, and He will never leave me to face my peril alone. Even if the mudslide comes to obliterate the road I’m on or obliterates me along with the road.

  9. So I trod along and at times pray God will keep me from myself.

  10. Christiane says

    I imagine the abbey at Gethsemane to be a peaceful place. The strange thing is that most of us need our ‘noise’ and ‘busy-ness’ to drown out that which we suppress that can be painful, and it takes an experience in a place like Gethsemane to give that pain a chance to be allowed it’s time to be felt and to begin to heal. The distractions we surround ourselves with are not present there, so you can spend time with your flaws and wounds and seek the peace of Christ that offers a healing that the world cannot give.
    ‘The quiet’ must seem to some like a nurturing oasis away from the chaos of modern life.

    • I find it takes a lot of time to quiet the inner noise – unfortunately more time than I had there this weekend. However, it was good.

    • A convent of the Order of St. Helena, Episcopal, was located in the rural mountainsides around Vale’s Gate, New York. It closed a few years ago, not enough young nuns to keep the Chapter open. Before we were married, my wife was a lay oblate of the Order of St. Helena, and had even explored the possibility that she might have a monastic vocation.

      She did not become a nun; instead, we were wed in the convent chapel in 1996, our ceremony officiated by one of the nuns, my wife’s spiritual director at that time, who was also a priest. We are the only couple ever wed in that chapel in its century long existence.

      It was in that chapel during many weekend retreats, in the late night and early morning darkness, illuminated only by candlelight, that I prayed in the deepest silences I have ever known, trying to find my way through my own personal darkness and into the dim light of a fragile faith.

      During those vigils, I was always aware of the dim figure of the statue of the Virgin Mary that sat off to the side, in a little alcove under the arches beside the far wall of the chapel. Her prayerful presence comforted me, and I sometimes felt she stood watch over me, especially at those times when my spirit was in the grip of doubt and despair, and I was afraid of the long darknesses of my soul that reached out into the shadows of the chapel.

      In the cold chapel
      candles flicker for Mary
      on her pedestal.

  11. > for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

    How can I know if this is true? It doesn’t feel like he is with me. It feels like I am on my own. Must this only be taken as a tenet of faith, or is there some way to know that he is there with me?