Merton’s Place of Nowhere
by Katherine Kroeker
In reading James Finley’s book, “Merton’s Palace of Nowhere” I encountered two new spiritual friends, Finley and Merton, both of whom seem happy to share what they have seen and learned as they surveyed this spiritual journey.
I loved Finley’s turn of phrase, perhaps due to my own passion for good words and my dusty writer’s heart, but when I read of “… the serpent, midwife of the false self” (34), “…the big lie of the vox populi” (Merton, 49), and “our ever repeated turning toward Christ is like the waves of the smooth ocean that pound against the jagged rocks making them smooth.” (101) I get tingly all over. As a Type Four in the Enneagram, my native tongue is metaphor, and in the words of Finley and Merton I find not only fellow pilgrims, but pilgrims who speak my language. As I continue to find words and ideas to express my experiences, I feel invited to dialogue with the author and creator of my experiences, and share life with God in new ways as I examine the words and images over weeks, months and years.
Sometimes words take me deeper than my mind can explain, and my heart can only concur. In one passage where Finley describes the experience of restored identity and global community the truth of his words resonated deeply within me. I have included it on page four because it stands out and penetrates my heart, entering the mystery within. I am at a loss for words beyond a heartfelt “yes”, and the details and reasons seem to belong to the mystery and must remain for the moment, none of my business.
Finley expands Merton’s ideas of connectedness throughout the book and my spirit leaps in response. This is an area where I am becoming more and more aware of the Spirit working in me. My sense of global community, and perhaps more importantly, my own humanity is expanding. I have begun to see faces on television and feel a kinship as I wonder who God is to them, how He is revealing Himself to them, and where is the gospel in their story. I am slowly experiencing God’s love for them and His invitation to me to join Him in loving them. I still think of and pray for the Turkish community that lost many of its children in an earthquake several years ago. I cried with an unnamed sister from Rwanda who told her story of systemic rape in the refugee camps when I read her story in the paper a few weeks ago. I feel the injustice, the sadness, the pain, and all I can do is love God more. Because somehow, loving Him, trusting Him in the midst of fierce pain and confusion is a prayer for humanity and because we are all one in Christ Jesus my love for brothers and sisters means something. It is a reflection of God’s love for them. They may remain strangers to me, but the Spirit of God in me loves them as His children.
Along with a growing sense of global community (which may more accurately be a growing sense of being part of one body in Christ) I am aware of the opening up and hollowing out of my heart. In this past chapter of my life this hollowing out has been through deep, deep pain. It has been many dark nights, scored by the sharp instrument of God’s allowance: relationships. It is the dark night Merton describes when faith is strongest in the paradox of utter brokenness and utter, desperate faith in God’s redemption. I have found myself in the murky dregs of waste water as Jesus hoses down a crusted, congealed part of my heart to reveal fresh tissue full of life and washed in his blood. Afterwards, I find myself standing in my heart, exploring its new depths, finding Jesus’ face etched on every wall. I have felt a new weight in my life. The weight and glory I expected to find in my false self and false gods is not there. They are but shadows, present yet insubstantial. As the hard shell of the false self is polished away – as only Jesus can – I discover that the weight of who I am is really the weight of Christ in me. The deep and true centre of my being, my identity, my heart begins to tip the scale. I am more grounded, more centered and less easily displaced. And as my heart is scored and scoured by pain, it turns out that there is more room for Jesus.