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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Thursday, December 13, 2007
    On speaking unpredictably
    "God speaks, and God is to be heard, not only on Sinai, not only in my own heart but in the voice of the stranger ... God must be allowed the right to speak unpredictably."
    Funny, those words of Thomas Merton (introducing the theme of the 2008 conference of the UK Thomas Merton Society) would have fitted well both in my talk last Sunday and in the introduction to my walk book - had I read them before. I'm realising how new Merton is to me, one of those writers I've previously just known of rather than really engaged with; however since returning to everyday routine (after the travelling routine of my autumn) people have put books (and quotes) of his into my hands, and I've begun to appreciate the great depth of insight of this 'monk with his eyes open to the world'.

    That last quote comes from Lynn Szabo's essay in the current volume of the The Merton Journal which Keith, who edits it, kindly posted me. Szabo writes about Merton's contemplations of 'the conundrum of human speech and its delimiting inabilities to inscribe spiritual realities'. But 'everything that moves is full of mystical theologies', Merton once wrote, and he tried to develop a simple language to unpack that mystery, rooted and grounded in his observations of everyday life. And there I was, on sabbatical if in a far inferior place poetically, just beginning to eke out the possibility of finding a language to unpack the mystical theologies present in our everyday settings: hence prayers at the Trafford Centre and Goodly Spirits in Goole.

    Of course Merton took himself off into a solitary place to develop his language whereas I'm committed to searching it out in the noise; however Merton's solitude was metaphysically engaged with, not removed from the noise, he was a poet of the nuclear age. Having been kindly prodded in his direction I shall enjoy learning more from Merton, and his unpredictable voices.