The more I study Merton and contemplative living, the less contemplative I seem to be. I know where I want to be but do not seem to be there. Like the Galileans in John 6, I am searching and seeking. The crowd is pursuing Jesus. At one point, they want to install him as king and overthrow Rome. Jesus goes into solitude. Later, after a frantic search back and forth across the lake, they are back again, ““What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you? What can you do?” Remember this Gospel is the Johannine’s community coming to grips with the reality of Jesus.
The questions of the Galilean crowd show that they are not centered. They do not have a contemplative focus. They are not focused on Jesus as the Bread of Life. They have not fully committed to him. Their hunger and the hunger he came to satisfy are poles apart.
Wes Howard-Brook points out the many parallels between this story and the story of the Samaritan woman. She was seeking the Water of Life. The crowd in John 6 is looking for earthly bread. They have eaten it and yet they are not satisfied. There must be more. This is also an apt description of the contemplative search.
In John 21, the puzzled disciples have returned to what they know best—fishing. They have been at it all night. They were getting back in their comfort zone—human bread and human drink with a few fish thrown in. Dawn is approaching, their nets are empty. Often, at dawn, we realize our nets are empty. We hunger and thirst. Perhaps, just perhaps, if we listen carefully, the Voice will call out from the sea shore of our lives and invite us to eat the Bread of Life. It is not what Jesus does that will satisfy the hungry crowd. It is what Jesus IS that will satisfy their hunger and thirst. “I am the Bread of Life.”
It is important for contemplatives to realize that the fishermen did not find Jesus. He found them and reached out to fill their empty nets. Merton and others who have been on the contemplative journey tell that contemplative living is about emptiness, nothingness. We are suspended, so to speak, over a void. Once Jesus finds us, we realize that our nets are empty.
Jesus is telling us to stop seeking bread that does not last. Our worries and cares about things that do not last blur our contemplative focus. We seek union with God and forget that God seeks us. All striving is in vain. God finds us and give us the Bread of Life.
Recently, I have been blessed with an occasional contemplative experience. Deer grazing in the soft, dew-filtered dawn sunlight around the still blue pond gave me a profound sense of oneness with the deer, and with all of God’s creation. For a fleeting moment I was one with them and the universe.
Then, inevitably I seem to get out of focus. Are there other mistakes on my tax return? Does the state have my health care coverage straightened out? Is the motor home ready for and up to the trip home next week? Now I feel so uncontemplative. I worry. I forget to look at the deer by the pond or the lilies of the field.
This experience is a call from God to deeper union. Do all these things really matter? Why do they preoccupy my time and attention when I know I have the Bread of Life in Jesus?
Celtic monks would get into their currachs (small hide covered boats ) and let the tides take them to their palace of resurrection. This is a symbol for pilgrimage, for the inner contemplative journey. The let go and let God find them and lead them. They arrive at their place of resurrection only to find that God has more in store for them—resurrected life now.
The volcano in Iceland is a clear indicator that we are not really in charge of anything. Countries are sending naval ships to rescue stranded travelers. Why? Because the living planet we call earth is in the process of becoming. God’s grandeur is spewing forth from the depths of that volcano. Creation continues and, like Mount St. Helen, new life will arise from the ashes.
Lent reminded me that I am not into the “died for our sins” theory. Lent and Easter reminded me that I live, now not I, but the Risen Jesus lives in me. Sometimes to regain focus I use the Jesus Prayer—”Jesus, son of the living God, have mercy on me a sinner.” I am a sinner but I am also a saint. With Merton, I know that God is mercy within mercy within mercy. The sin-focused Augustinian flavor of the traditional Jesus Prayer no longer works for me. I now say, “Jesus, son of the living God, live in me.” Or, alternately, “Jesus, son of the Living God, love me into life.”
This re-centering takes me to the place of my resurrection. The bread of Life satisfies my hunger and the Water of Life satisfies my thirst. Maybe, if I stop searching, God will be able to find me and fill my empty nets with abundant Love.