I am regretting my past and fearing the future. Suddenly my Teacher was speaking: “My name is I AM.” The Teacher paused. I waited. The Teacher continued, “When you live in the past, with its mistakes and regrets, it is hard. I am not there. My name is not I WAS.
When you live in the future, with its problems and fears, it is hard. I am not there. My name is not I WILL BE.
When you live in the moment, it is not hard. I am HERE. My name is I AM.
In the reading from Exodus, God delivers the people from slavery and oppression in Egypt. In the present moment they are encamped but they idealize the past and fear their future fate. They cry out against Moses and God. “Did you bring us all the way out here so Pharaoh’s soldiers could bury us in the desert? What’s wrong with being buried in the fleshpots of Egypt?”
In the face of this idealized picture of the past and fear of the future, Moses, their leader, had to be grounded in the God who is I AM. Listening to God in the present, Moses knew God was with them. He instructed them to hold out the staff and part the sea. God called them forth. When God calls us forth to new places, new understandings, new beliefs, God will provide the way forward. Trust in God allows for no what ifs.
In the Gospel Jesus give them a sign—the sign of Jonas—the reluctant prophet who fears his future and tries to escape from God’s call. Thomas Merton’s early journal, The Sign of Jonas, recounts his early years in the monastery. Merton is learning solitude and silence—being present to the Presence. God is leading him forth to his new self which is Christ—I love now not I but Christ lives in me. Merton has much to heal. He ruminates upon and often regrets his past to the point of depression, nervous breakdowns and some suicidal tendencies. Yet he is always able to let go and fall into the abyss where he then tumbles out in the love of God. One thing which sustains Merton is his God-given sense of humor. On August 20 he wrote:
A magazine called Tiger’s Eye wants to give me ninety-six dollars for a poem. I do not think Saint Benedict would want me to take that much [Remember this is in the late forties and early fifties when gas was eighteen cents a gallon!]. However, by a peculiar irony, I am not allowed to decide. I have a vow of poverty which prohibits one from refusing money. (44)
Maintaining a sense of humor is one way of being present to the Presence. In the solitude of God’s presence, Merton is undergoing a therapeutic healing process. God wants him to be whole and becoming whole will be his lifelong journey into the unknown depths of God. Silence and contemplative prayer place us, in the words of Trappist Thomas Keating, in the hands of the “Divine Physician.”
We have to slow down, let go and enter into the silence of our hearts where we encounter the darkness which is light. God beckons us. God calls us. God heals us. God makes us whole. “I have come that you light have life and everything you need.” (Jn 10:10)