Thursday, March 12, 2015

Loneliness, solitude, and Thomas Merton

When I am deep in prayer, feeling connected to God, not doubting His existence, basking in the glow of the Holy Spirit, often I cry. But those prayerful tears are not an everyday experience. They only come out of a profound sense of connection.

Lately I have had discussions with friends about the complexities of living with someone, presumably a spouse. And the question always comes up about whether I would ever get married again. In the early days after my divorce I would have answered differently—yes, I feel that I am hard wired to be in relationship and I want to get married again. But years went by and it didn’t happen. By default I have lived alone now for many years. It wasn’t my choice but it has become familiar.

And for so long, that aloneness seemed a curse, an emptiness. I cried out to God, asking him whether He really intended me to be so lonely. There came no earth-shattering response, no voice from heaven telling me to wait because He had great things in store for me. Just day after day, year after year, and I was still alone, still achingly lonely. But with time there came an answer. The loneliness became solitude. It changed from sorrow to joy. When life is hectic, now I return to solitude with a joyful yearning for peace and quiet. I come back to the simplicity of quiet time with God, with my projects, my music, my books. So God answered my prayers, He heard my cries in the dark loneliness, not by changing my situation, but by allowing me to appreciate the solitude.

Thomas Merton’s name has been popping up frequently lately. It is an intriguing intrusion. For example, I am reading a book by the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh, who refers to his association with Merton. And today, I found a prayer, attributed to Thomas Merton, that I had folded and slipped into my Bible. This prayer has a strong resonance with how I am feeling, what I am thinking. I don’t think any of this is a coincidence. It is God’s way of getting my attention.

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that 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 that I have that desire in all 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 trust you always, though I may seem to be lost 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. – Thomas Merton


  1. Beautiful post ... I know you write these pieces for yourself, but I felt the need to thank you for sharing your reflections and this moving prayer by Thomas Merton with us.
    Wishing you all the best,

    1. Thank you so much, Zene. I'm following through on this connection to Thomas Merton that seems more than a coincidence. In a couple of weeks I'm going to a Trappist monastery for a silent retreat. I'm hoping that in the silence I can hear what the Lord wants me to hear. Donna