Birthing My Book: Cultivating the Soil

The years 2009-2011 are pretty much a blur for me. I was on a high dose of psychotropics. I was still recuperating from the effects of E.C.T.. I was dealing with deep depression due in large part to a lack of purpose since going on disability.

After my first attempt to write a spiritual memoir was rejected by publishers, I stuffed it in a dresser drawer and quit writing altogether. I tried some gardening, wheeling aging veterans to worship, painting dairy barns, cleaning furnaces — anything to be somewhat productive and stay out of the pit.

Nothing helped. At least not much. In December of 2010 I enrolled in a partial hospitalization treatment program and was introduced to a relatively new therapeutic approach that was proving successful among bipolar patients. It was called Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT).

I was less than impressed.  I found DBT to be a rather basic blend of pop psychology and generic eastern philosophy.  While I benefited from the support of group therapy and met many compassionate caregivers, I left the program feeling it had fallen short, eager for something more in-depth and, if possible, rooted in my own Christian tradition.

Thanks to the advocacy of a family minister, we discovered a program called Shepherd’s Fold. Originally designed as a re-integration program for prisoners adjusting back to family life, it had become more a discipleship center where men could study deeply the Scriptures, receive Christian counsel, and develop work and personal habits that might carry over for them to become better husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers in Christ.

I enrolled at Shepherd’s Fold in September of 2011 and immediately began to adopt the schedule, the tasks, and habits they had carefully designed to promote spiritual well-being. While I struggled with the structure, and my pace at work and in chores was particularly slow, I found my overall mental health improved. Most importantly, I was able to read and reflect on God’s Word for hours each day.

I began to write again.  My letters home to my wife were often 30 pages and up (and sometimes I wrote 2 or 3 a week). I began a correspondence with a former colleague in ministry who sent me his sermons and I would respond with lengthy replies. In addition to daily journal entries from Scripture readings, I did a number of research papers on issues with which I had been dealing. After eight months in treatment, I was asked to write a “spiritual autobiography” and I filled over 125 hand-written pages. My writer’s voice was returning.

Sadly, my time at Shepherd’s Fold came to an end in August, 2012 as I left the program early.  God only knows the complete story of why it didn’t work out as we had hoped — to promote family reconciliation.  But it is clear that though the soil seemed barren, there was much cultivation.

Cultivating

The Safe and Secure Path

Keep me safe, O God,

I’ve run for dear life to you.

I say to God, “Be my Lord!”

Without you, nothing makes sense.  (Psalm 16:1-2)

Apart from a few encounters with bullies growing up, I’ve rarely faced external threats of violence. My enemies have primarily come from within, as I have battled bipolar disorder. Facing the demons of depression and mania, my mind has turned against me such that I have no longer been safe in my own skin. I’ve posed a distinct threat to myself and others.

At such times, I’ve run to God for shelter and found God already reaching out for me. God has brought me to my senses and led me to secure shelter in which to stand. Once there, I’ve found loving companions to keep me safe.

And these God-chosen lives all around –

what splendid friends they make! (Psalm 16:3)

Through the faithful fellowship of friends and family watching out for me, encouraging me, caring for me in so many ways, I have seen the face and touched the hands of God.

With such loyal companionship as God has provided, one would think I would gratefully and gladly hold on tight. Yet, I am prone to wander. David’s words serve as a warning to me.

Don’t just go shopping for a god.

Gods are not for sale.

I swear I’ll never treat god-names

like brand-names. (Psalm 16:4)

I am fickle when it comes to faithfulness. My lips profess there is one true God who is my Lord and Savior but my heart is often far from Him. I talk the talk yet fail to walk the walk. God help me to be a man after God’s own heart — like David.

My choice is you, God, first and only.

And now I find I’m your choice!

You set me up with a house and yard.

And then you made me your heir! (Psalm 16:5-6)

David enjoyed many blessings in his life. God chose him when he was only a shepherd boy to become Israel’s king. God moved him from the fields to a palace. God prospered him more than he could have imagined.

No doubt God can and does  bring us temporal blessings in this life. More than this, however, God promises us a home in the next — part of His blessed family. In Christ, we are made heirs of God’s abundant life that begins now and lasts forever. In this promise, we rest secure.

The wise counsel God gives when I’m awake

is confirmed  by my sleeping heart.

Day and night I’ll stick with God;

I’ve got a good thing going and I’m not letting go. (Psalm 16:7-8)

God’s gift of adoption into His family should not make us complacent. Instead, with the conviction of faith we are motivated to do more by grace than if we anxiously tried to earn God’s blessing.

I’m happy from the inside out,

and from the outside in, I’m firmly fixed.

You cancelled my ticket to hell –

that’s not my destination! (Psalm 19:9-10)

More than being protected in this life, God has rescued us in Christ from eternal destruction. Without Christ, we are without hope. With Christ, we have all in the world — and well beyond.

Now you’ve got my feet on the life path,

all radiant from the shining of your face.

Ever since you took my hand,

I’m on the right way. (Psalm 19:11-12)

With Christ leading us by the hand, we are no longer lost. More than this, Christ shines through us to light the way for others to follow.

As I write this, snow is falling here in the Midwest. The roads will be hazardous. I pray for travelers’ safety along the way. In a larger sense, I also pray for all travelers that they find the Way that leads to Life.

Snowy path

A Living Promise (from Delight in Disorder)

This is my comfort in my affliction,

         that your promise gives me life. (Psalm 119:50)

It is so easy when our lives are off balance to lose hope for a better tomorrow.  As we look around at present reality, we are tempted to give up and give in to the voices telling us things will always be just as miserable as they are right now.

In college, when I “came clean” and stopped using the illicit drugs that were in essence holding my psychotic symptoms at bay (yet costing me mental stability), I hit what many addicts call a “rock bottom,” I was living alone in a downtown apartment, lying on a used mattress on the floor, working a job stuffing millions of plastic bags into cardboard boxes.  I had nothing but time on my hands to look within myself and look around and wonder just what I was going to do with my life.  I was lost.  I felt miserable.  And alone.

Then I started reading the Bible.  Again, but like it was the first time.  The promise of God’s Word is that the life we often settle for is so much less than the abundant life we are promised in Christ.  New life is experienced in the person of Jesus Christ, in his healing touch and saving hand.  In a world filled with broken promises, this is a promise we can rely on – now and forever.

New life in the resurrection of Christ is more than just a pie-in-the-sky hope for a future resting place for our disembodied souls called “heaven.” The new life we gain in Christ impacts how we live each day, each moment.  Our lives, even as we go through ups and downs, become more abundant, richer, more full of purpose and meaning.  Life begins to make delightful sense in the midst of the messy disorder within and around us.

With this hope in hand, I began to make the most of the present and envision a better future.  I left the factory and did a summer mission stint in a Christian community in South Georgia called Koinonia (Greek for “fellowship” or “communion”).  Time I had spent escaping with drugs I now spent communing with God and others through prayer and worship.  Instead of packing plastic, I was planting vegetables.   Instead of isolating myself on an assembly line, I built relationships with children in Bible study and older adults over community meals.

The promise for better days ahead in Christ, when properly received, does not cause us to give up and let the world go to pot.  Quite the opposite.  Knowing that God cares deeply about redemption, restoration, resurrection, and renewal, we can look beyond ourselves and join God at work making the world a better place – for generations to come.

Working at Koinonia did not magically heal me of past hurts or remove present temptations.  But while I was there, God set me on a course of away from seeking self-comfort to looking to serve others.  I’ve taken many detours along the road, but I’m still moving forward towards that heavenly fellowship, that divine communion, the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.

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Can You Get to God Without Following Christ?

Today, at Grace Church PCA, we had a discussion on the second chapter of Timothy Keller’s The Reason for God.  In the book (and accompanying video) Keller responds to common objections contemporary people have about Orthodox Christianity.  This morning, we watched a video where Keller posed the question, “How Can Christians Claim to Know the Only Way to God.”

The respondents, predominantly religious skeptics, added to the question a variety of concerns, making comments like —

As a deconstructionist, I understand a religion’s motives for making exclusive claims.  I just don’t know if I can trust them.

It would be unfair for God to selectively reveal the Truth to only some and not others.

All religions share common ethical teachings.  To say one is True above all others is an arrogant claim.

Keller listened carefully and responded prayerfully to each concern and question raised.  He concluded the segment with an appeal to understand that when Christians make exclusive claims about Christ, it is not because they have an infantile need to always be right.  It is because we strive to be faithful to the One who said,

“I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except by me.”

One thought I came away with was that there is a distinction between religious pluralism and inter-faith dialogue.  Religious pluralists make the arrogant assumption that no religion has the Truth and tries to pour all truth claims into a melting pot of their own making such that all who profess faith get burned.

Inter-faith dialogue occurs when two or more Truth seekers, each committed to distinct truth claims – who humbly recognize the Truth is bigger than their own understanding – share their unique faith openly and honestly.

I believe Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life – yet I do not “possess Christ” more than any other flawed human being.  It is very possible that some poor fisherman in Indonesia who hasn’t even read the Bible is following Christ more closely than I am.

As a faithful Christian missionary, then, it is not my job to convert lost souls to become more like me.  Instead, it is to genuinely commune with those very different from me in such a way that together we might grow in the knowledge and spirit of Christ.

There is a story (perhaps legendary – yet it reveals truth) that Mahatma Ghandi was once asked what he thought about Christianity.  He replied –

I rather appreciate the teachings of Jesus.  I might even had become a Christian, had I ever met one.

“ghandi” from Nadja Cx in Family

God’s Economy (and ours)

Why should I fear evil days

When my foes’ sin surrounds;

Even those who trust their wealth,

who boast as it abounds?

No man can by any means,

Pay to God his ransom price;

For the purchase of his soul

No payment can suffice.

(from “Hear This All Earth’s Nations” – based on Psalm 49; The Book of Psalms for Worship)

The world’s economy is based (however loosely) on an exchange of “goods” and “services”.  The more desired goods we can produce, the more valued services we can provide, the greater wealth we can accumulate.

A purely “capitalist” philosophy holds that if this exchange is allowed to freely flow, and everyone is given the opportunity to produce as many goods, to provide as many services as s/he can, all will be as it should be.

A “socialist” critique of such a free market contends that greed infects the human heart such that a few wind up feasting on hoarded riches while many others are left to starve as they scramble for the scraps that fall from the table.  Wealth need be redistributed justly, according to a socialist, so that all might live freely.

I do not count myself either a capitalist or a socialist, but I have benefited from both philosophies.  For most of my adult life, I provided pastoral services, steadily rising through the ranks of my profession until I was “earning” a comparatively lucrative salary.  Then, when I went on disability for Bipolar disorder, I became a beneficiary of the “safety net” our system provides for those deemed unable to earn a sufficient wage.

Given what I have witnessed in my life, I have mixed feelings about what method is used both to accumulate wealth and to share resources.  On the one hand, crass capitalism consumes creation as short-term gain is favored over long-term investment.  On the other hand, steadfast socialism skews the scales and fosters debilitating learned dependency.

The good news for us is this.  God is not a capitalist.  Neither is God a socialist. What is God’s economic philosophy? In God, the world’s values are redefined.  “Goods” are not products we produce, but virtues we display.  “Services” are not deeds that meet desires, but loving acts that meet needs.

The best example of God’s goods and services is found in the life of Jesus.  Jesus displayed such “goods” as compassion when they brought to him a woman caught in adultery, and righteous anger when he found money changers perverted prayer in the temple.  Jesus performed such “services” as healing for a Samaritan woman pleading for recognition and teaching all who would listen about the nature of God’s kingdom.

The world’s economy is based heavily on consumer spending.  We are taught from the cradle to the grave to spend first (even if it means going into debt), then frantically scramble to earn enough to pay off our debts.  There is little or no room left over for giving.

In God’s economy, we are provided essential resources and taught to give the first and best and live simply on the rest.

Recently, I read a story on my friend Leanne Sypes’blog about a young African artist named Phumlani Mtabe who has a dream to open an art school in his village.  He’s been working hard and steadily to move toward this dream.  Tragically, a fire struck and he lost everything.  Phumlani writes –

We have to start from the beginning, rebuilding for a new hope that one day God will listen and hear our prayers. 

Reading this was, for me, an answer to prayer.  I’ve been looking for a way I might make an investment beyond my tithe to support God at work in the world beyond my small community.  I have contacted Phumlani and his art teacher and hope to help (in whatever way I can) to invest in his dream.

Personally, I would much rather invest my resources in dreams like Phumlani’s than in Big Macs at McDonald’s, coffees at the convenience store, cable television, even books from Amazon I could readily borrow from the library.

How about you?

Phumlani Art

Inconsistent Sexual Ethics at 6 a.m.: Start Making Sense

Time Magazine Gay Marriage

The landscape of sexual ethics in the modern world is a mish-mash of confused values, convoluted principles, and conflicting presuppositions.

Consider these 3 modern profiles –

1)  A “conservative Christian” rails against same-gender sexual activity and homosexual marriage based on “Biblical convictions”.  He quotes Scripture passages from the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) that forbid such relationships (calling them “abominations”) as well as verses from the epistles of Paul who declares they are the results of our fallen sinful condition.

Yet, this same man is himself divorced and remarried (or supports those who are).   He conveniently ignores the explicit teaching of his “Lord and Savior” – Jesus Christ – who calls divorce and remarriage “adultery”.

2)  A “liberal Christian” endorses same-gender sexual activity and homosexual marriage based on an ethic of “justice/love” she believes Jesus embodied in his relationships and teachings.  She contends that Jesus did not once even address the topic of homosexuality (which must mean he “blesses” such unions – provided they are based on a philosophical ideal of “love”).

She conveniently disregards that the foundation for Jesus’ ethics is not in philosophical ideals he invented (or borrowed from others), but firmly rooted in the Old Testament Law.  It is true he sometimes corrected misapplications of the Law, but he clearly stated that he came to fulfill it, not abolish it.  Just because Jesus did not address same-gender sexual activity does not mean he endorses (or blesses) them anymore than he blessed usury, unjust slavery, or bestiality.

3)  Advocates for gay/lesbian marriage contend they have the “right” to the same privilege of a life-long union with the partner of their choice – redefining the traditional definition of marriage  ( a union between a man and a woman) to become a union between two consenting adults of any gender.

Yet, gay (G) and lesbian (L) advocates continue to lobby for bisexual (B) and transgender (T) rights, arguing they are worthy of equal rights as well.  While it has not been politically expedient (yet) for them to clarify this position, the obvious next step of advocacy will be for bisexuals to have the right to fully express their sexuality in a covenant of “marriage” – which will necessitate another redefinition to allow for a person to marry at least 2 others – a male and a female.  Otherwise, we would be denying them their “rights” inherent in their “sexual identity”.

Inconsistencies abound.  It boggles the mind.

But, perhaps I am just muddled in my thinking.  I would encourage all of you who identify with one of the three positions above (or who concoct another one) to help me understand how your sexual ethics are more consistent than what I’ve portrayed.

image “Time Magazine Gay Marriage” from Bryon in It’s all a part of life

I’ve Got Good News and Bad News (and they’re the same thing)

Meissonier, Jean-Louis-Ernest - Prophet Isaiah (c. 1838) - Oil on fiberboard 35.3x23.8cm

I will punish the world for its evil,

and the wicked for their iniquity;

I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant,

and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless.  (Isaiah 13:11)

In Isaiah 13, the prophet is addressing the faithful remnant of Israel (and all who suffer persecution) with harsh words about their persecutors.

Where is the Good News here?

The good news is that as pervasive as evil has become, it will not endure.  The reign of those who are wantonly wicked will come to an end on the day of the LORD.

Do you believe this?

There is a prevalent presumption in popular culture that there is a “divine spark” in all things, that there is good in everyone.

One of my virtual friends expressed this notion well when he said, “Even Hitler loved his dog.”

I don’t deny that all things were created good and that everyone is made in the image of God.  Further, I would say we shouldn’t “give up” on anyone or conclude that someone is beyond the grace of God.

But wickedness and evil are extremely powerful and harsh realities in our world and we can’t dismiss them with positive thinking or self-esteem therapy.  We need to hear and heed God’s warnings about wickedness in our own lives and share them with others.

I often hear people quote (out of context) the words of Jesus, “Don’t judge, lest ye be judged.)  Or, they may even refer to his word picture about having a log in your own eye and trying to remove a splinter out of another’s eye.  People conclude that we are to withhold all judgment, to be spiritually laissez-faire – “I’m okay; you’re okay.”

But Jesus doesn’t say to leave the logs and the splinters in your eyes so you can all be spiritually blind.

First, he says, take the log out of your own eye – address your own sin.  Then, deal with the splinters in the eyes of others.

We are in desperate need of this Gospel today – especially in the area of sexual sin.

When I was unfaithful to my wife – at first I was in denial.  But, when I was convicted by the Spirit of my sin, I confessed it and repented.  I did it personally with my wife, as well as publicly (in the best way I could).

Many people (well-meaning friends and family) advised me – “Don’t be so hard on yourself.”  What they were really saying, of course, is “Don’t take the log out of your eye or else you might see my splinter.”

We want forgiveness for things we refuse to confess.  We want mercy at no cost.  Our prayer should not simply be “Lord, have mercy.”  But, “Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

image above “Meissonier, Jean-Louis-Ernest – Prophet Isaiah (c. 1838)” from  Jason Urso in A Little Bit of Everything That I Love

Ah-Ha!: The Revelation of My Spiritual Memoir Title

Always my favorite artist!  Vincent Van Gogh

This year, I’ve been juggling two writing projects (in addition to my blog).  Mostly, I’ve been working on my short story trilogy – “Life”, “Liberty”, and the “The Pursuit of Happiness”.  But I’ve also been tweeking a manuscript I started in June of 2009 – meditations on faith from a person living with Bipolar Disorder.

Yesterday, I had an “Ah-Ha!” moment when I saw the title of a poem written by Robert Herrick – “Delight in Disorder”.  (The poem itself is quite good and worth checking out – here.)  It was the title, though, that grabbed me as the perfect fit for what I have already written in my memoir (as well as a vision for changes I want to make).  Here’s why –

“Delight” describes the optimum human response to divine grace.  In my faith heritage, the answer to the first question of the Westminster Catechism is

The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

As human beings, we are made to praise our Creator, and a key component of this praise is to delight in the works of the Lord.

… in the sun as it rises over the ocean.

… in the smile of a child asking to be picked up.

… in the creative spark that inspires productive action.

Delight is not a natural human response (we are often prone to complain).  It is instead a Spirit-prompted reply to God’s gracious acts.

The question arises, h0wever, for me (and many others), “How do I delight when I am depressed?”

The question is not an easy one, and it deserves more than a simplistic answer.  The Apostle Paul, who battled depression himself, advised –

… give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  (1 Thessalonians 5:18, ESV)

Notice it says “give thanks in all circumstances”, not – “for all circumstances”.   I do not thank God for my Bipolar Disorder, but I do thank God in my Bipolar Disorder.

Which brings me to the second part of the title.  There is delight to be found in disorder.  My spiritual memoir will include stories where I have been able to delight in the Lord in spite of my diagnosis.

… when friends cared for our young children so my wife could visit me in the hospital.

…. when the church provided me a paid leave of absence until I could return to work.

…. when  I was able to encourage others (like me) with mental illness to press on with faith.

One of my great hopes (“burdens” as my Evangelical friends would say) is that this book would serve as a bridge for people with mental illness and people of faith.  It has been my experience that there is a great chasm between people with mental illnesses and people in the pews (of a church).  There are exceptions, of course.  There are people in church with mental illnesses, yet I’ve also found many are reluctant to share their struggles with their brothers and sisters in faith.

If it weren’t for my faith, I would be dead.  It’s as simple as that.  And while it is true you can have faith in God apart from a faith community, it is a little like trying to run a race with amputated legs (and not a very good prosthesis).

I’m still mulling over a sub-title for the book.  Right now, the top candidates are Delight in Disorder: Meditations from a Bipolar Mind and Delight in DisorderMy Life with Bipolar.  I’ll see what emerges in the re-writes and go from there.

I would be interested in hearing from you.  From Christians who may have struggled to understand mental illness in light of faith as well as non-Christians who may question the value of faith in the care of people with mental illness.

Mostly, I’d like to hear what questions you have about my story.  What would you want to read that you would find interesting and help you better understand how I have found Delight in Disorder?

image of Vincent Van Gogh from Sally K. Witt in Stand up for Mental Health

The Broken Nonsense of the World and the Beautiful Sense of Christ

N.T. Wright is the definition of a b@d@ss theologian. The outfit speaks for itself.

“Made for spirituality, we wallow in introspection. Made for joy, we settle for pleasure. Made for justice, we clamor for vengeance. Made for relationship, we insist on our own way. Made for beauty, we are satisfied with sentiment. But new creation has already begun. The sun has begun to rise.

Christians are called to leave behind, in the tomb of Jesus Christ, all that belongs to the brokenness and incompleteness of the present world … That, quite simply, is what it means to be Christian: to follow Jesus Christ into the new world, God’s new world, which he has thrown open before us.”  

―     N.T. Wright,  Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense

Yesterday I had a conversation with a friend about who God is.  We both have attended liberal seminaries where professors have abandoned classic theologies (based on plain readings of Scripture) in favor of contemporary critiques claiming to be theologies (feminist, liberation, process).  As one of my professors put it, “The question of contemporary theology is not who God is, but what it means to be human.”

Much of what claims to be theology these days – both from liberal and conservative camps – is little more than pop psychology, amateur sociology, even strategic business writing.  The writers attempt to sell consumers what they can get out of God, not who God is and how we are to therefore respond.  Forget about the God of Scripture who is the great “I Am” or, better yet, “I will be who I will be.”  Now, it’s primarily about how I can get God to enhance my life.

N.T. Wright, on the other hand, seems to be an exception to this rule.  While he does not restrict himself to orthodox conclusions about classic doctrines, he takes Scripture seriously (and he puts God first).  The quote (above) is a good example.  To illustrate his point, visit a local library or bookstore (if you can find one).  Or, just go on-line.  Notice –

How many books in the “spirituality” section are actually about personal self-help?

How many books labeled “joy” or “happiness” have more to do with sensual pleasures, like sex?

How many books calling for “justice for the poor” are written by angry academicians whose income is high by worldly standards?

How many books on “relationships” talk about making changes for personal benefit?

How many blogs are filled with poems that convey sentimental clichés rather than glimpses of beauty in the real world?

We live in a deeply wounded world.  But those of us who call themselves Christians (and anyone who would like to be more like Jesus) are called to live a different reality – one that is based not on brokenness to be critiqued, but beauty to be embraced.

(photo of N.T. Wright from Eric Carter in BA Theologians)

Early Morning Meditations from Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton

I was up early this morning – too early.  I was awakened by one of my “vocation dreams” where I imagine doing something new and different in my life and then wake myself up analyzing if it is possible.

Today, there was no going back to sleep, so I decided to look for a decent documentary on Netflix.  It took some searching, but I found one called Merton: A Film Biography.

Thomas Merton was many things in his life.  A little French boy of artistic parents, orphaned by age 15.  A bright, yet carousing student at Cambridge, then Columbia.  A Roman Catholic convert, received into the Cistercian order at the Abbey of Gethsemani, Kentucky.  A hard-working Trappist monk devoted to the contemplative life of prayer.  A poet and philosopher who sought to bring healing to a desperately wounded society.  A hermit who found in Buddhist writings and friendships companionship for a Christian walk.  A spiritual pilgrim who bridged the distance between East and West.

There have been many things written by and about Thomas Merton.  To dig deeper, I encourage you to visit the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University (I think I may take a pilgrimage myself there soon).  For today, I simply want to share with you a few of Merton’s own words (and a prayer) to challenge and inspire you – as they have me.

Do not depend on the hope of results. You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. You gradually struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything.  (source unknown)

The more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer, because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you, in proportion to your fear of being hurt. The one who does most to avoid suffering is, in the end, the one who suffers most.    (from The Seven Storey Mountain)

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain 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 I have that desire in all that 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 will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and 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.    (from Thoughts in Solitude)

(photo of Thomas Merton from Wesley Ramey in People I Admire)