From the archives: Thomas Merton

Merton

THEORY OF PRAYER

Not in the streets, not in the white streets
Or in the crowded porticoes
Shall we catch You in our words,
Or lock You in the lenses of our cameras,
You Who escaped the subtle Aristotle,
Blinding us by Your evidence,
Your too clear evidence, Your everywhere.

Not in the groves, not in the flowering green groves
Where the pretty idols dwell
Shall we find the path to Your pavilion
Tented in cloud and fire:
We are only following the echo
Of our own lyres.

The wise man's blood
Freezes in every vein and artery
With the blue poison of his own indelible prudence.
And the lover,
Caught in the loop of his own lie
Strangles like a hare:
While the singers are suddenly killed,
Slain by the blades of their own song—
The words that clash like razors in the throat
Severing the tender strings.

For the things that we utter turn and betray us,
Writing the names of our sins on flesh and bone
In lights as hard as diamonds.
And the things we think have sold us to the enemy
Writing the names of our sins on the raw marrow
In lights as sharp as glass.
And our desires,
Uncovering their faces one by one
Are seen to be our murderers!
How did you break your jails, you black assassins?
How did you find us out, you numbered men?

Logic has ruined us,
Theorems have fired their folly at us,
Economy has left us full of swords
And all our blood is gone:
Oh, how like a death, now, is our prayer become!

We lie and wait upon the unknown Savior
Waking and waking in the guarded tomb 33....

But the armed ocean of peace,
The full-armed ocean is suddenly within us.
Where, where, peace, did you get in?
And the armed ocean of quiet,
The full armed ocean, stands within us:
Where, from what wells, hid in the middle of our essence,
You silences, did you come pouring in?

But all our thoughts lie still, and in this shipwreck
We'll learn the theory of prayer:

"How many hate their own safe nothingness,
Their cell, their submarine?"

"How many hate Your Cross, Your key, the only one
To beat that last invincible door
That will surprise us, Peace, with Your invasion,
And let us in those soundless fathoms where You dwell!"

-- Thomas Merton

This poem originally appeared in the October 24, 1947 edition of Commonweal.

Matthew Boudway is senior editor of Commonweal.

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