Recognize the possibilities – Thomas Merton

Recognize the possibilities – Thomas Merton

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“You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.”

Thomas Merton

The quote really doesn’t need any commentary.  Just some quiet time to think about it. Which is just what we intend to do on our Formby Retreat in May 2018.

It’s set alongside the thoughts from two other notable thinkers and authors, Walter Brueggemann and Abraham Heschel. Together they’re pointing us towards what we should do at times of change.

Walter Brueggemann

In his Lent devotion called ‘A way other than our own’, Brueggemann quoted from 1 Samuel 3:10 – Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

Brueggemann has this to say: ‘The action takes place at night. Night is a time when we cannot see, when we cannot control, when the shadows are lively, when things are unclear and beyond explanation. Night-time is bewildering. The boy did not understand, the priest was slow to figure it out. It was not routine. It’s called ‘liminality’, at the threshold of something new, when life is gathered into a wholly new configuration.’

He continues: ‘Too often the church in our society is thought to be a place of unambiguous answers and sure certitudes, where we come settled and cocksure, and the Spirit has no chance to change anything. It is however, more often than not, night-time in the church – bewilderment, confusion, liminality, unsettlement. Then emerges something new from God… It is in such odd moments that God works the newness of nurture and vocation, demand and promise and healing. So welcome the night-time, when a new voice may utter our name.’

Rabbi Abraham Heschel

The other thoughts were from Abraham Heschel.

The first is from the introduction to an Anthology of his writing, where he is quoted as saying: “I did not ask for success; I asked for wonder. And you gave it to me”. What an amazing approach to life!

Then later from the same introduction, a quote from shortly before Heschel’s death: “Remember that there is meaning beyond absurdity. Know that every deed counts, that every word is power… Above all, remember that you must build your life as if it were a work of art…”

Merton, Brueggemann and Heschel

So it seemed right to think about how we can make the most of possibilities and challenges, particularly when they’re unforeseen or unplanned. And doing it right now, in the present moment.

But that doesn’t mean that you just improvise all the time and never prepare. You need enough understanding and awareness to both recognize that there even is a possibility or a challenge… and then to make the most of it when you do.

Which is why our three sets of studies for the Retreat are on ‘courage, faith and hope’.

Someone once said: “Courage is never convenient. Faith isn’t a tap you turn on and off. And hope is a choice.” So we should be in for an interesting time!

[For more by Walter Brueggemann please follow this link. For more about St John & St Mark Bury please visit our ‘about’ page]


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  1. At the request of some of those who went on our Formby Retreat in May, we’ve pushed this post to the front for a couple of days to give others the chance to read it.

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