A year of great pain and loss...
The following updated reflection was originally shared in the first email I sent out to my Merton and Me list on March 14, 2022.
Merton and Me, A Living Trinity debuted on September 21, 2018 in NYC. It is a one-man play which explores the struggles of youth, the complexities of faith, and the universal search for meaning in an increasingly chaotic and divided world, all the while guided by the words of Thomas Merton.
Over the course of 2019 after a number of successful performances in CA, WV, NJ, and NY word had begun to grow and the show was poised to have a very active schedule in 2020. After spending the month of January 2020 living as a monastic guest at Mepkin Abbey in SC immersing myself in the rhythms of a structured, contemplative life dedicated to ora et labora (prayer and work), I returned to NYC and began to prepare for what I thought would be the most creatively and spiritually fulfilling year of my life. Following right on the heels of two performances in March the pandemic crashed into NYC, and took me with it...
It would not be untrue to say that the bottom dropped out of my life as it did for billions of others across the planet, it also would not be untrue to say that my moderately severe and protracted Covid illness, along with another medical challenge soon thereafter, left me in a state of constant pain and deep soul searching. I had little choice but to focus on my breath and make a somewhat desperate but steady commitment to live in the moment, bear suffering with as much humility as possible, and observe the self-righteous flashes of rage that coursed through my weakened veins as new "enemies" emerged at every turn. What I witnessed, what I experienced during that "apocalyptic" year was both the human necessity and moral and spiritual obligation to "Love Thine Enemies as Thyself."
"When I am weak then I am strong," wrote St. Paul. As I slowly succumbed to the crippling effects of the Covid induced double pneumonia plaguing my lungs, and I watched with horror as people took to the streets in Jesus's name minimizing or even denying the pandemic outright, all while jeopardizing the safety of their friends and family and demonstrating an almost total unwillingness or inability to confront the indiscriminate trail of carnage and grief being left in its wake (as refrigerated "morgue trailers" were positioned outside hospitals here in the city), a sudden and profound sense of compassion washed over me in a singular moment that I will never forget as these words echoed with great mourning in my heart, "Forgive them father, for they know not what they do..." In that moment my body released (if only for a time) the righteous indignation that had been simmering beneath the surface, a feeling that would normally explode into phantom arguments in my head and attacks on the character of all those whom I felt worthy of judgment. Instead, I was greeted by a deep sense of intimacy, a visceral awareness of a Love far greater than anything that I could ever personally engender, a Love that experiences the suffering and woundedness of the human family, but also celebrates and honors its innate beauty and intrinsic unity.
Clearly 2020 was not the "creatively and spiritually fulfilling year," I imagined it would be, and yet... it certainly revealed the ways in which I myself was in need of a wake up call. To a deeper understanding of what it means to live a life rooted in Gospel values and service, a life which puts a premium on embodying the Beatitudes rather than discussing or quoting them, a life in which learning to speak truth to power with love is one of the most elusive, the most dangerous, and the most misconstrued or unheard calls emanating from Christ's lips.
And so now it is 2022, and Merton and Me, A Living Trinity is re-entering and re-engaging a world that is suffering immensely and transforming wholly, a world that is simultaneously clinging to the past and lurching forward into the future suffused with the prophetic hope that when we allow freedom “to ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, Black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last. Free at last. Thank God almighty, we are free at last...” Dr. Martin Luther King
I encourage you to share this email (blog post!) with others and I leave you with this...
"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
"Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."
(1 Corinthians 13:4-13, NIV)
A BLESSED CALM BEFORE MY COVID STORM BEGAN ON
March 23, 2020...
Sister Sue Zemgulis and Me
Dominican Retreat and Conference Center - Niskayuna NY
March 8, 2020
My Beloved wife Alex and Me, She is my rock...