The Pastor's Buzz

Pastor Buzz Trexler's blog for God's people in The Meadow.

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Name: Buzz Trexler
Location: Knoxville, Tennessee, United States

Journalist for 29 years; married to Donna for 28 years; parent of David, 27, and Elizabeth, 24; pastor of Green Meadow United Methodist Church in Alcoa since 2002.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Of Thomas Merton and Life as a Beginner in Prayer

It's a cold, rainy day here at Ripshin.

I have spent most of the morning finishing Brennan Manning's "The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus," a text for what has become something of a retreat for me during this season of Joy. I believe it would be a good text for group study at The Meadow and have considered leading it during Sunday School. I will speak with Glenda about that possibility.

I had planned some outdoor activity today, but the cold rain has kept me indoors. Having finished the Manning text, I then moved on to a brief devotion by Thomas Merton, which amounted to excerpts from "Contemplative Prayer." I am impressed by the simplicity of his thoughts on such prayer, as well as how relevant they seem to my own experience.

The excerpt I read is from a book I purchased while at Fairhaven Ministries last Christmas season, "Devotional Classics: Selected Readings for Individuals and Groups," edited by Richard J. Foster and James Bryan Smith (1993 HarperSanFrancisco). I highly recommend this devotional resource.

In the reading, Merton warns against seeking some magical method, but encourages an "attitude," an "outlook" -- faith, openness, attention, reverence, expectation, supplication, trust and joy. "All these finally permeate our being with love in so far as our living faith tells us we are in the presence of God, that we live in Christ, that in the Spirit of God we 'see' God our Father without 'seeing.'"

He acknowledges that there is hardship in prayer and that we may find meditation difficult; however, we should not rely on feelings. Merton offers an insightful explanation: The movement of meditation is one of "paschal" rhythm whereby we move from death to life in Christ. In prayer, the "death" is a descent into "our own nothingness, a recognition of helplessness, frustration, infidelity, confusion, ignorance."

There was much more to this excerpt, but I will offer this last additional insight, one that speaks directly to me: "One cannot begin to face the real difficulties of the life of prayer and meditation unless one is first perfectly content to be a beginner and really experience himself as one who knows little or nothing and has a desperate need to learn the bare rudiments. ...

"We do not want to be beginners. But let us be convinced of the fact that we will never be anything else but beginners."

As 2007 draws to a close, here's to seeing myself as a beginner in the school of praying in and with the Spirit.

Grace and peace ...