Learning from a novice

One of the great talks given at the International Thomas Merton Society Centenary Conference this month was by James Finley who was a novice with Thomas Merton back in the 1960s. Now in his early 70s James Finley spoke of Thomas Merton: Mystic Teacher for our Age. The talk was wonderful: full of wisdom, truth and emotion and conveyed so much of the experience of having Thomas Merton as a spiritual director and how this experience has contributed to the person that James Finley has become.

He spoke of experiential understanding…in other words that the way that Merton met with Finley was rooted in his own experience. I liked the three ever deepening questions that Merton asked the novice: ‘how’s it going?’ was the first. Here is the question from one human being to another…what’s it like being you? This is about the ordinariness of each person’s existence but an ordinariness that we share with one another.

The second question was ‘how’s it going?’ meaning what is it like in your surrendering to God. The God who has accessed your heart. Here Finley spoke about encountering oneself and the feeling when God withdraws leaving a longing that has been glimpsed of a presence without which my life is incomplete. In the ache is the longing which leads to the seeking and so this is the path to follow. There are moments of an awakened heart; times when we can be ‘alone with the Alone’… and as James Finley said the gap between two lines in a poem. The realisation ‘what a fool I was to worry so’. These are moments of the realisation of a hidden wholeness and a homecoming.

The third question is ‘how’s it going in discovering the depth of the second question… bubbling up through the ordinariness of the first question is the interpretation of the depths of God welling up within us.¬†Using personal examples Finley spoke of the feeling of surrender as a falling forever into God whilst the bottomless of God is rising up and giving itself up to us. Jesus teaches us to see God in everything and in everyone… in every moment of life there is the infinity of God… deathless mercy. And how do we deepen our experience of God… through fidelity to spiritual practice….

See James Finley’s webpage at ¬†http://www.contemplativeway.org/