The Healing Path

The next time I went to see Thomas Merton for spiritual direction, I asked his permission to spend some time each day alone in the loft of the sheep barn. With Merton’s permission, I began my daily ritual of going to the loft of the sheep barn to pray and be alone with God.

One day as I walked back and forth in the loft of the barn reading the Psalms, I began to realize that what we tend to think of as the air is actually God. In a subtle, interior way I sensed that I was walking back and forth in the atmospheric, all-encompassing presence of God, who was sustaining me breath by breath.

I can recall realizing that if I were to try to flee from the atmospheric, all-encompassing presence of God that, no matter where I would flee to, God would be sustaining me in my flight from God, and that wherever my arrival point might be, God would be waiting for me when I got there.

The peace that came over me in this divinized state flowed from a deep realization that there was no need to flee from God’s all-encompassing presence. For the most intimate depth of this awakening moment was a simple awareness that God, who was sustaining my life breath by breath, knew me through and through as mercy within mercy within mercy. I was so overtaken by the intimate depths of my very presence being accessed by the presence of God in this way that I stopped reading the Psalms and simply sat on a bail of straw breathing God as I looked out over the meadow.

As I sat there, a pair of barn swallows that had built their nest in the barn were swooping this way and that over the meadow. From time to time one of the red wasps that were part of the landscape in the hot summers of Kentucky would come flying into the loft, pause in midair for just a moment to get its bearings, and then ascend, like a helicopter, up into the rafters of the barn, where the wasps were building the mud nests in which they laid their eggs.

What was even more amazing is that this graced awareness of God and I inhaling and exhaling ourselves into each other continued for the next three days. It’s not that I walked around in some kind of trance. Quite the opposite, actually, in that I felt very present to each thing that I did throughout the day, but present in a pervasive underlying awareness of being in the presence of God, sustaining me breath by breath, knowing me through and through with an infused sense of mercy without end.

The third day of my God-breathing way of life fell on a Sunday, which was the one day of the week we were allowed to walk in the woods on the other side of the small, winding country road that cut through the monastery property. I crossed the road and walked along the narrow dirt path as it turned to the right, and then to the left, and began its gentle ascent up through woods to Dom Frederick’s Lake, where I would go on Sundays to sit and pray.

As I walked along that narrow dirt path with its overarching canopy of trees, I paused and touched a leaf hanging from a low-lying branch. As I touched the leaf, I looked up and saw a single cloud hanging in the clear blue sky and whispered, “It’s one!” The infinite presence of God I was breathing, the cloud in the sky, the leaf I was touching, the earth on which I was standing, and the immediacy of feeling myself blessed and awakened to this all-encompassing presence were, in that instant, realized to be inexplicably and all-pervasively one.

Please know that the words I am using in attempting to describe this intimately realized oneness are impoverished in a superficial, wordy kind of way compared to the transcendent oneness beyond words that I was so graced and privileged to experience.

Moved by the all-encompassing presence in which I was immersed, I walked off the path onto a field, where I sat in the tall grass moved by a strong wind with the blue sky overhead, all of which were experienced as bodying forth the endless diversity of the oneness of presence that alone is ultimately real.

As I share this memory with you now, more than fifty years later, I can honestly say that my life since that moment has never been quite the same. For even though I have drifted many times from my direct awareness of this all-encompassing oneness, the all-encompassing presence of God has never drifted away from me. It is so strange how grace can flow so quietly in the secret recesses of those, such as myself, who are so limited in so many ways.

From The Healing Path: A Memoir and an Invitation by James Finley (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books 2023)

      Used with permission.

October 10, 2023 by James Finley 1 Comment
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1 month ago

Thank you 😁


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