To be a monk, you must learn to close the door

Driving to Kirkridge for a retreat, I listen. On cassette, made in 1967, Thomas Merton speaks to the novices. He speaks of a Buddhist monk who has come to visit the monastery at Gethsemane. Joyfully, I remember. I remember 1967. I remember Thich Nhat Hanh. Students had organized a multi-faceted event on "the war" at my college. Two Buddhist monks came to be among us. In their orange robes, with agony for their Vietnamese brothers and sisters in heart, they spoke to us. I remember the power of their souls. I don't remember the quiet. My own life at 21 was such a noisy jumble. My own soul -- such a kaleidoscope of passions. Who did I love? What was my call? What were my gifts? Then, always relentlessly the question of "the war" -- how would I respond to the death and violence, the heroism and the compassion, the deceit and the debate? Those questions powered my soul into overdrive. And yes, I liked being in overdrive. Because then I could produce.

Inner peace -- that was for others. Those of us who were activists, those who really cared, we were driven to act, and act and act some more. So, for me in 1967, my jumbled soul did not even know to yearn for inner peace. I only caught glimpses of the vital connection between inner peace and actions for peace, between clarity of soul and clear commitments, between loving the life of God within me and living love in God's world. Perhaps Thich Nhat Hanh in 1967 offered me that glimpse.

Over twenty year later, now his words sting and bless. "TO BE A MONK, YOU MUST LEARN TO CLOSE THE DOOR." I realize the responsibility and necessity of "closing the door." Shut out obligations and issues, shut out people you love, shut out the pain and hope of the world. It sounds so harsh and yet it MUST be done. We must all shut the door -- so we can go inside to prayer -- "to let God be God in you," as Eckhardt said.

~ Rev. Brooks Smith, No. Plainfield, NJ