Trying to think about life and how God makes it full

Merton on ‘The old and the new.’

merton2.jpegThomas Merton’s thoughts below, made just after I was born, remind me of the cry of Jesus’s heart as he taught them how to pray: “Your kingdom come (now), your will be done (now) ON EARTH, as it is in heaven.” It’s a cry for eternity to be made real right now – heaven on earth, in fact.

I get so frustrated with Christians who pray the Lord’s Prayer like this: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done. On earth. As it is in heaven.” There’s no sense of connection between the eternal aspect of heaven and what we experience here on earth – nor does there seem to be any expectation of God’s will being done NOW. I keep trying to get our congregation to pray it as I’ve shown in the top paragraph (and will continue to keep trying – some actually get it), but it seems that the old habits of saying a formal prayer have overcome the heart of engaging with the words as a cry to God for heaven to be experienced here, right now. No murder in heaven, no murder on earth. No abuse in heaven, no abuse on earth. No deceit in heaven, no deceit on earth.

This part of the Lord’s Prayer is about seeing the hope of heaven becoming a concrete reality today. The old idea of heaven being ‘pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die’ sounds very thin when placed alongside Jesus’s idea (which is older still, but needs to be heard anew) of the fulness of heaven being called into the concrete experience of everday life so that in effect, life get lived in all its fulness (John 10:10).

“For the “old man”—everything is old—he has seen everything or thinks he has. He has lost hope in anything new. What pleases him is the “old” he clings to, fearing to lose it, but certainly not happy with it. And so he keeps himself “old” and cannot change; he is not open to any newness. His life is stagnant and futile. …
For the “new man”—everything is new. Even the old is transfigured in the Holy Spirit and is always new. There is nothing to cling to, there is nothing to be hoped for in what is already past—it is nothing.
The new man is he who can find reality where it cannot be seen by the eyes of the flesh—where it is not yet—where it comes into being the moment he sees it. And would not be (at least for him) if he did not see it.
The new man lives in a world that is always being created, and renewed. He lives in this realm of renewal and creation. He lives in life.
The old man lives without life. He lives in Death, and clings to what has died precisely because he clings to it. And yet he is crazy for change, as if struggling with the bonds of death. His struggle is miserable, and cannot be a substitute for life.
Thought of these things after [holy] communion today, when I suddenly realized that I had, and for how long, deeply lost hope of “anything new.” How foolish when in fact the newness is there all the time.” [March 18, 1959]

Thomas Merton. A Search for Solitude. Journals, Volume 3. Lawrence S. Cunningham, ed. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1997: 268-269.


January 11, 2007 - Posted by | contemplative, culture, jesus, merton, religion, wisdom


  1. The Lords prayer is a perfect unselfish proclamation of the desire that Gods ways and will be manifest on earth. It is truly beautiful and should come from the heart. The paragraph about the old man versus the new man is truly insightful.

    Comment by timbob | January 11, 2007 | Reply

  2. I often find parts of the Lord’s Prayer hard to pray honestly – due to exactly the emphasis you noted. “Your will be done (now) on earth, exactly as it is done in heaven”… oh, hang on, if I pray that bit seriously, I may have to change quite a bit of how I live my life!

    Comment by Andy C | January 12, 2007 | Reply

  3. Hmmmm Andy, maybe that’s a part of prayer that we intuitively don’t like – where we allow God to change us as we spend time with him in prayer.

    Comment by revtc | January 12, 2007 | Reply

  4. I am sure, Tony, that you would agree you are not saying anything new. Merton has said it, as have many thousands before and after him. The importantant thing, of course, is that YOU are saying it, you are saying it loudly and saying it in your own way, and you are saying it NOW. And Pantomime also said it loudly in Stratford, over the Christmas period.

    The Snow Queen Pantomime (Part Three)

    In the Pantomime Gerda does not accept the “Old People’s Viewpoint” view that her little friend Kai is dead. She wants to find out for herself whether her friend is indeed dead. And she hears stories that the Snow Queen has abducted her little friend.
    And, as in your blog, she wants to do something about it NOW …..

    So she sets out alone on a very long hazardous journey … and meets some people and animals along the way – some are “baddies” and some are “goodies” (including a wonderful reindeer and a teenage girl robber with “attitude”, who becomes Gerda’s friend and protector)

    And the great thing about Pantomime is that we are not just a passive audience – we are not helpless onlookers, as we may feel when watching the news about Darfur, Palestine, Walthamstow, Palestine, Iraq etc……
    We can support and help Gerda on her journey.
    We can warn her of dangers. “Look behind You” we can shout – or scream, if we can become like the less inhibited children.
    And we do not stay silent when a “baddie” tells us something we know is wrong.
    “Oh no it is not” we can shout or scream.
    If only we could do the same when someone in the street makes an offensive or racist or cynical comment.
    As a former American president said, evil can only exist if good people do nothing.
    I can sympathise with you, Tony, in your attempt to get your congregation to say very powerful prayers with passion and deep felt conviction.
    I do find most formal Christian services lacking in spirit and joy and conviction.

    In the Pantomime when things really looked at their most hopeless and desperate, there was the song “Don’t Give Up”, sung with such spirit and determination that I shed a few tears. However, there were also many times of laughter and joy during the hazardous and dreadful journey.
    Can we, as individuals, get in touch with something true and beautiful – or can we only watch it on stage in Pantomime?

    (An attempt to reconcile our Scientific and Spiritual Worlds)

    Is it wishful thinking
    To hunger for this other world
    This fourth dimension to our lives?

    By knowledge of the head, by thinking
    We can know the world of fact.
    By knowledge of the heart, by wishful thinking
    With awe and wonder and wisdom
    With all that makes us Human
    Can we sense this other world
    This world of Mystery
    This world of Passion?

    LIVE – Feel Connected (sometimes) – Be Joyful (sometimes)

    Comment by Lawrence Woods | January 14, 2007 | Reply

  5. The Lords prayer, how relevent it is to me as I pray it from my heart! “Thy will be done on earth, and in my life this day as it is in heaven…
    Give us this day our daily bread, Provide for our needs both spiritual and physical, and for the minsitry you’ve entrusted to us..”
    As the Spirit leads so I pray, according to the outline and spirit in which Jesus taught us, but from the depths of my heart to our Father in Heaven…
    Good post!

    Bless you Rev!


    Comment by faithwalk | January 16, 2007 | Reply

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