Praise be to God, who gives beauty for ashes : hope in the morning, strength for today.
You give me beauty for ashes. You pull me close to Your heart. You have turned my mourning into dancing. It’s what You do. It’s who You are. I am no longer what I used to be. I am stronger because You live in me. It old has gone; the new has come. Brand new day. Brand new life. I am softer because You live in me.
Dear God, form us into a peculiar people who live differently because we have been transformed by You. May the courage of the early Christians teach us to laugh at fear, to starve greed, and to live with the winsome freedom of the lilies and the sparrows. Amen.
I have certainly seen where the winsome freedom of the ancient hermits led them in 400 B.C.: right up a steep rocky hillside to their very own cave, where really only the sparrows fly and dry weeds cling.
And once a week they gathered in a slightly larger cave, to praise God together and break bread and drink wine. These hollows of decomposed granite are saturated with prayers.
And Sinan couldn’t really wrap his brain around the scorpions and snakes these guys must have faced. In fact, for him, this was proof of God’s power and intervention.
And after the mass was lifted up, the hermits filled a bag with breads and vegetables brought up from the village and returned to their solitude.
Certainly a peculiar people. And yet many centuries years later another peculiar people weighted down with the cares of a complex and dangerous world make a long hot journey to those very caves to marvel. And to rest in the simplicity of transformation.
As I begin to pack up my Erbil bag, entering the bakery one last time for 1,000 dinars of bread and smiling good morning one last time to the woman sweeping the street, fully aware of the importance of closure in a lesson, fully aware of the power of the concluding sentence, my thoughts in spite of themselves drift to the next bend in the road ahead, completely unknown.
Because I think that in many ways it is where this peculiar pilgrimage will begin, sent out two by two, but my companion is Jesus. And in solitude I will know His lovingkindness more profoundly.
If you allow people to praise me, I shall not worry. If you let them blame me, I shall worry even less. If You send me work, I shall embrace it with joy. . . . If you send me rest, I will rest in You. Only save me from myself. Save me from my own private, poisonous urge to change everything, to act without reason, to move for movement's sake, to unsettle everything that You have ordained. Let me rest in Your will and be silent. Then the light of Your joy will warm my life. Its fire will burn in my heart and shine for Your glory. That is what I live for. Amen, amen. Thomas Merton, The Sign of Jonah