November 1, 2018
All Saints Day
Dear East Tennessee Episcopal Friends,
Below is an extended quotation from the Appendix of the Asian Journal of Thomas Merton. Merton, who had lived as a Trappist monk for 27 years in central Kentucky, was now fulfilling a long-held dream of traveling to the East. These remarks and prayer were given by Merton at the conclusion of the First Spiritual Summit Conference held in Calcutta, India, late in 1968, shortly before Merton’s untimely death. As he spoke, he did so in front of a diverse group in terms of religion and race and country of origin.
I am aware that Merton’s words were offered in 1968, in a time when the world was falling apart – war in Vietnam, student unrest in the U.S. and Europe, Civil Rights struggles, to name only a few examples. Yet, his prayer is a prayer about the dream. Regardless of the depth of despair rightly felt, Merton still cast a vision that did not settle for anything less than a belief that the human family has been created in order to be one.
From last week’s news, we know that we are living in a time when the world, as we know it, is falling apart. Mail bombs are sent to political leaders, refugees are demonized from a distance, African-Americans in Louisville are gunned down for the color of their skin, and a community of Jews in Pittsburgh are gunned down in synagogue. Too many of our political leaders trade in language of fear and hate, dividing attempts to “form a more perfect Union.” Giving in to despair right now is a reasonable response.
That is why I want to share Merton’s words with you.
Over the past few days, many of you have joined in public gatherings of lament, of communal sorrow. At those gatherings, we have also pledged to reach out to each other, to work to end gun violence, to support leaders who would unite us rather than divide.
As the Episcopal bishop of East Tennessee, I want you to remember what the dream is. This is not a time to settle. This is not a time to lose heart. This is a time for lament. This is a time to say our prayers even more faithfully. This is a time to resist isolation and go out and meet each other, especially the others who feel outnumbered and targeted. This a time to deepen our work for charity, justice, and reconciliation. This is not the time when we let fear and hate claim the day.
For me, personally, I am aware that while I have met many people in my first year in East Tennessee, I have done a poor job in meeting the others outside the Episcopal community. I am pledging to become a real neighbor to our brothers and sisters in East Tennessee who share kinship with me in the human family.
As a diocesan community, we have begun to explore what it means to share a common life where we express belief that the Christ has reconciled all things. The work of reconciliation in Christ comes to us out of a dark and despairing time – the place of the cross. However, it is from that place, the place of deepest despair, that resurrected life is won for us and we are given the grace to live out that reconciliation for and with others. Such work is not easy. However, such work is, to quote Merton, the Real.
“I will ask you to stand and all join hands in a little while. But first, we realize that we are going to have to create a new language of prayer. And this new language of prayer has to come out of something which transcends all our traditions, and comes out of the immediacy of love. We have to part now, aware of that loves that unites us, the love that unites us in spite of real differences, real emotional friction … The things that are on the surface are nothing, what is deep is the Real. We are creatures of love. Let us therefore join hands, as we did before, and I will try to say something that comes out of the depths of our hearts. I ask you to concentrate on the love that is in you, that is in us all. I have no idea what I am going to say. I am going to be silent a minute, and then I will say something …
Oh God, we are one with You. You have made us one with You. You have taught us that if we are open to one another, You dwell in us. Help us to preserve this openness and to fight for it with all our hearts. Help us to realize that there can be no understanding where there is mutual rejection. Oh God, in accepting one another wholeheartedly, fully, completely, we accept You, and we thank You, and we adore You, and we love You with our whole being, because our being is in Your being, our spirit is rooted in Your spirit. Fill us then with love, and let us be bound together with love as we go our diverse ways, united in this one spirit which makes You present in the world., and which makes You witness to the ultimate reality that is love. Love has overcome. Love is victorious. Amen.”
The Rt. Rev. Brian Cole
5th Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of East Tennessee