I was honored to be invited to contribute an article to the Eastertide 2022 edition of The Merton Journal, published bi-annually by The Thomas Merton Society of Great Britain & Ireland. Since my article is not available online, I thought would share it here.


Now the power of Easter has burst upon us with the resurrection of Christ. Now we find in ourselves a strength which is not our own.

Thomas Merton, Seasons of Celebration

“The power of Easter” and “a strength which is not our own” is something that I need right now, more than ever. Living with long Covid, struggling through a lengthy pandemic, and trying to lead my congregation through these polarizing times has been exhausting. I need strength beyond my own to face these challenges. And I often find this strength, or at least a reminder of it, in Thomas Merton’s words. I have been reading and pondering Merton’s writings for more than thirty years now, and it never fails to inspire me. But his poetry is a relatively new gift to me. A particular poem of his that is speaking to me as I look toward Easter is “The Trappist Cemetery – Gethsemani.” (I came across this poem in this collection: In the Dark Before Dawn – New Selected Poems of Thomas Merton.) 

A cemetery might be a strange place to look for “the power of Easter.” But not to me. It is true that the angel at the tomb on that first Easter morning wondered why anyone would seek the living among the dead. Jesus was not there, after all. He was alive. So why visit his tomb? Why visit any tomb? But I have spent many quiet moments in the cemetery next to the church I once served, seeking the living among the dead. Many who rested there were still alive to me. Their lives, my memories, their faith, my prayers for them and with them, and their dying witness to me, all of this was very alive. It all spoke to me, and continued to speak in the silence of that place. I miss that cemetery, to be honest. I miss spending time there. 

Merton’s poem is one that I can imagine him writing in the cemetery at his monastery in Kentucky:

Brothers, the curving grasses and their daughters 
Will never print your praises
The trees our sisters, in their summer dresses,
Guard your fame in these green cradles:
The simple crosses are content to hide your characters.

Thus begins this poem, showing it be a kind of letter written to the brothers who had gone before him, resting in that quiet place. The tombstones in the cemetery where I used to walk were not all simple crosses, but they did hide some real characters. It wasn’t the tombstones that spoke to me, of course, but the people who rested below them, and my memories of them. Laying now in silence, awaiting the final resurrection, bearing quiet witness to me as I walked among them. 

Another Kentucky poet, Wendell Berry, in his poem, “No, no, there is no going back” (found in This Day: Sabbath Poems Collected & New, 1979-2013), teaches me that:

More and more you have become 
those lives and deaths
that have belonged to you.
You have become a sort of grave
containing much that was
and is no more in time, beloved
then, now, and always.

Yes. More and more I now contain something of all those characters now resting in their graves, awaiting their Savior’s promised return. Their lives have shaped me, and shape me still. 

Merton wrote towards the end of his powerful poem:

Teach us, Cistercian Fathers, how to wear 
Silence, our humble armor.
Pray us a torrent of the seven spirits
That are our wine and stamina:
Because your work is not yet done.

Merton’s words have become that torrent that continues to work in me, his words and his life inviting me to wear silence as my humble armor. It is in that silence that I often find the power of Easter. Not the silence of death, but of new life. A silence that I often have found while quietly walking in a cemetery. 

It is not just silence, of course, that I find there. Merton continued the poem:

But look: the valleys shine with promises 
And every burning morning is a prophecy of Christ
Coming to raise and vindicate
Even our sorry flesh.

Yes, every burning morning is Easter again; every new day showing us God’s faithfulness, the steadfast love that never ceases, the mercy upon mercy upon mercy. Every day the sun rises and joins in the prophecy of Christ, reminding me and all who wait in silence of the one who is coming “to raise and vindicate even our sorry flesh.”

My sorry flesh needs that reminder these days. And so does my weary spirit. It needs a strength beyond my own. From where will my help come? In the silence of prayer, the psalms teach me. And so does the Cistercian Father who means so very much to me. Wait in the silence that can be found in a cemetery, or in the simple gift of quiet prayer. Wait there, in the silence that is my humble armor, and that opens me to the power of Easter.  

Thank you, Father Louis, for your faithful witness. Rest now, even as your words continue to ripple out from where you lay in the quiet. Your work is not yet done, your words still help to light my way. May they continue this holy work until Easter’s lasting gift, a promise which offers a strength not my own, and a hope that burns bright as the morning sun.


The Trappist Cemetery – Gethsemani  | Thomas Merton

Brothers, the curving grasses and their daughters 
Will never print your praises:
The trees our sisters, in their summer dresses,
Guard your fame in these green cradles:
The simple crosses are content to hide your characters.

Oh do not fear
The birds that bicker in the lonely belfry
Will ever give away your legends.
Yet when the sun, exulting like a dying martyr,
Canonizes, with his splendid fire, the somber hills,
Your graves all smile like little children,
And your wise crosses trust the mothering night
That folds them in the Sanctuary’s wings.

You need not hear the momentary rumors of the road
Where cities pass and vanish in a single car
Filling the cut beside the mill
With roar and radio,
Hurling the air into the wayside branches
Leaving the leaves alive with panic.

See, the kind universe,
Wheeling in love about the abbey steeple,
Lights up your sleepy nursery with stars.

+

God, in your bodily life,
Untied the snares of anger and desire,
Hid your flesh from envy by these country altars,
Beneath these holy eaves where even sparrows have their houses.
But oh, how like the swallows and the chimney swifts
Do your free souls in glory play!
And with a cleaner flight,
Keener, more graceful circles,
Rarer and finer arcs
Then all these innocent attacks that skim our steeple!
How like these children of the summer evening
Do your rejoicing spirits
Deride the dry earth with their aviation!

But now the treble harps of night begin to play in the deep wood,
To praise your holy sleep,
And all the frogs along the creek
Chant in the moony waters to the Queen of Peace.
And we, the mariners, and travelers,
The wide-eyed immigrants,
Praying and sweating in our steerage cabins,
Lie still and count with love the measured bells
That tell the deep-sea leagues until your harbor.

Already on this working earth you knew what nameless love
Adorns the heart with peace by night,
Hearing, adoring all the dark arrivals of eternity.
Oh, here on earth you knew what secret thirst
Arming the mind with instinct,
Answers the challenges of God with garrisons
Of unified desire
And facing Him in His new wars
Is slain at last in an exchange of lives.

Teach us, Cistercian Fathers, how to wear
Silence, our humble armor.
Pray us a torrent of the seven spirits
That are our wine and stamina:
Because your work is not yet done.
But look: the valleys shine with promises,
And every burning morning is a prophecy of Christ
Coming to raise and vindicate
Even our sorry flesh.

Then will your graves, Gethsemani, give up their angels,
Return them to their souls to learn
The songs and attitudes of glory.
Then will creation rise again like gold
Clean, from the furnace of your litanies:
The beasts and trees shall share your resurrection,
And a new world be born from these green tombs.

9 thoughts on “Every Burning Morning

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