From Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander by Thomas Merton (pp. 207-208)
8th May is Julian’s Day
I pray much to have a wise heart, and perhaps the rediscovery of Lady Julian of Norwich will help me. I took her book with me on a quiet walk along the cedars. She is a true theologian with greater clarity, depth, and order than St. Theresa: she really elaborates, theologically, the content of her revelations. She first experienced, then thought, and the thoughtful deepening of experience worked it back into her life, deeper and deeper until her whole life as a recluse at Norwich was simply a matter of getting completely saturated in the light she had received all at once, in the ‘Shewings’ when she thought she was about to die.
One of her most telling and central convictions is her orientation to what one might call an eschatological secret, the hidden dynamism which is at work already and by which ‘all manner of things shall be well’. This ‘secret’, this act which the Lord keeps hidden, is really the full fruit of the Parousia. It is not just that ‘He comes’, but He comes with this secret to reveal, He comes with this final answer to all the world’s anguish, this answer which is already decided, but which we cannot discover (and which, since we think we have reasoned it all out anyway) we have stopped trying to discover. Actually, her life was lived in the belief in this ‘secret’, the ‘great deed’ that the Lord will do on the Last Day, not a deed of destruction and revenge, but of mercy and of life, all partial expectations will be exploded and everything will be made right. It is the great deed of ‘the end’, which is still secret, but already fully at work in the world, in spite of all its sorrow, the great deed ‘ordained by Our Lord from the beginning’.
She must indeed believe and accept the fact that there is a hell yet also at the same time, impossibly one would think, she believes even more firmly that ‘the word of Christ shall be saved in all things’ and ‘all manner of’ thing shall be well’. This is, for her, the heart of theology: not solving the contradictions but remaining in the midst of it, in peace, knowing that it is fully solved, but that the solution is secret, and will never be guessed until it is revealed.
To have a ‘wise heart’, it seems to me, is to live centred on this dynamism and this secret hope – this hoped-for secret. It is the key to our life, but as long as we are alive we must see that we do not have this key: it is not at our disposal. Christ has it, in us, for us. We have the key insofar as we believe in Him, and are one with Him. So this is it: the ‘wise heart’ remains in hope and in contradiction, in sorrow and in joy, fixed on the secret and the ‘great deed’, which alone gives Christian life its true scope and dimensions. The wise heart lives in Christ.
Thomas Merton was a Monk of the Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance at the Abbey of Gethsemani in America