Fire Watch

Jerry Ryan posts on Thomas Merton’s essay “Fire Watch” at dotCommonweal. I read Robert Barron somewhere also praising this epilogue to The Sign of Jonas. For me, several years ago, revisiting this writing was less about content and more about the luminous quality of Thomas Merton’s prose.

Baptized in the rivers of night, Gethsemani has recovered her innocence. Darkness brings a semblance of order before all things disappear. With the clock slung over my shoulder, in the silence of the Fourth of July, it is my time to be the night watchman, in the house that will one day perish.

O my gosh. I’ve been captured.

I could stay with just this paragraph and ponder the meaning not for the monk’s community back in 1952, but my house, my church, my very life. Indeed, of everything I know.

That book I read on the ages of the universe–forget about what in Ames, Iowa will still be standing in 3013AD (though that is sobering enough). What about five billion years from now? The sun will swell and burn the Earth, and everything we know will be fire.

Will there be left any monuments to Christ then? Any places for believers to call home? Will we be pilgrims bringing a semblance of order before the Earth itself disappears? Will our baptism take place between the stars in the icy depths of deep space, rather than in pools of living water?

Christina Rosetti’s Christmas hymn comes to mind:

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign.

Earth cannot sustain us forever. It will actually be us who flee … eventually. Either by pilgrimage or extinction.

This passage of Merton’s I find attractive not because of analyzing the theology or spiritual development of the man, but because he had his deep moment of reflection that overnight so long ago. I want to find and dwell in those deep moments, be they lying in the grass at night looking up at the heavens, or meditating on an icon or illumination from my faith.

I see I am small, and I’m not afraid of the great expanse of the universe. There are far places to go–I’m willing to go. Just … send me.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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