During the last years of his life, Thomas Merton lived in a hermitage in an attempt to find more solitude in his life. But solitude is a very illusive thing and he found that it was continually escaping him.

Ron Rolheiser, OMI

One morning, however, Merton sensed that for this moment at least, he had found it. But what he experienced was somewhat of a surprise to him. Solitude, as he experienced it, was being fully inside his own skin, inside the present moment, gratefully aware of the immense richness that is contained inside of ordinary human experience. Solitude consists in being enough inside of your own life to actually experience what is there.

It’s rare that we find ourselves truly inside of the present moment because of the way we are built.  We are overcharged for this world.  When God put us into this world, as the author of the Book of Ecclesiastes tells us, he put “timelessness” into our hearts and because of that we don’t make easy peace with our lives.

We know from experience how difficult it is to be inside the present moment because the past and the future won’t leave us alone. They are forever coloring the present. The past haunts us with half-forgotten lullabies and melodies the trigger memories, with loves that has been found and lost, with wounds that have never healed, and with inchoate feelings of nostalgia, regret, and wanting to cling to something that once was. The past is forever sowing restlessness into the present moment.

And the future impales itself into the present as well, looming as promise and threat, forever asking for our attention, forever sowing anxiety into our lives, and forever stripping us of the capacity to simply drink in the present.

The present is forever being colored by obsessions, heartaches, headaches, and anxieties that have little to do with people we are sitting with at table.

St. Augustine said that God has put that restlessness into the human heart to keep it from finding a home in something that is less than infinite and eternal: You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.

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