Thomas Merton: Supernatural people

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The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 4:7-11

“Those were weeks I shall never forget, and the more I think of them, the more I realize that I must certainly owe the [family that hosted me] for more than butter and milk and good nourishing food for my body. I am indebted to them for much more than the kindness and care they showed me, the goodness and the delicate solicitude with which they treated me as their child, yet without any assertive or natural familiarity. As a child, and since then too, I have always tended to resist any kind of possessive affection on the part of any other other human being — there has always been this profound instinct to keep clear, to keep free. And only with truly supernatural people have I ever felt really at my ease, really at peace.”

Thomas Merton in The Seven Storey Mountain (New York: Harcourt, 1998) 63.

Now I am turning from favorite professors to fellow monks whose lives and writings have shaped my own life to understand “kindness” in 2019.

Thomas Merton was a Trappist monk, which means he followed the Rule of Benedict in a cloister. He lived at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky the last 27 years of his life. When Merton traveled, he relied on the kindness of others to provide a home away from home, much like I did on my recent trip to Egypt. That’s what came to my mind when I recounted this excerpt from his classic work.

For another example, when I teach at Northern Seminary, my needs are met by a dear woman named Linda Owens. She oversees student services and ranks in the category of supernatural people. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, she shows kindness by anticipating and addressing the needs of others without grumbling. Her kindness touches all beneficiaries and shapes the whole campus environment.

Peter understood the recipe for kindness too. We must be alert to pray, eager to love deeply, ready to extend hospitality joyfully, and everyone plays a part. Notice in today’s Scripture, whether speaking, like I have been doing as the visiting professor, or serving, like Linda has been doing to host Faith and Finances, our use of our giftedness shows kindness, creates peaceful settings, and results in praise to God.

Father in heaven, by your Holy Spirit make us into supernatural people whose kindness shapes the lives of those around us and creates peaceful places. Hear my prayer in the name of Jesus. Amen.