O Sweet Irrational Worship


Wind and a bobwhite
And the afternoon sun,

By ceasing to question the sun
I have become light,

Bird and wind.

My leaves sing.

I am earth, earth

All these lighted things
Grow from my heart.
A tall, spare pine
Stands like the initial of my first
Name when I had one.

When I had a spirit,
When I was on fire
When this valley was
Made out of fresh air
You spoke my name
In naming Your Silence:
O sweet, irrational worship!

I am earth, earth

My heart’s love
Bursts with hay and flowers.
I am a lake of blue air
In which my own appointed place
Field and valley
Stand reflected.

I am earth, earth

Out of my grass heart
Rises the bobwhite.

Out of my nameless weeds
His foolish worship.

~Thomas Merton

In the language and wisdom of Zen Buddhism, what remains hidden to reason may be known to rapture. In O Sweet Irrational Worship, the speaker is the undifferentiated self that identifies with nature. He has relinquished dualism and ego-separateness to bask in the inherent oneness (and wholeness) of life. By doing so, he has ceased to question what is and allows what is to be. This act of “irrational worship” generates deep connection and rapture.

The poet has joined, and is flowing with Source, by a poetic and mystical identification or cosympathy with creation. In doing so, he discovers in its mystery the illusoriness of the empirical self and the irrelevance of the “I.”

Finally, the poem proclaims the liberating vision of the wholeness of the life force. This liberating vision, however, must be sought in solitude and in the emptiness that solitude may bring. Merton spent his lifetime in retreat and knew the value of being in solitude.

Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk and prolific writer, was a longstanding student of Zen and possessed great insight. “O Sweet Irrational Worship” is from his 1963 volume of verse, Emblems of a Season of Fury. Merton wrote many poems that expose an exquisite Zen tonality and wisdom. He also wrote Mystics and Zen Masters and Zen and the Birds of Appetite, as well as the posthumous collection Encounters: Thomas Merton and D.T. Suzuki.



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