by Jim Forest
Domine ut videam. This Latin prayer was used in Merton’s remarks at the opening session of the peacemaking retreat held at the Abbey of Gethsemani in November 1964. Lord, that I might see. The Latin words come from St Jerome’s Vulgate translation of St Mark’s Gospel. It’s Bartimaeus’s appeal to Jesus to heal his blind eyes: Domine ut videam — Lord, that I might see.
Looking back on that small gathering fifty years later, it strikes me that these few words were at the heart of our retreat. Peacemaking begins with seeing, seeing what is really going on around us, seeing ourselves in relation to the world we are part of, and seeing the image of God not only in friends but in enemies.
Blindness and its healing is a major topic in the New Testament, not only concerning those, like Bartimaeus, whose blind eyes cannot tell the difference between noon and midnight. I am thinking of those with eagle-like eyes who can read the small print on an insurance contract but fail to notice that we live in a maze of miracles in which God is, as declared in an Orthodox prayer, “everywhere present, filling all things.” What we see and what we fail to see defines who we are and how we live our lives. Our constant challenge is to be aware of the divine presence — and at the same time be alert to the demonic, to be able to tell the difference between that which safeguards life and that which destroys.
At the retreat the theme of seeing was dramatized by the presence among us of A.J. Muste. A.J., then 79, was one of the true sages of the American peace movement. For many years he had been secretary of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and was now chairman of the Committee for Nonviolent Action. He had devoted years of his life to working for nuclear disarmament and, before his death in 1967, would play a pivotal role in efforts to end the Vietnam War, then in the early stages of U.S. involvement.