Sunday, November 29, 2009

" ... it is she who makes me write it down ..."

The following thoughts from Merton, sixty years ago, on the last day of Advent, while looking at a picture of Fra Angelico’s “Annunciation”.
December 23, 1949

Late Afternoon. The quiet is filled with an altogether different tonality. The sun has moved altogether around and the room is darker. It is serious. The hour is more weary. I take time out to pray, and I look at the Angelico picture, feeling like the end of Advent, which is today. ‘Ecce completa sunt omnia quae dicta sunt per angelum de Virgine Maria.’ – that was the antiphon after the Benetictus this morning. For a few minutes I stayed silent and didn’t move and listened to the watch and wondered if perhaps I might not understand something of the work Our Lady is preparing.
It is an hour of tremendous expectation.
I remember my weariness, my fears, my lack of understanding, my dimness, my sin of over-activity. What is she preparing: have I offended her? What is coming up? She loves me. I reject emotion about it. Her love is too serious for any emotion of which I might be capable. Her love shapes worlds, shapes history, forms an Apocalypse in and around me, gives birth to the city of God. I am drawn back again into liturgy by a sense of my great need. I look at the serene, severe porch where Angelico’s angel speaks to her. Angelico knew how to paint her. She is thin, immensely noble, and she does not rise to meet the angel. Mother, make me as sincere as the picture. All the way down into my soul, sincere, sincere. Let me have no thought that could not kneel before you in that picture. No image, no shadow. I believe you. I am silent. I will act like the picture. Ecce completa sunt. It is the end of Advent and the afternoon is vivid with expectancy.
She is here and she has filled the room with something that is uniquely her own, too clean for me to appreciate. She is here with the tone of her expectancy. There is nothing wrong in writing it, for it is she who makes me write it down.

- Thomas Merton, Entering the Silence, pp. 385-386

HT to my friend, Frank G.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

"am I not arrogant too?"

Septuagesima Sunday, 1967] ... And, after all, am I not arrogant too? Am I not unreasonable, unfair, demanding, suspicious and often quite arbitrary in my dealings with others? The point is not just "who is right" but "judge not" and "forgive one another" and "bear one another's burdens". This by no means implies passive obsequiousness and blind obedience, but a willingness to listen, to be patient. This is our task.
-- Thomas Merton
The Road to Joy
Robert E. Daggy, editor
(New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1989): pp 96-97

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Prayer for Dorothy Day

Today is the birthday of Dorothy Day, who was born on November 8, 1897.

O Dorothy, I think of you and the beat people and the ones with nothing and the poor in virtue, the very poor, the ones no one can respect. I am not worthy to say I love all of you. Intercede for me, a stuffed shirt in a place of stuffed shirts and a big dumb phone, who has tried to be respectable and has succeeded. What a deception! I know, of course, that you are respected, too, but you have a right to be. You didn’t jump into the most respectable possible situation and then tell everyone about it. I am worried about all this, but I am not beating myself over the head. I just think that, for the love of God, I should say it, and that, for the love of God, you should pray for me.

-Thomas Merton, The Hidden Ground of Love, p. 137
Other posts in this blog that mention Dorothy Day are here.

Some interesting photos of Dorothy and a large search-able collection of her writings are here.

Dorothy Day, photo by Vivian Cherry

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Meeting D.T. Suzuki in NYC, 1964

In June of 1964 Thomas Merton met with D.T. Suzuki in New York City. Dr. Suzuki was 94 years old.

The invitation came suddenly only a few days before the trip, and Merton was apprehensive and reluctant to accept. He had only been on a plane once before, and rarely left the monastery. He never expected his Abbot to grant permission, but, surprisingly Dom James did, and the flight was booked. Merton was shaken up a bit - “I can think of nowhere I would less rather go than New York”, - but once the trip got underway, he loved it:
“ - these are my people for God’s sake! - I had forgotten - the tone of voice, the awareness, the weariness, the readiness to keep standing, an amazing existence, the realization of the fallible condition of man, and of the fantastic complexity of modern life.

“I loved being here, seeing familiar houses and places and unfamiliar huge apartments yet knowing where I was ...” (Dancing in the Water of Life, pp. 109-114)
About his meeting with Suzuki, Merton had this to say:
“I sat with Suzuki on the sofa and we talked of all kinds of things to do with Zen and with life ... For once in a long time I felt as if I had spent a few moments with my own family.” (Dancing in the Water of Life, pp. 116-117)

“One had to meet this man in order to fully appreciate him. He seemed to me to embody all the indefinable qualities of the “Superior Man” of the ancient Asian, Taoist, Confucian, and Buddhist traditions. Or, rather in meeting him one seemed to meet that “True Man of No Title”, that Chuang Tzu and Zen Masters speak of. And of course this is the man one really wants to meet. Who else is there? In meeting Dr. Suzuki and drinking a cup of tea with him I felt I had met this one man. It was like finally arriving at one’s own home.” (Zen and the Birds of Appetite, p. 61)
Later Merton said in a letter to a friend:
“Without contact with living examples, we soon get lost or give out .... He really understands what interior simplicity is all about and really lives it. This is the important thing.” (Letter to Anglican priest, Fr. Aelred, Dec. 8, 1964, The School of Charity, p. 254)
Of course, Merton experienced the meeting in multiple ways. This is how he recounted it to Lax:
“I was to visit Suzuki, yes Suzuki, you heard me right. I was to visit with him very old, but secretary young and spry make the tea ceremony and Suzuki with the ear trumpet propose many koans from a Chinese book and in the middle they gang up on me with winks and blinks and all kinds of friendly glances and assurances and they declare with one voice: “Who is the western writer who understand best the Zen IT IS YOU” they declare. You in this connection means me. It is I in person that they have elected to this slot and number of position to be one in the west. First west in Zen is now my food for thought.” (Letter to Robert Lax, July 10, 1964, When Prophecy Still Had A Voice, p. 280)
Merton was able to see the Van Gogh exhibit at the Guggenheim while in New York and the evening before he left, he splurged on a very good dinner with a couple of glasses of wine and some Benedictine.

Pure Merton.

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