Tuesday, September 26, 2017

When in the soul of the serene disciple

Photo by Thomas Merton

When in the soul of the serene disciple
With no more Fathers to imitate
Poverty is a success,
It is a small thing to say the roof is gone:
He has not even a house.

Stars, as well as friends,
Are angry with the noble ruin.
Saints depart in several directions.

Be still:
There is no longer any need of comment.
It was a lucky wind
That blew away his halo with his cares,
A lucky sea that drowned his reputation.

Here you will find
Neither a proverb nor a memorandum.
There are no ways,
No methods to admire
Where poverty is no achievement.
His God lives in his emptiness like an affliction.

What choice remains?
Well, to be ordinary is not a choice:
It is the usual freedom
Of men without visions.

~ Thomas Merton

Thursday, September 21, 2017

going nowhere

 
Leonard Cohen

“Going nowhere … isn’t about turning your back on the world; it’s about stepping away now and then so that you can see the world more clearly and love it more deeply.” Leonard Cohen

Untitled

Robert Lax

There are not many songs

There is only one song

The animals lope to it

The fish swim to it

The sun circles to it

The stars rise

The snow falls

The grass grows

There is no end to the song and no beginning

The singer may die

But the song is forever

Truth is the name of the song

And the song is truth

- Robert Lax poem, no title, no date, no source

Sunday, September 3, 2017

learning to use the word "we"

"And we live in a time of real urgency where we have to mine the insights of the past. I guess one way of saying it is, we have to learn to use the word “we” to include all of life on earth. We have to learn to experience that as a terrible and tender beauty. And shape everything we do to protect it."
  - Mary Catherine Bateson, in an interview with Krista Tippet, On Being, "Composing a Life"

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Gott wirt und Gott entwirt

“Gott wirt und Gott entwirt.” That means, “God becomes and God un-becomes,” or translated, it means that “God” is only our name for it, and the closer we get to it, the more it ceases to be God. So then you are on a real safari with the wildness and danger and otherness of God. And I think when you begin to get a sense of the depth that is there, then your whole heart wakens up. I mean I love Irenaeus’s thing from the second century, which said, “The glory of God is the human being fully alive.”

John O’Donahue, from an interview with Krista Tippett, On Being, “The Inner Landscape of Beauty

https://onbeing.org/programs/john-odonohue-the-inner-landscape-of-beauty-aug2017/

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Apocalyptic times

Charlottesville VA, August 2017
"There is no need to insist that in a world where another Hitler is very possible the mere existence of nuclear weapons constitutes the most tragic and serious problem that the human race has ever had to contend with. Indeed, the atmosphere of hatred, suspicion and tension in which we all live is precisely what is needed to produce Hitlers.

"It is not exaggeration to say that our times are Apocalyptic, in the sense that we seem to have come to a point at which all the hidden, mysterious dynamism of the "history of salvation" revealed in the Bible has flowered into final and decisive crisis.

"The term "end of the world" may or may not be one that we are capable of understanding. But at any rate we seem to be assisting in the unwrapping of the mysteriously vivid symbols of the last book of the New Testament. In their nakedness, they reveal to us our own selves as the men whose lot it is to live in the time of possible ultimate decision."

-Thomas Merton, "Nuclear War and Christian Responsibility", from "Passion for Peace", p. 39

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Acrobat's Song (Feast of the Assumption)


On this Feast of the Assumption of Mary

"Acrobat's Song" from Robert Lax’s The Circus of the Sun

Who is it for whom we now perform,
Cavorting on wire:
For whom does the boy
Climbing the ladder
Balance and whirl–
For whom,
Seen or unseen
In a shield of light?


Seen or unseen
In a shield of light,
At the tent top
Where rays stream in
Watching the pin-wheel
Turns of the players
Dancing
In light:

Lady,
We are Thy acrobats;
Jugglers;
Tumblers;
Walking on wire,
Dancing on air,
Swinging on the high trapeze:
We are Thy children,
Flying in the air
Of that smile:
Rejoicing in light.

Lady,
We perform before Thee,
Walking a joyous discipline,
A thin thread of courage,
A slim high wire of dependence
Over abysses.
What do we know
Of the way of our walking?
Only this step,
This movement,
Gone as we name it.

Here
At the thin
Rim of the world
We turn for Our Lady,
Who holds us lightly:
We leave the wire,
Leave the line,
Vanish
Into light."

The Political Dimension of Christian Love (Oscar Romero)


Blessed Oscar Romero
Today is the 100th birthday of Blessed Oscar Romero, born August 15, 1917, in Ciudad Barrios, El Salvador. The following is from a 1982 article in Commonweal Magazine - "The Political Dimension of Christian Love". Read the whole thing HERE.

I COME from the smallest country in faraway Latin America. I will not try to speak, and you cannot expect me to speak, the way an expert in politics might.

Nor will I even speculate, as someone might who was an expert, on the theoretical relationship between the faith and politics. No, I am going to speak simply, as a pastor, as one who, together with his people, has been learning the beautiful but harsh truth that the Christian faith does not cut us off from the world but immerses us in it, that the church is not a fortress set apart from the city but is a follower of that Jesus who lived, worked, battled, and died in the midst of a city, in a ''polis.'' It is in this sense that I would like to talk about the political dimension of the Christian faith: in the precise sense of the repercussions of the faith for the world and also of the repercussions that insertion in the world has for the faith.

Read the rest HERE.

- Blessed Oscar Romero 

Monday, August 14, 2017

The White Man

Unite the Right Rally, Charlottesville VA, August 11, 2017
"The purpose of non-violent protest, in its deepest and most spiritual dimensions, is then to awaken the conscience of the white man to the awful reality of his injustice and of his sin, so that he will be able to see that the Negro problem is really a WHITE problem: that the cancer of injustice and hate which is eating white society and is only partly manifested in racial segregation with all its consequences, IS ROOTED IN THE HEART OF THE WHITE MAN HIMSELF.

"Only if the white man sees this will he be able to gradually understand the real nature of the problem and take steps to save himself and his society from complete ruin. As the Negro sees it, the Cold War and its fatal insanities are to a great extent generated within the pur-blind guilt ridden, self-deceiving, self-tormenting and self-destructive psyche of the white man."

-Thomas Merton, from the essay "The Black Revolution" in the William Shannon collection of Merton essays, "Passion for Peace", p. 175

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Hot Summer of Twenty Seventeen


Charlottesville VA, August 12, 2017
"I for one remain FOR the Negro, I trust him. I recognize the overwhelming justice of his complaint, I confess I have no right whatever to get in his way, and that as a Christian I owe him support, not in his ranks but in my own, among the whites who refuse to trust him or hear him, and who want to destroy him."  - Thomas Merton, from his essay, "From Non-Violence to Black Power"

The problem as I see it is no longer merely political or economic or legal or what have you (it was never merely that).
It is a spiritual and psychological problem of a society which has developed too fast and too far for the psychic capacities of its members, who can no longer cope with their inner hostilities and destructiveness. They can no longer really manage their lives in a fully reasonable and human way - only by resort to extreme and possibly destructive maneuvers.

A nuclear arms race.

A race to get on the moon.

A stupid war in Asia that cannot be won by either side.

An affluent economy depending on built-in obsolescence and the ever increasing consumption of more goodies than anyone can comfortably consume.

A bored, ambivalent over-stimulation of violence and sex.

We are living in a society which for all its unquestionable advantages and all its fantastic ingenuity just does not seem to be able to provide people with lives that are fully human and fully real.

There are wonderful people in it, and it is a marvel we are not ten times crazier than we already are, but we have to fact the fact that we live in a pretty sick culture. Now if in this sick society, where there are a lot of very scared, very upset, very unrealistic people who feel themselves more and more violently threatened, everyone starts buying guns and preparing to shoot each other up (remember the fuss about the gun in the fallout shelter in 1962), we are going to have an unparalleled mess. The result may eventually be that people will decide that the only way to maintain some semblance of order will be the creation of a semifascist state with storm troopers and, yes, concentration camps.

-Thomas Merton, from an essay, "The Hot Summer of Sixty-Seven", in a collection of Merton essays by William Shannon, "Passion for Peace". pp. 293-294

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Nagasaki - "The winner is war itself"


The weapon dropped over Nagasaki, on August 9, 1945, weighed five tons and was known as the Fat Man.
Photograph courtesy National Archives and Records Administration
Today is the 72nd anniversary of destruction of Nagasaki with a nuclear weapon.

The following is extracted from Jim Forest's book, "The Root of War is Fear".

“Target Equals City,” an essay written [by Merton] in February 1962 and slated for publication in The Catholic Worker, was refused approval by his order’s censors, the first of Merton’s war-related writings to suffer that fate. In it he argued that a major ethical border had been crossed during the Second World War. On the Allies’ side, it was a war that that had begun with “a just cause if ever there was one.” There was no doubt that Hitler was the aggressor in Europe and that Japan was in Asia. But by the war’s end in 1945, not only Germany but the Allies had moved from bombing military targets to targeting whole cities. Those theologians who took Church teaching on war seriously were forced to consider the question “whether the old [just war] doctrine [still] had any meaning.”

"The obliteration bombing of cities on both sides, culminating in the total destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by one plane with one bomb for each, had completely changed the nature of war. Traditional standards no longer applied because … there was no longer any distinction made between civilian and combatant…. [In fact] the slaughter of civilians was explicitly intended as a means of 'breaking enemy morale' and thus breaking the 'will to resist.' This was pure terrorism, and the traditional doctrine of war excluded such immoral methods…. These methods were practiced by the enemy [at the war’s start, but by the time] the war ended they were bequeathed to the western nations."

Merton recalled how, early in the war, Britain had declared that it would not imitate Germany’s savage blitz-bombing tactics but instead would limit its bombing raids to military objectives. But in 1942 Britain abandoned its early restraint and began to target whole cities. “There are no lengths in violence to which we will not go,” Churchill declared. To quiet troubled consciences, the argument was put forward that city destruction, in the long run, “will save lives and end the war sooner.” In one notorious case, a thousand British and US bombers dropped so many bombs on the German city of Dresden that a firestorm was created that gutted the heart of the city. An estimated 25,000 people were killed, including many refugees and Allied prisoners of war. Far more died or were injured in the saturation bombing of Tokyo — the Tokyo Fire Department estimated 97,000 killed and 125,000 wounded.

Merton noted that while one can understand how those who suffered the Blitz would accept similar combat strategies against their enemy, no one could any longer claim that the standards of the just war doctrine, requiring not only a just cause but just methods that shelter non-combatant lives, were being respected.

The development of nuclear weapons and rockets for their delivery to distant targets, many of which were cities, meant that city destruction had become an integral element of future war planning. While the policy is called deterrence, the effectiveness of deterrence depends on the demonstrated readiness to commit the gravest war crime ever contemplated.

Meanwhile the vast majority of Christians were offering no resistance. “The Christian moral sense is being repeatedly eroded,” Merton wrote. When occasional protests occur or questions arise, “soothing answers are provided by policy makers and religious spokesmen are ready to support them with new [moral] adjustments. A new cycle is prepared. Once again there is a ‘just cause’. Few stop to think that what is regarded complacently as ‘justice’ was clearly a crime twenty years ago. How long can Christian morality go on taking this kind of beating?”

Merton finished the essay with these three sentences:

"There is only one winner in war. The winner is not justice, not liberty, not Christian truth. The winner is war itself."

Monday, August 7, 2017

Shadow on the Rock


SHADOW ON THE ROCK
by Daniel Berrigan, S.J.

At Hiroshima there’s a museum
and outside that museum there’s a rock,
and on that rock there’s a shadow.
That shadow is all that remains
of the human being who stood there on August 6, 1945
when the nuclear age began.
In the most real sense of the word,
that is the choice before us.
We shall either end war and the nuclear arms race now in this generation,
or we will become Shadows On the Rock.


(Image: "Human Shadow Etched in Stone," relocated and preserved at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum)

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Feast of the Transfiguration

August 6, The Feast of the Transfiguration

The Enola Gay after dropping atomic bomb, "Little Boy" on Hiroshima, Japan - August 6, 1945
The dropping of the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima, combined with the bombing of Nagasaki, is the only (officially) recorded use of a nuclear bomb against an enemy target.

J. Robert Oppenheimer was an American theoretical physicist who was responsible for the research and design of an atomic bomb. He is often known as the “father of the atomic bomb."

The famous, haunting statement by Oppenheimer, recalling the event compels and haunts in equal measure; probably from a combination of the quote itself and Oppenheimer’s odd delivery.

In 1965, Oppenheimer was asked to repeat the quote again for a television broadcast: “We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita; Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and, to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form and says, ‘Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds’.

Other Louie entries on Hiroshima and the Transfiguration:
Points for meditation to be scratched on the walls of a cave. 
27: At 1:37 A.M. August 6th the weather scout plane took off. It was named the Straight Flush, in reference to the mechanical action of a water closet. There was a picture of one, to make this evident. 
28: At the last minute before taking off Col. Tibbetts changed the secret radio call sign from “Visitor” to “Dimples.” The bombing mission would be a kind of flying smile. 
29: At 2:45 A.M. Enola Gay got off the ground with difficulty. Over Iwo Jima she met her escort, two more B-29’s, one of which was called the Great Artiste. Together they proceeded to Japan. 
30: At 6:40 they climbed to 31,000 feet, the bombing altitude. The sky was clear. It was a perfect morning. 
31: At 3:09 they reached Hiroshima and started the bomb run. The city was full of sun. The fliers could see the green grass in the gardens. No fighters rose up to meet them. There was no flak. No one in the city bothered to take cover. 
32: The bomb exploded within 100 feet of the aiming point. The fireball was 18,000 feet across. The temperature at the center of the fireball was 100,000,000 degrees. The people who were near the center became nothing. The whole city was blown to bits and the ruins all caught fire instantly everywhere, burning briskly. 70,000 people were killed right away or died within a few hours. Those who did not die right away suffered great pain. Few of them were soldiers. 
33: The men in the plane perceived that the raid had been successful, but they thought of the people in the city and they were not perfectly happy. Some felt they had done wrong. But in any case they had obeyed orders. “It was war.” 
34: Over the radio went the code message that the bomb had been successful: “Visible effects greater than Trinity … Proceeding to Papacy.” Papacy was the code name for Tinian. 
35: It took a little while for the rest of Japan to find out what had happened to Hiroshima. Papers were forbidden to publish any news of the new bomb. A four line item said that Hiroshima had been hit by incendiary bombs and added: “It seems that some damage was caused to the city and its vicinity.” 
36: Then the military governor of the Prefecture of Hiroshima issued a proclamation full of martial spirit. To all the people without hands, without feet, with their faces falling off, with their intestines hanging out, with their whole bodies full of radiation, he declared: 
“We must not rest a single day in our war effort … We must bear in mind that the annihilation of the stubborn enemy is our road to revenge.” He was a professional soldier." 
"Original Child Bomb", The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton, pages 300-301

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

East & West

Photo by Thomas Merton
 "If I can unite in myself the thought and devotion of Eastern and Western Christendom, the Greek and the Latin Fathers, the Russian and the Spanish mystics, I can prepare in myself the reunion of divided Christians.

"From that secret and unspoken unity in myself can eventually come a visible and manifest unity of all Christians.

"If we want to bring together what is divided, we cannot do so by imposing one division upon the other. If we do this, the union is not Christian. It is political and doomed to further conflict. We must contain all the divided worlds in ourselves and transcend them in Christ."
 

- Thomas Merton, "Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander", p. 12

saying "Yes" to others, becoming real

From the People Board of Blue Eyed Ennis; Photo by aleshurik (Flickr)

"The more I am able to affirm others, to say ‘yes’ to them in myself, by discovering them in myself and myself in them, the more real I am. I am fully real if my own heart says yes to everyone.

"I will be a better Catholic, not if I can refute every shade of Protestantism, but if I can affirm the truth in it and still go further. So, too, with the Muslims, the Hindus, the Buddhists, etc.

"This does not mean syncretism, indifferentism, the vapid and careless friendliness that accepts everything by thinking of nothing. There is much that one cannot ‘affirm’ and ‘accept,’ but first one must say ‘yes’ where one really can. If I affirm myself as Catholic merely by denying all that is Muslim, Jewish, Protestant, Hindu, Buddhist, etc., in the end I will find that there is not much left for me to affirm as a Catholic: and certainly no breath of the Spirit with which to affirm it."

- Thomas Merton, Conjectures of A Guilty Bystander (NY: Doubleday and Company, 1966), p. 144.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

resisting error

Associated Press Photo, North Korea, 2017
"We are living under a tyranny of untruth which confirms itself in power and establishes a more and more total control over men in proportion as they convince themselves they are resisting error.

"Our submission to plausible and useful lies involves us in greater and more obvious contradictions, and to hide these from ourselves we need greater and ever less plausible lies.

"The basic falsehood is the lie that we are totally dedicated to the truth, and that we can remain dedicated to truth in a manner that is at the same time honest and exclusive: that we have the monopoly of all truth, just as our adversary of the moment has the monopoly of all error.

"We then convince ourselves that we cannot preserve our purity of vision and our inner sincerity if we enter into dialogue with the enemy, for he will corrupt us with his error. We believe, finally, that truth cannot be preserved except by the destruction of the enemy -- for, since we have identified him with error, to destroy him is to destroy error. The adversary, of course, has exactly the same thoughts about us and exactly the same basic policy by which he defends the "truth." He has identified us with dishonesty, insincerity, and untruth. He believes that, if we are destroyed, nothing will be left but the truth."

-- Thomas Merton, "Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander", p. 68

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Dorothy Day, feminist, pacifist

The transiency of the Church & The World

My photo from the dome of St. Peter's, 2014
If one is conservative, then the Kingdom of God on earth is the Church as a sociological entity, an established institution with a divine mandate to guide the destinies of culture, science, politics, etc., as well as religion.

If one is liberal or radical, then one admits that the progressives and revolutionaries of "the world" have unconsciously hit upon the right answers and are building the Kingdom of God where the Church has failed to do so. Hence, the Christian must throw in his lot with revolution -- and thus guarantee that Christianity will sruvive and rediscover itself in a transformed society.

Before we can properly estimate our place in the world, we have to get back to the fundamental Christian respect for the transiency of the world and the institutional structure of the Church.

True contempus mundi is rather a compassion for the transient world and a humility which refuses arrogantly to set up the Church as an "eternal" institution in the world. But if we despise the transient world of secularism in terms which suggest an ecclesiastical world that is not itself transient, there is no way to avoid disaster and absurdity.

--Thomas Merton, "Conjectures", p. 53

I can't read this without remembering Merton's last talk before he died, when he asked what happens when the institution collapses.


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

A Door

Photo by Eugene Meatyard, The Fraenkel Gallery

 A door opens in the center of our being and we seem to fall through it into immense depths which, although they are infinite, are all accessible to us; all eternity seems to have become ours in this one placid and breathless contact. God touches us with a touch that is emptiness and empties us. God moves us with a simplicity that simplifies us.

— Thomas Merton

New Seeds of Contemplation

Friday, June 23, 2017

Pharisaism

Photograph of Gal Vihara by Thomas Merton
We are all convinced that we desire the truth above all.

Nothing strange about this. It is natural to man, an intelligent being, to desire the truth. (I still dare to speak of man as "an intelligent being"!)

But actually, what we desire is not "the truth" so much as "to be in the right."

To seek the pure truth for its own sake may be natural to us, but we are not able to act always in this respect according to our nature.

What we seek is not the pure truth, but the partial truth that justifies our prejudices, our limitations, our selfishness. This is not "the truth." It is only an argument strong enough to prove us "right."

And usually our desire to be right is correlative to our conviction that somebody else (perhaps everybody else) is wrong.

Why do we want to prove them wrong?

Because we need them to be wrong. For if they are wrong, and we are right, then our untruth becomes truth: our selfishness becomes justice and virtue: our cruelty and lust cannot be fairly condemned.

We can rest secure in the fiction we have determined to embrace as "truth."

What we desire is not the truth, but rather that our lie should be proved "right," and our iniquity be vindicated as "just."

No wonder we hate. No wonder we are violent. No wonder we exhaust ourselves in preparing for war!

And in doing so, of course, we offer the enemy another reason to believe that he is right, that he must arm, that he must get ready to destroy us.

Our own lie provides the foundation of truth on which he erects his own lie, and the two lies together react to produce hatred, murder, disaster.

-Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, p. 78

How to be a pharisee in politics

Eparchy of Newton
How to be a pharisee in politics:
At every moment display righteous indignation over the means (whether good or evil) which your opponent has used to attain the same corrupt end which you are trying to attain.

Point to the means he is using as evidence that your own purposes are righteous - even though they are the same as his.

If the means he makes use of are successful, then show that his success itself is proof that he has used corrupt methods.

But in your own case, success is proof of righteousness.

In politics, as in everything else, pharisaism is not self-righteousness only, but the conviction that, in order to be right, it is sufficient to prove someone else is wrong.

As long as there is one sinner left for you to condemn, then you are justified! Once you can point to a wrongdoer, you become justified in doing anything you like, however dishonest, however cruel, however evil!

- Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, pp. 77-78

Rare photo of Merton

H.B. Littell | AP Photo
A friend sent me this photo of Merton taken during the celebration of his first Mass. In my years of browsing around Merton lore, I had never seen it.

The accompanying article (with somewhat larger perspective photo) is HERE.

H.B. Littell | AP Photo

Thursday, June 22, 2017

We do not know the things that are for our peace


Photo by Thomas Merton, from "The Zen Photography of Thomas Merton"
For the last few days (or years) I’ve been pondering Merton’s words in “Conjectures”. This particular vein of Merton’s writings are especially relevant now, speaking to what I read in “the news”,  a near constant bickering and standoff between conservatives and liberals. You’re wrong, we’re right.

Merton speaks of this projection as being both collective and personal. We project our darkness as a group and as individuals, onto others. The enemy. We scapegoat. This certainly resonates with how I have come to know the world (life) and myself, and it helps to read Merton affirming the insight. Nowadays, few are willing to talk about it, at least not in terms strong and clear enough to break the spell.

My efforts here are to pull from Conjectures, little by little, the words that are particularly resonating. Bring together a coherent message that might better expose the tangled mess of lies that we are trapped in. Merton’s writing on the matter is dense and deep. If I read too much at one time, I don't totally grasp the broad yet precise truth of what he is conveying. Which leads me to believe that it is not just an intellectual wisdom that Merton is passing on, rather something that we find within ourselves. A hope, a peace, a revelation. An awakening.

Today, there is this:
We live in crisis, and perhaps we find it interesting to do so.

Yet we also feel guilty about it, as if we ought not to be in crisis.

As if we were so wise, so able, so kind, so reasonable, that crisis ought at all times to be unthinkable. It is doubtless this “ought,” this “should” that makes our era so interesting that it cannot possibly be a time of wisdom, or even of reason.

We think we know what we ought to be doing, and we see ourselves move, with inexorable deliberation of a machine that has gone wrong, to do the the opposite. A most absorbing phenomenon which we cannot stop watching, measuring, discussing, analyzing,  and perhaps deploring!

But it goes on.
And, as Christ said over Jerusalem, we do not know the things that are for our peace.

-Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, p. 66
Does not this passage nail us, now more than 50 years after Merton wrote it? Are we missing the point, the very gift of our time, our crisis?

Crisis:

a time when a difficult or important decision must be made.

"a crisis point of history"

synonyms:critical point, turning point, crossroads, watershed, head, moment of truth, zero hour, point of no return,


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Is Your God Dead?


Damon Winter/The New York Times
A significant article published in the New York Times a couple of days ago. Written by George Yancy, an African American philosopher at Emory University. Prophetic. Like Merton and Merton Luther King Jr, Yancy makes the connections between race and religion (and sexism, homophobia, patriarchy, indifference). His insights into what we're seeing exposed in our country, our world (and ourselves) are close to what I'm finding in Merton's Conjectures. 

You can read all of George Yancy's article here.

Heschel writes, “The prophet’s word is a scream in the night.” I wait to be awakened by that scream. I have not yet heard it. It is that scream, that deep existential lament, that will awaken us to the ways we are guilty of claiming to “love God” while forgetting the poor, refusing the refugee, building walls, banning the stranger, and praying and worshiping in insular and segregated “sacred” spaces filled with racism, sexism, patriarchy, xenophobia, homophobia and indifference.
WE HAVE FAILED TO DEEPEN our collective responsibility. Some of us will never do so. What would the world look like if believers from every major religion in every country, state, city and village, shut down the entire world for just a day? What would America look like, on that day, if we who call ourselves believers, decided to weep together, hold hands together, commit together to eradicate injustice? We might then permanently unlock our sacred doors, take a real step beyond our sanctimoniousness, and see one another face to face.
I await the day, perhaps soon, when those who believe in the “God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob” will lock arms and march on Washington, refusing to live any longer under the weight of so much inhumanity. Perhaps it is time for a collective demonstration of the faithful to delay going to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, to leave the pews in churches and pray one fewer time a day. None of us is innocent. “Above all, the prophets remind us of the moral state of a people,” Heschel reminds us. “Few are guilty, but all are responsible.”

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Our Time

Photo by Benjamin Lowy / Corbis
We are living in the greatest revolution in history — a huge spontaneous upheaval of the entire human race: not the revolution planned and carried out by any particular party, race, or nation, but a deep elemental boiling over of all the inner contradictions that have ever been in man, a revelation of the chaotic forces inside everybody. This is not something we have chosen, nor is it something we are free to avoid.

This revolution is a profound spiritual crisis of the whole world, manifested largely in desperation, cynicism, violence, conflict, self-contradiction, ambivalence, fear and hope, regression, obsessive attachments to images, idols, slogans programs that only dull the general anguish for a moment until it bursts out everywhere in a still more acute and terrifying form. We do not know if we are building a fabulously wonderful world or destroying all that we have ever had, all that we have achieved!

All the inner force of man is boiling and bursting out, the good together with the evil, the good poisoned by evil and fighting it, the evil pretending to be good and revealing itself in the most dreadful crimes, justified and rationalized by the purest and most innocent intentions.

Man is all ready to become a god, and instead he appears at times to be a zombie. And so we fear to recognize our kairos and accept it.

- Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, pp. 66-67

KAIROS - (καιρός) is an Ancient Greek word meaning the right or opportune moment.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

the hours of silence when nothing happens

Photo by Beth Cioffoletti
Why do I live alone? I don’t know.... In some mysterious way I am condemned to it.... I cannot have enough of the hours of silence when nothing happens. When the clouds go by. When the trees say nothing. When the birds sing. I am completely addicted to the realization that just being there is enough, and to add something else is to mess it all up. It would be so much more wonderful to be all tied up in someone ... and I know inexorably that this is not for me. It is a kind of life from which I am absolutely excluded. I can’t desire it. I can only desire this absurd business of trees that say nothing, of birds that sing, of a field in which nothing ever happens (except perhaps that a fox comes and plays, or a deer passes by). This is crazy. It is lamentable. I am flawed, I am nuts. I can’t help it. Here I am, now, ... happy as a coot. The whole business of saying I am flawed is a lie. I am happy. I cannot explain it.... Freedom, darling. This is what the woods mean to me. I am free, free, a wild being, and that is all that I ever can really be. I am dedicated to it, addicted to it, sworn to it, and sold to it. It is the freedom in me that loves you.... Darling, I am telling you: this life in the woods is IT. It is the only way. It is the way everybody has lost. ... It is life, this thing in the woods. I do not claim it is real. All I say is that it is the life that has chosen itself for me. A Midsummer Diary for M. June 23, 1966

Merton, Thomas (2003-02-01). When the Trees Say Nothing: Writings on Nature (pp. 135-136). Ave Maria Press - A. Kindle Edition.

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Mother of All Lies

Fatima, 2017
The mother of all other lies is the lie we persist in telling ourselves about ourselves. And since we are not brazen enough liars to make ourselves believe our own lie individually, we pool all our lies together and believe them because they have become the big lie uttered by the vox populi, and this kind of lie we accept as ultimate truth.

"A truthful man cannot long remain violent."

But a violent man cannot begin to look for the truth. To start with, he wants to rest assured that his enemy is violent, and that he himself is peaceful. For then his violence is justified.

How can he face the desperate labor of coming to recognize the great evil that needs to be healed in himself? It is much easier to set things right by seeing one's own evil incarnate in a scapegoat, and to destroy both the goat and the evil together.

- Thomas Merton, "Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander", pp. 84-85

About that healing ...
Pope Francis at Mass this morning (June 16, 2017): "God's power saves us from weakness & sin".  In order to be saved and healed by God we must recognize that are weak, vulnerable and sinful like earthen vessels, said ‎Pope Francis on Friday. Read more here.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Play


Why talk about the somersault,
the leap and landing as such a
great thing? It is great and small.
It is a high achievement for man &
no achievement at all for god or angel.
It is proud and humble. It represents
graceful victory over so many obstacles;
the most elegant solution of so many
problems. And yet like the blossoming
of the smallest flower or the highest palm,
it is a very little thing, and very great.

Think, Mogador, of the freedom in a
world of bondage, a world expelled
from Eden; the freedom of the priest,
the artist, and the acrobat. In a
world of men condemned to earn their
bread by the sweat of their brows, the
liberty of those who,
like lilies of the field, live by
playing. For playing is like Wisdom before
the face of the Lord. Their play is
praise. Their praise is prayer. This
play, like the ritual gestures of the
priest, is characterized by grace;
Heavenly grace unfolding, flowering
and reflected in the physical grace
of the player.

— Robert Lax, from “In The Beginning was Love”, a collection of Lax writings compiled by S.T. Georgiou. Originally from Mogador’s Book, (68, 70)

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Macarius and the Pony


Macarius and the Pony

By Thomas Merton

People in a village
At the desert's edge
Had a daughter
Who was changed (they thought)
By magic arts
Into a pony.
At first they berated her
"Why do you have to be a horse?"
She could think of no reply.
So they led her out with a halter
Into the hot waste land
Where there was a saint
Called Macarius
Living in a cell.
"Father" they said
"This young mare here
Is, or was, our daughter.
Enemies, wicked men,
Magicians, have made her
The animal you see.
Now by your prayers to God
Change her back
Into the girl she used to be."
"My prayers" said Macarius,
"Will change nothing,
For I see no mare.
Why do you call this good child
An animal?"
But he led her into his cell
With her parents:
There he spoke to God
Anointing the girl with oil;
And when they saw with what love
He placed his hand upon her head
They realized, at once.
She was no animal.
She had never changed.
She had been a girl from the beginning.
"Your own eyes
(said Macarius)
Are your enemies.
Your own crooked thoughts
(said the anchorite)
Change people around you
Into birds and animals.
Your own ill-will
(said the clear-eyed one)
Peoples the world with specters.”

-- from “Emblems of a Season of Fury”
New Directions, 1963

Monday, June 12, 2017

Blaming the Negro

Eishaa Evans at Baton Rouge La. Black Lives Matter protest. Reuters photo 2016

Blaming the Negro: this is not just a matter of rationalizing and verbalizing. It has become a strong emotional need for the white man. Blaming the Negro (and by extension the Communist, the outside agitator, etc.) gives the white a stronger sense of identity, or rather it protects an identity which is seriously threatened with pathological dissolution. It is by blaming the Negro that the white man tries to hold himself together. The Negro is in the unenviable position of being used for everything, even for the white man's security. Unfortunately, a mere outburst of violence will only give the white man the justification he desires. It will convince him that he is for real because he is right. The Negro could really wreak havoc in white society by psychological warfare if he knew how to use it. Already the psychological weapon of nonviolence has proved effective as an attack on the white man's trumped-up image of himself as a righteous and Christian being.

- Thomas Merton, "Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander", p. 33

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Now

Aurora over Dempster Highway, Photo by Fr. Jon Hansen jonhansencssr.com

Now is the time to get up and go to the tower.
Now is the time to meet you, God, where the night is wonderful,
where the road is almost without substance under my feet,
where all the mysterious junk in the belfry scorns the proximate coming
of three new bells,
where the forest opens out under the moon,
and the living things sing terribly
that only the present
is eternal
and that all things having a past and a future
are doomed to pass away.

-Thomas Merton, Entering the Silence, p. 483

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Your Silence

Study for the Tabernacle in the Chapel of the Rosary, Venice, Henri Matisse
 
This nearness to You in the darkness is too simple and too close for excitement. It is commonplace for all things to live an unexpected life in the night: but their life is illusory and unreal. The illusion of sound only intensifies the infinite substance of Your Silence.

Here at Gethsemani, in this place where I made my vows, where I have had my hands anointed for the Holy Sacrifice, where I have had Your priesthood seal the depth and intimate summit of my being, a word, a thought, would defile the quiet of Your inexplicable love.

- Thomas Merton, Entering the Silence, pp. 482-83

Friday, June 9, 2017

The contradiction built into the pursuit of Silence


“It is better to be silent and be real than to talk and not be real” -- Ignatius of Antioch, an early Church father advising Christians at Ephesus

" ... the contradiction built into the pursuit of silence; the more sources of noise are stilled, the more the previously imperceptible rises to the level of perception. This was the essence of the silence that John Cage, a composer, used in several of his works, most famously “4’33”, a composition for piano that consists of three movements. At the beginning of each the pianist opens the instrument’s lid, and at the end of each he closes it. No notes are played. The piece allows an audience to attend to the sounds around them and the questions within."

from an article in The Economist, "The Power and Meaning of Silence".

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Healing Place of Silence


Let me seek then, the gift of silence, and poverty, and solitude, where everything I touch is turned into prayer. - Thomas Merton

There’s a language beyond words. Silence creates the space for it. Sometimes when we feel powerless to speak words that are meaningful, when we have to back off into unknowing and helplessness, but remain in the situation, silence creates the space that’s needed for a deeper happening to occur. But often, initially, that silence is uneasy. It begins “as a small frightened thing” and only slowly grows into the kind of warmth that dissolves tension.

- Ron Rolheiser, from a longer reflection, "The Healing Place of Silence"

Getting back on track

A few days ago I got an email from someone I did not know, someone who had been reading Louie for more than 10 years. I began thinking of how much keeping up this blog had helped me to focus on something that is important. An awareness, a way of seeing and being in the world that both comforts and challenges me. A calling to a different road and way than is offered by the commercials and advertisements of the world.

Writing this blog was not much trouble and it didn't take much time. But it did keep me on track. I've been feeling a bit off track lately, swirling in noise and addictive "news".

I hope to get back on track.

The following quote was at the bottom of the email I got. If I keep my eyes open, I may find more of these falling in my path.

I look up at the night sky, and I know, yes, that we are part of this Universe, we are in this Universe, but, perhaps more important than both of these facts, is that the Universe is in us.  When I reflect on that fact, I look up.  Many people feel small because they are small and the Universe is big.  But I feel big because my atoms came from those stars.

-- Neil Degrasse Tyson

Friday, April 28, 2017

photographs tangibly link the present to very precise moments of the past

Wendall Berry, Denise Levertov, Thomas Merton
Photo by Eugene Meatyard
"Monasticism. I see more and more the danger of identifying the monastic vocation and spirit with a particular kind of monastic consciousness -- a particular tradition, however "authentic." ... Maybe monasticism needs to be stated all over again in a new way. I have no way of knowing how to tackle this idea. It is just beginning to dawn on me." - Merton, February 6, 1967

Photo by Eugene Meatyard
"I myself am open and closed. When I reveal most I hide most. There is still something I have not said: but what it is I don't know, and maybe I have to say it by not saying. Word play won't do it. Writing this is most fun for me now, because in it I have finally got away from self-consciousness and introversion. It may be my final liberation from all diaries. Maybe that is my one remaining task." - Merton, October 2, 1967

Monday, March 13, 2017

Freedom in the Midst of Action

Photograph by Dmitri Kessel © Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images.

“He must push his awareness to the utmost limit without losing his inner quiet, he must be able to see with the eyes of the others from within their personality without losing his own.” - Dag Hammarskjold

https://tricycle.org/magazine/freedom-midst-action/

Saturday, February 18, 2017

destiny

"I can no longer see the ultimate meaning of a man's [sic] life in terms of either 'being a poet' or 'being contemplative' or even in a certain sense 'being a saint', (although that is the only thing to be). It must be something much more immediate than that. I -- and every other person in the world -- must say 'I have my own peculiar destiny which no one else has ever had or ever will have. There exists for me a particular goal, a fulfillment which must be all my own -- nobody else's -- and it does not really identify that destiny to put it under some category -- 'poet', 'monk', 'hermit'. Because my own individual destiny is a meeting, an encounter with God that God has destined for me alone. God's glory in me will be to receive from me something which God can never receive from anyone else."
- Merton, from a letter written to Mark Van Doren in March, 1948

Thursday, February 2, 2017

a flash of sanity

"Anunciation" by Thomas Merton; photo by Jim Forest
"At least a flash of sanity: the momentary realization that this is no need to come to certain conclusions about persons, events, conflicts, trends, even trends toward evil and disaster, as if from day to day and even from moment to moment I had to know and declare (at least to myself): This is so and so, this is good, this is bad; we are heading for a “new era” or we are heading for destruction. What do such judgments mean? Little or nothing. Things are as they are, in an immense whole of which I am a part, and which I cannot pretend to grasp. To say I grasp it is immediately to put myself in a false position, as if I were “outside” it. Whereas to be  in it is to seek truth in my own life and action, by moving where movement is possible and keeping still when movement is unnecessary, realizing that things will continue to define themselves and that the judgments and mercies of God will clarify themselves - and will be more clear to me if I am silent and attentive, obedient to God’s will, rather than constantly formulating statements in this age which is smothered  in language, in meaningless and inconclusive debate, and in which, in the last analysis, nobody listens to anything except what agrees with his own prejudices." 


-Thomas Merton, Learning to Love, page 366

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Thomas Merton

Photo by Gene Meatyard

Today is the birthday of Thomas Merton, born in Prades, France in 1915. His mother was an American, and his father was from New Zealand. They were both artists, and they met at an art school in Paris. Merton's mother died of stomach cancer when he was six years old; 10 years later, his father died of a brain tumor.

Merton converted to Catholicism in 1938, while he was a student at Columbia University. On December 10, 1941, he quit his job teaching at at St. Bonaventure College and entered the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani in Kentucky, to begin his life as a Trappist monk. He continued studying, and kept journals full of his questions and musings. His superior at the monastery, Father Abbot Dom Frederic Dunne, noticed his talent for writing and encouraged him to continue.

In 1961, Merton wrote, "It is possible to doubt whether I have become a monk (a doubt that I have to live with), but it is not possible to doubt that I am a writer, that I was born one and will most probably die as one." Over the course of his life, Merton wrote more than 70 books, 2,000 poems, and numerous essays and lectures. He's perhaps best known for his autobiography and conversion narrative, “The Seven Storey Mountain” (1948). It's been compared to the Confessions of St. Augustine. He ends the book with the line Sit finis libri, non finis quaerendi: "Here ends the book, but not the searching."

From “The Seven Storey Mountain”:

"It is only the infinite mercy and love of God that has prevented us from tearing ourselves to pieces and destroying His entire creation long ago.People seem to think that it is in some way a proof that no merciful God exists, if we have so many wars. On the contrary, consider how in spite of centuries of sin and greed and lust and cruelty and hatred and avarice and oppression and injustice, spawned and bred by the free wills of men, the human race can still recover, each time, and can still produce man and women who overcome evil with good, hatred with love, greed with charity, lust and cruelty with sanctity."
— Writer’s Almanac / 31 January 2017

* * *

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
─Thomas Merton
“Thoughts in Solitude” (p 83)

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The good is to be done because it is good

“The good is to be done because it is good, not because it goes somewhere. I believe if it is done in that spirit it will go somewhere, but I don’t know where. I don’t think the Bible grants us to know where goodness goes, what direction, what force. I have never been seriously interested in the outcome. I was interested in trying to do it humanly and carefully and nonviolently and let it go. We have not lost everything because we lost today.” -- Dan Berrigan
The photo -- Dan's last arrest -- was taken Good Friday, 2 April 2011, at the USS intrepid, the floating war museum moored on the Hudson River.
HT: Jim Forest

When in the soul of the serene disciple

Photo by Thomas Merton When in the soul of the serene disciple With no more Fathers to imitate Poverty is a success, It is a small t...