Monday, December 11, 2017

coming to terms with what is inmost in our selves ...

 
Czeslaw Milosz, The Paris Review

"The thing is then not to struggle to work out the 'laws' of a mysterious force alien to us and utterly outside us, but to come to terms with what is inmost in our own selves, the very depth of our own being. No matter what our 'Providence' may have in store for us on the surface of life, what is within, inaccessible to the evil will of others, is always good unless we ourselves deliberately cut ourselves off from it." 

- Merton (Striving Toward Being, letter to Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz, dated 21 May 1959; 39-40.  Milosz won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1980. Milosz and Merton had a deep and lively correspondence for ten years, until Merton's death in 1968.
 ---
A loss of harmony with the surrounding space, the inability to feel at home in the world, so oppressive to an expatriate, a refugee, an immigrant, paradoxically integrates him in contemporary society and makes him, if he is an artist, understood by all. Even more, to express the existential situation of modern man, one must live in exile of some sort.
—Czeslaw Milosz, “On Exile”

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The monasticism of Thomas Merton


Thomas Merton died in Thailand on December 10, 1968. Forty nine years ago.

The following is an extract from "Living With Wisdom", a biography of Merton, by Jim Forest.
---

The last event of Thomas Merton’s life was participation in a conference of Trappist and Benedictine monks at the Sawang Kaniwat (Red Cross) Conference Center Samutprakan, 29 miles south of Bangkok. Merton arrived in the afternoon of December 9, 1968, and was housed on the ground floor of Cottage Two. The conference began the next day with a welcoming address from the Supreme Patriarch of Thai Buddhism. Events of the day included an evening discussion on marriage and celibacy.

Few of the monks got much sleep that night. A chorus of cats had come out to sing the night office on nearby roofs. Following crescendos of cat howling, those in adjacent rooms heard Merton’s laughter.

Merton’s paper, “Marxism and Monastic Perspectives,” so much on his mind for many weeks, was presented the following morning. Merton, under orders from his abbot to avoid the press, was made nervous by Dutch and Italian television crews which had turned up to film his lecture.

One of the crucial issues confronting the monk, Merton pointed out, is what his position is and how he identifies himself in a world of revolution. This wasn’t simply a matter of how to survive an enemy who is intent on either destroying religion or converting those of religious convictions to atheism. Rather, it was a matter of understanding, beyond present models of Marxism and monasticism, the fundamental points of similarity and difference.

He recognized significant similarities. The monk, after all, “is essentially someone who takes up a critical attitude toward the world and its structures ... [saying] that the claims of the world are fraudulent.” In addition, both monk and Marxist share the idea that each should give according to his capacity and receive according to his need. But while the Marxist gives primary emphasis to the material and economic structures of life, seeing religious approaches as empty mystification, the monk is committed to bringing about a human transformation that begins at the level of consciousness.

“Instead of starting with matter itself and then moving up to a new structure, in which man will automatically develop a new consciousness, the traditional religions begin with the consciousness of the individual seeking to transform and liberate the truth in each person, with the idea that it will then communicate itself to others.”

This is emphatically the vocation of the monk “who seeks full realization ... [and] has come to experience the ground of his own being in such a way that he knows the secret of liberation and can somehow or other communicate it to others.” At the deepest level, the monk is teaching others how to live by love. For Christians, this is the discovery of Christ dwelling in all others.

Only with such love, Merton went on, is it possible to realize the economic ideal of each giving according to his ability and receiving according to his need. But in actuality many Christians, including those in monastic communities, have not reached this level of love and realization. They have burdened their lives with too many false needs and these have blocked the way to full realization, the monk’s only reason for being.

Merton told a story he had heard from Chogyam Trungpa Rimpoche of a Buddhist abbot fleeing from his Tibetan monastery before the advance of Chinese Communist troops. He encountered another monk leading a train of twenty-five yaks loaded with the treasures of the monastery and “essential” provisions. The abbot chose not to stay with the treasure or the treasurer; traveling light, he managed to cross the border into India, destitute but alive. The yak-tending monk, chained to his treasure, was overtaken by the soldiers and was never heard of again.

“We can ask ourselves,” Merton said, “if we are planning for the next twenty years to be traveling with a train of yaks.” Monasticism, after all, is not architecture or clothing or even rules of life. It is “total inner transformation. Let the yaks take care of themselves.” The monastic life thrives whenever there is a person “giving some kind of direction and instruction to a small group attempting to love God and reach union with him.”

Authentic monasticism cannot be extinguished. “It is imperishable. It represents an instinct of the human heart, and it represents a charism given by God to man. It cannot be rooted out, because it does not depend on man. It does not depend on cultural factors, and it does not depend on sociological or psychological factors. It is something much deeper.”

Finishing the talk, Merton suggested putting off questions until the evening session. He concluded with the words, “So I will disappear,” adding the suggestion that everyone have a Coke.

At about 3 p.m., Father François de Grunne, who had a room near Merton’s, heard a cry and what sounded like someone falling. He knocked on Merton’s door but there was no response. Shortly before 4 o’clock Father de Grunne came down again to get the cottage key from Merton and to reassure himself that nothing was the matter. When there was no answer he looked through the louvers in the upper part of the door and saw Merton lying on the terrazzo floor. A standing fan had fallen on top of him. Father de Grunne tried to open the door but it was locked. With the help of others, the door was opened.

There was a smell of burned flesh. Merton, clearly dead, was lying on his back with the five-foot fan diagonally across his body. Dom Odo Haas, Abbot of Waekwan, tried to lift it and received an electric shock that jerked him sideways, holding him fast to the shaft of the fan until Father Celestine Say pulled the plug.

A long, raw third-degree burn about a hand’s width ran along the right side of Merton’s body almost to the groin. There were no marks on his hands. His face was bluish-red, eyes and mouth half open. There had been bleeding from the back of the head. The priests gave Merton absolution, then Dom Odo went to get the Abbot Primate of the Benedictines, Dom Rembert Weakland, who gave Merton extreme unction. A doctor arrived, Mother Edeltrud Weist, prioress of Taegu Convent in Korea. She checked for pulse and eye reaction to light.

A police test of the fan showed that a “defective electric cord was installed inside its stand.... The flow of electricity was strong enough to cause the death of a person if he touched the metal part.”
After Merton’s body was released to Dom Weakland, it was washed, then taken to the chapel. There was a prayer vigil throughout the night at the side of the body.

The next day Merton’s body was taken to the United States Air Force Base in Bangkok and from there flown back to the United States in company with dead bodies of Americans killed in Vietnam. From Oakland, California, it continued by civilian carrier, at last reaching the Abbey of Gethsemani the afternoon of December 17.

The monks at the abbey had been informed of the death by Dom Flavian during their mid-day meal on December 10. In the days that followed, The Seven Storey Mountain was read aloud during meals in the refectory. “Some of us saw a considerable irony in fact that the refectory reader was Father Raymond Flanagan,” recalls Father Patrick Reardon, then a member of the community, “who had been carrying on a running feud with Father Louis for about as long as any of us could remember.”
One of the brothers drove a truck out to the hermitage of Dom James Fox to bring him back for the funeral. Dom James remarked that Merton “now knows more theology than any of us.” The brother responded, “Well, Reverend Father, he always did.”

Dom Flavian and Father John Eudes Bamberger identified the body at the undertakers in New Haven, where the casket was briefly opened. “I readily identified the body though it was already bloated and swollen considerably,” Father John Eudes wrote. “There was no doubt it was Father Louis.”

The casket arrived at the monastery only a couple of hours before the afternoon funeral Mass and was placed in the abbey basilica. Father Timothy Kelly, later to succeed Dom Flavian as abbot, and Father Patrick Reardon prayed the psalms over the body for the hour or more prior to the funeral.

The funeral Mass was composed by Father Chrysogonus Waddell. On the cover of the Liturgy booklet was a text from The Sign of Jonas: “I have always overshadowed Jonas with My Mercy.... Have you lost sight of me Jonas My Child? Mercy within mercy within mercy.” Part of the Book of Jonah was read aloud. At the end of the Mass, there was a reading from The Seven Storey Mountain, concluding with the book’s prophetic final sentence, “That you may become the brother of God and learn to know the Christ of the burnt men.”

His brother monks buried Merton in their small cemetery next to the abbey church. Normally Trappists were buried without a casket. Merton was one of two exceptions. The other had been Dom Frederick Dunne, the abbot who had received Merton in 1941 and encouraged him to write. Dom Frederick had also died while traveling.

“A whole bunch of us grabbed shovels to fill in Father Louis’s grave at the end of the service,” Father Patrick recalled. “I remember Father Raymond going at it with the gusto he brought to every enterprise. Toward the end of the burial, it began to rain, so we were quite damp when we returned to the church.”

With the body came an official declaration of Merton’s effects, appraised in dollars. The items listed included these five:

1 Timex Watch $10.00
1 Pair Dark Glasses in Tortoise Frames Nil
1 Cistercian Leather Bound Breviary Nil
1 Rosary (broken) Nil
1 Small Icon on Wood of Virgin and Child Nil

There was also the memory of Merton’s last words. Following the morning conference, Father de Grunne told Merton that a nun in the audience was annoyed that Merton had said nothing about converting people.

“What we are asked to do at present,” Merton responded, “is not so much to speak of Christ as to let him live in us so that people may find him by feeling how he lives in us.”

The icon Merton had with him contains its own last words, silent on one side, and on the back a brief extract from the Philokalia, written in Greek in Merton’s hand:

If we wish to please the true God and to be friends with the most blessed of friendships, let us present our spirit naked to God. Let us not draw into it anything of this present world — no art, no thought, no reasoning, no self-justification — even though we should possess all the wisdom of this world.
 ---

- an extract from "Living With Wisdom", a biography of Merton, by Jim Forest

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Advent

Annunciation, Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1897

Advent, by Jessica Powers

I live my Advent in the womb of Mary.
And on one night when a great star swings free
from its high mooring and walks down the sky
to be the dot above the Christus I,
I shall be born of her by blessed grace.
I wait in Mary-darkness, faith’s walled place,
with hope’s expectance of nativity.


I knew for long she carried and fed me,
guarded and loved me, though I could not see.
But only now, with inward jubilee,
I come upon earth’s most amazing knowledge:
Someone is hidden in this dark with me.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Reinhardt in Jerusalem


"When I turned the corner past a small Rothko, I broke into a smile: here, in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, I found a 1966 Ad Reinhardt painting, lingering around, unattended as usual. I had hoped that there might be a Reinhardt here in the museum’s modern collection, but it was still like running into an old friend on the concourse of a foreign airport. Halfway through an intellectually and emotionally intensive study program, relaxing into Reinhardt’s matte black panel was the refreshment my spirit needed at that moment.  ... " Read more here.

Reinhardt, Abstract Painting, 1966, Israel Museum.
"... Despite his friendship with Merton, Reinhardt was no Christian, and he was deeply suspicious of art being “used” for religious purposes, or for any other purpose besides “art-as-art,” as he named it. But if they have any religious referent, Reinhardt’s interest in Taoism and Zen Buddhism may have led him to choose this form as a framework of absence, as a depiction of enlightening darkness. After about twenty minutes, my eyes had adjusted enough for a flash of blue to leap out of the middle horizon, and then a burst of gold to blossom deep within the vertical center “stripe” of the painting. The various squares of black hovered in front of me, teasing my eyes with the prospect of more to see.... 
"... the dark complexity of life in the Holy Land, and for the need to attend to its peoples and their stories humbly and with careful attention ...
"... We in the United States, and we in the Christian church and other religious communities, owe Jerusalem enough sustained attention for it to reveal itself to us...."
by Brian Flanagan (@BrianPFlanagan), from Daily Theology site

Jerusalem


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

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Love of the World; The Human Condition


 Fred Stein photo of Hannah Arendt, 1944, http://www.fredstein.com/portrait-portfolio/

Hannah Arendt considered calling her magnum opus Amor Mundi: Love of the World. Instead, she settled upon The Human Condition. "What is most difficult," Arendt writes, "is to love the world as it is, with all the evil and suffering in it." And yet she came to do just that. Loving the world means neither uncritical acceptance nor contemptuous rejection. Above all it means the unwavering facing up to and comprehension of that which is.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Hannah Arrendt & the Banality of Evil

So - in my effort to make sense of what is going on in the world today (and perhaps always), I have been re-reading the works of Hannah Arrendt. Today I found this hour long interview with her, which totally engaged me. Arrendt also spoke strongly to Merton, though he never directly corresponded with her.

Last week there was an article in the NYT ("A Voice of Hate in America's Heartland") about a very "normal" young man who identified with white supremacy. The article and the outcry following it reminded me of the backlash Arrendt's article, "Eichmann in Jerusalem", got when it appeared in the New Yorker in 1963.

I may have to drag this out some to understand it better.

"Writing is an essential part of understanding." - Hannah Arrendt


[Have decided to use louie as a place to keep track of things, rather than as a "blog" per se. Hence my "dragging things out". It is a sort of public journal where I can easily find things later that I thought I had lost. Follow at your own risk.]

Dorothy & Tamar

On the 37th anniversary of Dorothy's death:


“If I had written the greatest book, composed the greatest symphony, painted the most beautiful painting or carved the most exquisite figure I could not have felt the more exalted creator than I did when they placed my child in my arms.”
— Dorothy Day
reflecting on the birth of her daughter Tamar

Friday, November 24, 2017

Sufism

Photo by Thomas Merton
Sufism looks at man as a heart and a spirit and a secret, and the secret is the deepest part. The secret of man is God's secret; therefore it is in God. My secret is God's innermost knowledge of me, which He alone possesses. It is God's secret knowledge of myself in Him, which is a beautiful concept. The heart is the faculty by which man knows God and there Sufism develops the heart.

This is a very important concept in the contemplative life, both in Sufism and in Christian tradition. To develop a heart that knows God, not just a heart that loves God, but a heart that knows God. How does one know God in the heart? By praying in the heart. The Sufis have ways of learning to pray so that you are really praying in the heart, from the heart, not just saying words, not just thinking good thoughts or making intentions or acts of the will, but from the heart. This is a very ancient Biblical concept that is carried over from Jewish thought into monasticism. It is the spirit which loves God, in Sufism. The spirit is almost the same word as the Biblical word "spirit" -- the breath of life. So man knows God with his heart, but loves God with his life. It is your living self that is an act of constant love for God and this inmost secret of man is that by which he contemplates God, it is the secret of man in God himself.

-- Thomas Merton, speaking to a group of Catholic sisters in Alaska, 2 1/2 months before his death in 1968.

Who Are Sufi Muslims and Why Do Some Extremists Hate Them?


Today, November 24, 2017, in the NY Times:

CAIRO — Militants detonated a bomb inside a crowded mosque in the Sinai Peninsula on Friday and then sprayed gunfire on panicked worshipers as they fled, killing at least 235 people and wounding at least 109 others. Officials called it the deadliest terrorist attack in Egypt’s modern history.
Most worshipers at the mosque were Sufi Muslims, who practice a mystical form of Islam that some extremists consider heretical. Credit European Pressphoto Agency

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Joshua Casteel: How I became a conscientious objector

Joshua Casteel is a remarkable person: writer, playwright, public speaker, an Army veteran and former West Point cadet who became a foe of war and a model Christian. He died five years ago, age 32, of cancer that was probably caused by breathing toxic smoke burned at his base in Iraq.

His one book, "Letters from Abu Ghraib", has just been issued in a revised edition. It’s a collection of intimate letters sent by Joshua to friends and family in 2004-5 during his service as a US Army interrogator and Arabic linguist in the 202nd Military Intelligence Battalion stationed at the notorious Abu Ghraid Prison in Iraq.

"Letters from Abu Ghraib" will come to be recognized as a classic of anti-war literature widely used in classes and discussion groups. The letters reveal how, as a consequence of interrogating imprisoned Iraqis, Joshua undergoes a conversion to a deeper Christianity that brings with it the conviction “’that service in my current way is absolutely wrong, and totally outside the bounds of the witness of the New Testament ... If people do not understand this uncompromising allegiance, and think me a deserter, so be it. … I will take deadly serious Christ’s call to Peter that he drop his nets and follow. I cannot continue as an American war fighter.”

 In 2005 Joshua obtained an early discharge as a conscientious objector.


Friday, November 10, 2017

At Play In the Lions' Den

The cover photo alone is enough for me to buy the book. I know Jim did a good job. This book is a must have for me. I'm getting a copy for all of my friends for Xmas too. Thank you Jim Forest for being there and for sharing the story with all of us.

More information about the book is HERE.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

love of our deluded fellow man as he actually is

Thomas Merton Zen Photography, courtesy Bellarmine University
"In the long run, no one can show another the error that is within him, unless the other is convinced that his critic first sees and loves the good that is within him. So while we are perfectly willing to tell our adversary he is wrong, we will never be able to do so effectively until we can ourselves appreciate where he is right. And we can never accept his judgment on our errors until he gives evidence that he really appreciates our own particular truth. Love, love only, love of our deluded fellow man as he actually is, in his delusion and in his sin: this alone can open the door of truth. As long as we do not have this love, as long as this love is not active and effective in our lives (for words and good wishes will never suffice) we have no real access to the truth. At least not to moral truth."
- Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, p. 69

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)

coming to terms with what is inmost in our selves ...

  Czeslaw Milosz, The Paris Review "The thing is then not to struggle to work out the 'laws' of a mysterious force alien ...