Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Columbia Jester

The Columbia Jester, 1934. Issue of the school magazine from Columbia University, this issue from the golden age when Reinhardt edited with Robert Lax also on the board. This issue features a striking cover by Reinhardt.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The good Fr. Louis

Photo by Jim Forest
I finished the Lipsey book ("Make Peace Before the Sun Goes Down") last night. I had been reading it almost non-stop since it arrived. I knew that Lipsey could do this. He  could honestly delve into the muddle of confused emotion that characterized Merton’s relationship with his abbot, Dom James Fox, and come out with something authentic and believable. Even more than Merton’s own journal writing, Lipsey’s accounting of what was happening between Merton and his abbot makes Merton more believable. More human and relatable. Here is a popular monk, the 20th Century’s most prominent spiritual writer, and he is embroiled in the same complicated and painful relationship patterns that afflict most every family. Resentments, deceit, dysfunction, self-doubt, distrust, projection, exasperation. Arm wrestling indeed, and under the cover of politeness and piety. Merton’s own writing about the struggle is one sided, not giving the full context. Lipsey gives Dom James’ side of the story. He looks for ways to understand and explain Dom James and gives him the benefit of the doubt whenever possible. In the end, it is what it is and one is left seeing more clearly the role of providence in this particular relationship and all relationships.

While Merton was writing exquisite poetry and funny letters, THIS was going on. This is encouraging.

Thank you Roger Lipsey. It all had to be said. The next time I visit Gethsemane I will be sure to bring some flowers to the grave of Dom James Fox.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

How Merton might have described Ad Reinhardt's paintings

Ad Reinhardt

How Merton might have described Ad Reinhardt's paintings:

"It is in this darkness, when there is nothing left in us that can please or comfort our own minds, when we seem to be useless and worthy of all contempt, when we seem to have failed, when we seem to be destroyed and devoured, it is then that the deep and secret selfishness that is too close for us to identify is stripped away from our souls. It is in this darkness that we find true liberty. It is in this abandonment that we are made strong. This is the night which empties us and makes us pure. Do not look for rest in any pleasure, because you were not created for pleasure: you were created for spiritual JOY. And if you do not know the difference between pleasure and spiritual joy you have not yet begun to live." - Thomas Merton

From New Seeds if Contemplation, Chapter 25

Quoted in "Ad Reinhardt and the Via Negative / The Brooklyn Rail", an article by John Yau.

Friday, May 8, 2015

about Faith (and the Via Negativa) - "You can only believe what you do not know."

Ad Reinhardt
"First of all, faith is not an emotion, not a feeling. It is not a blind sub-conscious urge toward something vaguely supernatural. It is simply not an elemental need in man’s spirit. It is not a feeling that God exists. It is not a conviction that one is saved or “justified” for no special reason except that one happens to feel that way. It is not something entirely interior and subjective, with no reference to any exterior motive. It is not just a “soul-force.” It is not something that bubbles up out of the recesses of your soul and fills you with an indefinable “sense” that everything is all right. It is not something so purely yours that its content is incommunicable. It is not some personal myth that you cannot share with anyone else, and the objective validity of which does not matter either to you or God or anybody else. ... But it is also not an opinion. It is not a conviction based on rational analysis. It is not the fruit of scientific evidence. You can only believe what you do not know." - Thomas Merton
From New Seeds if Contemplation, Chapter 18

Quoted in "Ad Reinhardt and the Via Negative / The Brooklyn Rail", an article by John Yau.

Robert Ellsberg on Dorothy Day Canonization

Robert Lax "Legend"

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Make Peace Before the Sun Goes Down

Excellent article about a new book by Roger Lipsey on the vocation of Thomas Merton and his relationship with his abbot, Dom James Fox.
“Meeting with God does not come to man in order that he may concern himself with God, but in order that he may confirm that there is meaning in the world. “All revelation is summons and sending.... God remains present to you when you have been sent forth; he who goes on a mission has always God before him: the truer the fulfillment the stronger and more constant his nearness. He cannot concern himself directly with God but he can converse with Him.”
Responding to this passage, Merton continued, “Ten years ago I would have been perplexed and scandalized by [these thoughts], but in the depths of my heart I realize how true they are. And I realize how monumentally we fail, in this monastery, to understand this!”
Excerpted with the publisher’s kind permission from Make Peace Before the Sun Goes Down: The Long Encounter of Thomas Merton and His Abbot, James Fox, Shambhala Publications, May 2015.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

sanctuary & conflict

United Nations Room of Quiet
" ... Sanctuary is an experience sought and needed in today's anxious world. It can be found in worship communities that value moments of quiet. It can be found in traditional liturgies -- for example, in the spacious flow of Gregorian chant. It can be found in theaters, concert halls, and opera houses where art mirrors experience with love and insight. It belongs also to the meditation hall, now naturalized in the West although its roots are Asian. More than a few of us know the peaceful order of such spaces: the regular rows of cushions, the still figures of men and women seated in meditation, perhaps a sacred image on an altar. What a perfect lace and means for learning to be human from the inside out.

" ... sanctuary is tied to the world ...

"Many know something of spirituality in the sanctuary of a spiritual community or in their privacy. But what becomes of it, how does it serve and find paths forward when it must return to the world -- when it has duties? Does it enrich a man or woman's education to work? Does it strike deep roots in plain things or is it aloof? Does it touch life and allow itself to be touched only because there is no practical alternative? Does it learn from troubled circumstances and difficult people or does it long for the close of business so that it can go off on its own? Is it denatured by stress or does it somehow thrive? Does it make one more clear-sighted and strategic when strategy is needed -- or hamper mobility by draping it on  holy vestments, in slow ideas? Only Hammarskjold and a few other of our era can answer these questions -- he best of all.

"Hammarskjold had a sense of sanctuary." 

" ... Long before the popularization of notions about being "here and now" -- the value of living in the present -- he had made that discovery on his own and ever after strived to stay put, just where he was, looking after present needs. However, when at last he had time for himself and returned to his long exploration of the inner dimensions of experience and the subtleties of literature and the arts, we should follow him there too, even to the edge of what he called "the unheard of", where he encountered sacred or found prayer. His commitment to the work of the United Nations was entire and wholehearted He gave himself unsparingly. He was made for that. His commitment to an inner path was no less entire. He was made for that. How did these two intersect and reinforce each other? How did Hammarskjold become able to carry the clarity and poise of sanctuary into the world? ...

" ... in a letter to Swedish author Eyvind Johnson, he [Hammarskjold] wrote: "The other day I was forced by a journalist to try to formulate my views on the main requirements of somebody who wishes to contribute to the development of peace and reason. I found no better formulation than this: 'He must push his awareness to the utmost limit without losing his inner quiet, he must be able to see with the eyes of others from within their personality without losing his own.'"

- Hammarskjold, A Life, by Roger Lipsey pp.3-5

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax

New book coming out on Lax!

Michael McGregor's long awaited biography will be released on September 1, 2015.

From the Amazon blurb:
Pure Act tells the story of poet Robert Lax, whose quest to live a true life as both an artist and a spiritual seeker inspired Thomas Merton, Jack Kerouac, William Maxwell and a host of other writers, artists and ordinary people. Known in the U.S. primarily as Merton's best friend and in Europe as a daringly original avant-garde poet, Lax left behind a promising New York writing career to travel with a circus, live among immigrants in post war Marseilles and settle on a series of remote Greek islands where he learned and recorded the simple wisdom of the local people. Born a Jew, he became a Catholic and found the authentic community he sought in Greek Orthodox fishermen and sponge divers. 
In his early life, as he alternated working at the New Yorker, writing screenplays in Hollywood and editing a Paris literary journal with studying philosophy, serving the poor in Harlem and living in a sanctuary high in the French Alps, Lax pursued an approach to life he called "pure act"--a way of living in the moment that was both spontaneous and practiced, God-inspired and self-chosen. By devoting himself to simplicity, poverty and prayer, he expanded his capacity for peace, joy and love while producing distinctive poetry of such stark beauty critics called him "one of America's greatest experimental poets" and "one of the new 'saints' of the avant-garde." 
Written by a writer who met Lax in Greece when he was a young seeker himself and visited him regularly over fifteen years, Pure Act is an intimate look at an extraordinary but little-known life. Much more than just a biography, it's a tale of adventure, an exploration of friendship, an anthology of wisdom, and a testament to the liberating power of living an uncommon life.

I've got my copy pre-ordered. Really looking forward to this.