Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Remembering Uncle Dan

Daniel Berrigan Memorial
September 30, 2016
St. Thomas More Parish, Kalamazoo
Jerry Berrigan

"Uncle Dan was a priest.  He left home at the age of 13 to join the Jesuits, was ordained with his class, and is now buried in a Jesuit cemetery in Auriesville, NY.  He told someone once that in walking the streets of New York the faces of passersby were as the beads of the Rosary to him, a prayer for each one, a moment to ponder the mysteries each person bore, sorrowful and joyful and glorious mysteries.

"All life is sacred, he believed, because life is created by God.  Humanity, this marvelous, fascinating tapestry of similarity and difference.  If life is threatened or taken by human design, if people are robbed of their dignity, this becomes a major problem for Uncle Dan.  His basic theology was that all Christians will try to protect the weak and work for justice and oppose war. ...
"He remained a priest.  I have felt the presence of God, on occasion.  He lived and breathed with God and reported back to the rest of us.  His words, and the congruence between his words and his deeds, rang true to many of us, and there was great beauty in what he said, and so we were brought along, headlong into traffic and other dangerous situations.
"He believed it, he lived it, God was real to him, the stories in the Book were real to him.  The Bible was a work of drama to him in that it was a script for actors.  We are to practice incarnation, which means to make the word flesh.  We are to live it.  If we do, it is alive and real.  If we don’t, it dies among so many hollow words and empty rituals."

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

the question that nobody knows how to answer

Thomas Merton
Drawing of a Cross
Pen and pencil, ca. 1949-1953
(from an exhibit at Columbia University in 2015, photo by Jim Forest)

God, my God, God Whom I meet in darkness,
with You it is always the same thing!
Always the same question that nobody knows how to answer!

- Thomas Merton, "Fire Watch", The Sign of  Jonas

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Your Darkness (no-man's land)

King Minos, Thomas Merton art

But oh!
How far I have to go to find You in Whom I have already arrived!
For now, oh my God, it is to You alone that I can talk,
because nobody else will understand.
I cannot bring any other on this earth
into the cloud where I dwell in Your light,
that is,
Your Darkness,
where I am lost and abashed.

I cannot explain to any other
the anguish which is Your joy
nor the loss which is the possession of You,
nor the distance from all things
which is the arrival in You.
nor the death which is the birth in You
because I do not know anything about it myself
and all I know
is that I wish it were over
-- I wish it were begun.

You have contradicted everything.
You have left me in no man's land.

- Thomas Merton
Dancing in the Water of Life, page 175, excerpted

Friday, October 14, 2016

who (contemplation is no pain-killer)

Thomas Merton's edited copy of his Seeds of Contemplation book, photo by Jim Forest from an exhibit at Columbia University in 2015

contemplation is not trance or ecstasy
not emotional fire and sweetness that come with religious exaltation
not enthusiasm, not the sense of being "seized" by an elemental force
and swept into liberation by mystical frenzy.
contemplation is no pain-killer.

In the end the contemplative suffers the anguish of realizing
that he no longer knows what God is;
this is a great gain,
because "God is not a what,"
not a "thing."

There is "no such thing" as God
because God is neither a "what" or a "thing"
but a pure "Who,"
the "Thou" before whom our inmost "I" springs
into awareness.

-Thomas Merton
New Seed of Contemplation, pages 10-13, excerpted


Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Do not be discouraged. The Holy Spirit is not asleep.

"Do not be discouraged. The Holy Spirit is not asleep."
-- Thomas Merton (in a letter to Dan Berrigan dated February 23, 1964

(photo taken by Jim Forest at the Spiritual Roots of Protest retreat in November 1964)

Tuesday, September 20, 2016


The energy in the universe is not in the planets, nor in the atomic particles, but very surprisingly in the relationship between them. It’s not in the cells of organisms but in the way the cells feed and give feedback to one another through semi-permeable membranes. The energy is not in any precise definition or in the partly arbitrary names of the three persons of the Trinity as much as in the relationship between the Three! This is where all the power for infinite renewal is at work: 
The loving relationship between them. 
The infinite love between them. 
The dance itself. 
In other words, it is an entirely relational universe. If, at any time, we try to stop this flow moving through us, with us, and in us, we fall into the true state of sin—and it is truly a state more than a momentary behavior. It is telling that the first destabilization of the foundational structure of the atom (in New Mexico in July 1945) created the atomic bomb. With supreme irony, the test site is still called “Trinity” as Robert Oppenheimer first named it. 
The divine flow either flows both in and out, or it is not flowing at all. The “trap doors” at either end must be kept open in order to both receive and let go, which is the work of all true spirituality. The Law of Flow is simple, and Jesus states it in many formulations such as “Happy are the merciful; they shall have mercy shown to them” (Matthew 5:7). Or as we cleverly put it “What goes around comes around.” We are conduits.
- Richard Rohr O.F.M. The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation (Whitaker House: 2016), 55-56, 71-72

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Holding the World Together: portrait of Dag Hammarskjöld by Ben Shahn

Ben Shahi's portrait [of Hammarskjöld inhabits a different world. It is not tied to time, its themes are suffering and resistance. Drawing on his direct familiarity with Hammarskjöld and on characteristic photographs, particularly of Hammarskjöld cradling his chin as he listened to Nikita Khrushchev in the General Assembly, Shahn chose to create what he called "a portrait about, rather than of a man." He wrote to Carl Nordenfalk about his vision for the painting at a time when Swedish critics were saying, correctly, that the portrait was not a good likeness. "I did not like the notion of a conventional portrait", he wrote.
"That seemed to me a commonplace. I wanted to express Hammarskjöld's loneliness and isolation, his need actually, for such remoteness in space that he might be able to carry through, as he did, the powerful resolution to be just. His unaffiliated kind of justice, it seems to me, held the world together through many crises that might have deteriorated into world conflicts. I have a truly profound feeling for this man, and I hope it will be felt in the painting. I must mention, too, the threat that hung over him as it hung over the world, and does still."
The calligraphy on the table in front of the figure of Hammarskjöld records his words in reply to Khrushchev's demand for his resignation -- "I shall remain at my post ... " The chaotic swirl above and behind, with the sorrowful face of a prophet just visible in it, reflects the nuclear catastrophe that Hammarskjöld had given his all to prevent. The face of Hammarskjöld is darkly thoughtful, compositionally and emotionally midway between the firm courage of the written text and the chaos behind him. In this harsh context, the compressed image of sky and bridge on the right (the bridge combines features of two East River crossings) gives a welcome suggestion of movement and, as Shahn wrote, some small promise of spaciousness. This is a difficult work. It isn't easily likable. But as Nordenfalk wrote, "It will have something to tell future generations about what our life was like ..."

- from Hammarskjöld: A Life, by Roger Lipsey, pages 602-603

Saturday, September 3, 2016

United Nations Prayer Room

"We all have within us a center of stillness surrounded by silence.

This house, dedicated to work and debate in the service of peace, should have one room dedicated to silence in the outward sense and stillness in the inner sense.

It has been the aim to create in this small room a place where the doors may be open to the infinite lands of thought and prayer.

People of many faiths will meet here, and for that reason none of the symbols to which we are accustomed in our meditation could be used.

However, there are simple things which speak to us all with the same language. We have sought for such things and we believe that we have found them in the shaft of light striking the shimmering surface of solid rock.

So, in the middle of the room we see a symbol of how, daily, the light of the skies gives life to the earth on which we stand, a symbol to many of us of how the light of the spirit gives life to matter.

But the stone in the middle of the room has more to tell us. We may see it as an altar, empty not because there is no God, not because it is an altar to an unknown god, but because it is dedicated to the God whom man worships under many names and in many forms.

The stone in the middle of the room reminds us also of the firm and permanent in a world of movement and change. The block of iron ore has the weight and solidity of the everlasting. It is a reminder of that cornerstone of endurance and faith on which all human endeavour must be based.

The material of the stone leads our thoughts to the necessity for choice between destruction and construction, between war and peace. Of iron man has forged his swords, of iron he has also made his ploughshares. Of iron he has constructed tanks, but of iron he has likewise built homes for man. The block of iron ore is part of the wealth we have inherited on this earth of ours. How are we to use it?

The shaft of light strikes the stone in a room of utter simplicity. There are no other symbols, there is nothing to distract our attention or to break in on the stillness within ourselves. When our eyes travel from these symbols to the front wall, they meet a simple pattern opening up the room to the harmony, freedom and balance of space.

There is an ancient saying that the sense of a vessel is not in its shell but in the void. So it is with this room. It is for those who come here to fill the void with what they find in their center of stillness."

-Dag Hammarskjold

"This is the picture of an adult politician in a not very adult world." (Dag Hammarskjöld)

Hammarskjöld in his private office at UN headquarters, 1 March 1954 (UN Photo/MB)
Behind him, a canvas by Picasso on loan from the Museum of Modern Art. In a talk at the museum that year, Hammarskjöld spoke of “art which reflects the inner problems of our generation and is created in the hope of meeting some of its basic needs” 
(Public Papers 2, 372‒73).

Some thoughts of Dr. Rowan Williams in a New York Times article - OUR COMPASS. Focusing on Hammarskjold, Dr. Williams described him as "an adult in a not very adult world".
Dag Hammarskjold, the second secretary general of the United Nations, represented a coming together of the active and the contemplative. He recognized that public office is not about anxiously conserving status or winning arguments. He was sharply aware of the shadows in his own motivation, and confronted them patiently and remorselessly in his private writing. He expected others to share his own careful self-reflection, and used the platform of the office of secretary general to prompt this sort of questioning. And he kept his own spiritual discipline alive in the most demanding circumstances, while maintaining strict public discretion: he did not need to flaunt his religious commitment to win public applause.

This is the picture of an adult politician in a not very adult world. One could say that he expected too much of professional politicians and all those whose job it was to defend local interests. But he offered a perspective without which all politics is empty. His work and words declare that it is possible to see the world with what could best be called creative detachment, and without self-pity.

Contemplating Hammarskjold’s life, I am left with two uncomfortable thoughts. The first is that this is what I should have been trying to realize in my own ventures into public life, and how profoundly I didn’t manage it. The second: a truly terrifying amount of public rhetoric assumes that we are both incapable and frightened of this level of honesty of seeing, speaking and feeling. Yet in private, most of us are capable of seeing at least something of this, and acting on it. Why is our public language so corrupt and corrupting?
Rowan Williams — Formerly the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury, now chancellor of the University of South Wales.