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.

 http://www.amazon.com/Pure-Act-Uncommon-Catholic-Practice/dp/0823268012 

Saturday, January 31, 2015

the empty boat (wu wei)

“Who can free himself from achievement
And from fame, descend and be lost
Amid the masses of men?
He will flow like Tao, unseen,
He will go about like Life itself
With no name and no home.
Simple is he, without distinction.
To all appearances he is a fool.
His steps leave no trace. He has no power.
He achieves nothing, has no reputation.
Since he judges no one
No one judges him.
Such is the perfect man:
His boat is empty.” 
― Thomas Merton, The Way of Chuang Tzu

Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Thomas Merton. 

Many people are recognizing and writing about Merton now. I have certainly had plenty to say these last few years in my explorations of Merton’s art and writing.

Here are some things that I found this past week that I hadn’t seen before. Painting of Prades, France by Owen Merton, Thomas Merton's artist father:


Photo of Merton's father and mother, Owen and Ruth, in Prades -- at least the full photograph. I have seen this shot of Owen "lifted" from the photo.:


And a photo of Merton's draft of the beginning of Seven Story Mountain:


Thursday, January 29, 2015

Path Maker

Sister Kathleen Deignan, professor of religious studies at Iona College in New Rochelle, New York, called Father Merton a path maker.

"He bequeaths these paths to us so that we can actually find them. He did make the path by walking. There was nobody in front of him. No cultural conditions. No family. He did this great pilgrimage of search," said Sister Kathleen, a member of the Congregation of Notre Dame and director of the school's Iona Spirituality Institute.


http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/1500417.htm

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Chant to be Used in Processions around a Site with Furnaces




On the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.


Thomas Merton: Chant to be Used in Processions around a Site with Furnaces

How we made them sleep and purified them
How we perfectly cleaned up the people and worked a big heater
I was the commander I made improvements and installed a guaranteed system taking account of human weakness I purified and I remained decent
How I commanded I made cleaning appointments and then I made the travellers sleep and after that I made soap

I was born into a Catholic family but as these people were not going to need a priest I did not become a priest I installed a perfectly good machine it gave satisfaction to many

Read the rest HERE

Sunday, January 25, 2015

A Letter to Thomas Merton

[Very good reflection and perspective of Fr. Louie, 100 years after his birth.]

A letter to Thomas Merton

Jan 15, 2015 by Carol Zaleski 

Dear Father Louis,

The sun has run its course in Aquarius one hundred times since your birth on “the last day of January 1915, under the sign of the Water Bearer, in a year of a great war.” It’s been almost three-quarters of a century since you entered the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani as a postulant, penitent, and convert; you enclosed yourself in its “four walls of freedom” on December 10, 1941, as the United States was entering the Second World War, a month and a half shy of your 27th birthday. You died on December 10, 1968, exactly 27 years later, after delivering a talk on “Marxism and Monastic Per­spectives” at a meeting in Bangkok. Your life divides into secular and religious halves; and that is almost the only thing about you that can be neatly sorted out.

I first learned of you during my childhood on the fringe of the peace movement in New York; I remember hearing the complaints of some Catholic Worker activists when you refused to endorse draft card burning during the Vietnam War; you had a way of disconcerting even those who considered you a prophet. During my college years I discovered your books, from your classic memoir, The Seven Storey Mountain, to your reflections on Zen, Taoism, and Sufism. You convinced me that the contemplative life remains not only viable but essential. My would-be husband figured he could win me over by keeping a copy of Contemplative Prayer in his back pocket; he succeeded. By then you had become what your name anagrammatically suggests, a mentor to millions of people who never had a chance to know you face to face.

But we desire to know you face to face; hence the profusion of notable biographies—among them, the mildly psychoanalytical investigation by Monica Furlong, the Michael Mott biography stuffed to the gills with everyday facts, the sympathetic studies by Lawrence Cunningham and William Shannon, Paul Elie’s group portrait linking you to your fellow American Catholic pilgrims Dorothy Day, Walker Percy, and Flannery O’Connor, the film biography by Paul Wilkes and Audrey Glynn—and the many picture books by Ed Rice, John Howard Griffin, Jim Forest, and others. How photogenic you were in your white habit and black scapular, set against the fields of grass and alfalfa, or in denim work clothes and straw hat on the porch of your hermitage, or, freed from your four walls of freedom, enjoying the company of newfound brothers, Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama.

And how inscrutable you were, for all the self-revealing writing. You wrote a memoir worthy of comparison to Augustine’s Confessions—were it not marred by a Holden Caulfield–like contemptus mundi. You tapped into the wellsprings of monastic spirituality through scholarship and reflection on the Rule of St. Benedict, the Desert Fathers, John Cassian, Bernard of Clairvaux—and then you translated that spirituality into an idiom of authenticity and alienation that now seems dated. You restored contemplation to its rightful centrality in Christian life and did much “to reassure the modern world that in the struggle between thought and existence we [monks] are on the side of existence, not on the side of abstraction”—and then you portrayed contemplation as so radically self-emptying that it sheds much of its specific religious content. You fought for the privilege of living as a hermit on the abbey grounds—but you let your hermitage become a gathering place for your nonmonastic friends during a period when you were (as you told Rosemary Radford Ruether) “browned off with and afraid of Catholics.”

On a reductionist psychoanalytic reading, you were an orphan searching for his lost parents, a repressed lover, and a narcissist drowning in his own reflection. On a more discerning Augustinian reading, though, you were an Everyman whose heart is restless until it rests in God; and on a sound monastic reading, you were one of thousands of essentially good monks who strayed but stayed the course. I believe you did stay the course. Had it not been for the faulty electric fan, or the fault in your own heart, I believe you would have returned to Gethsemani to be a model of monastic wisdom after the storms of youth had passed.

You said that the purpose of monasticism is not survival, but prophecy. What you may not have realized—since your entry into monastic life was the high-water mark of its wartime and postwar revival—is that the survival of monasticism is prophecy, a special kind of prophecy that subdues and outlasts political passions.

The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton gives your parting words at the Bangkok meeting as “So I will disappear.” Quoted in full, however, your words are without valedictory significance: “So I will disappear, and we can all get a Coke or something.” And so you died, with your story unfinished. But we may piece together from your letters, poems, diaries, novels, tracts, and recordings of your lectures to the Gethsemani scholastics the picture of a brilliant writer, committed monk, and fragile man who searched for God with his whole heart and bids us to do the same.

Pax.

http://www.christiancentury.org/article/2014-12/letter-thomas-merton

Friday, December 26, 2014

your brightness is my darkness

"Your brightness is my darkness.
I know nothing of You and, by myself,
I cannot even imagine how to go about knowing You.
If I imagine You, I am mistaken.
If I understand You, I am deluded.
If I am conscious and certain I know You, I am crazy.
The darkness is enough."
—Thomas Merton, prayer before midnight mass at Christmas, 1941.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Dorothy Day Advent Reflection

Woodcut by Harlan Hubbard

Advent is a time of waiting, of expectation, of silence.  Waiting for our Lord to be born. A pregnant woman is so happy, so content. She lives in such a garment of silence, and it is as though she were listening to hear the stir of life within her. One always hears the stirring compared to the rustling of a bird in the hand. But the intentness with which one awaits such stirring is like nothing so much as a blanket of silence.  Dorothy Day

- See more at: http://cjd.org/2014/11/21/dorothy-days-reflections-on-advent/#sthash.ZXNu16px.dpuf

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Advent: when the ladder climbing stops we are ready to gather around the manger

http://visualtheology.blogspot.com/2014/11/advent-when-ladder-climbing-stops-we.html?showComment=1417352473713


This is how Advent always begins. In the place where everything seems lost; where the human condition is experienced at its most starkly bleak. It is only within this manger of dread, desolation and despair that Christmas makes sense. Only there can we feel its new born warmth for ourselves and cradle its living truth in our arms. Nowhere else. God invites us to journey into our darkness on the strength of a promise, daring to believe that the incarnation of love will become real in the wombspace of our fragile faith. ... Read/See the rest HERE.

Alexandra Bircken: ESKALATION from The Hepworth Wakefield on Vimeo.



HT: Phil (Ennis Blue)