Saturday, August 18, 2018

when the trees say nothing


Photo by BQ Cioffoletti
"We do not realize that the fields and the trees have fought and still fight for their respective places on this map—which, by natural right, belong entirely to the trees. We do not remember that these little clumps and groves are the fifth column of the aboriginal forest that wants to return. It is nice to think of, for a moment. But what could be more desperate than a journey, mile after mile, without hills, as rough as all those trees, and never know where you are going. But now it is wide open. I do not commit myself, though. I am perhaps still on the side of the trees."
- Merton, Thomas (2003-02-01). When the Trees Say Nothing: Writings on Nature (p. 106). Ave Maria Press - A. Kindle Edition. 

"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, August 17, 2018

unknown territory: the present moment


Buddha, Rubin Museum of Art, Photograph by Car396
"A hero’s journey isn’t necessarily a long ordeal. At any given moment, we can leave the self-enclosed world of our thought and touch down in the present moment, which is always unknown territory. Yet it also feels like coming home. It seems miraculous to move from one state of being to another, from thinking to opening to presence." 

- Tracy Cochran, from "Speechless", published in Parabola Magazine, July 28, 2018

Thursday, August 16, 2018

around him you could feel the reality of things


A wonderful conversation with Steve Georgiou, friend of Robert Lax. Read all of it HERE.
"I think he understood the difference between hearing and listening, and he really emphasized the listening. In fact, one of the things he’d say when we walked along the Patmos shoreline was, “I’m going back to my place now. There’s a lot of listening I have to get to.”

     And listening for what?

     I think for all the cosmic sounds, his own heart, his own soul.

     As a youth, he was sought out by people who felt a need to talk with him. In his twenties, and even before, he had this sixth sense, you might say. In childhood he dreamt that he saved a lot of students. A hallway bannister had broken. He’d held the bannister up long enough so the students could make it through a particular corridor—something to that effect. In a way, his life really was that dream. He held up that banister to help people make it through life. He gave his all in doing so.

     Catherine de Hueck Doherty, who founded Friendship House in Canada and parts of the U.S., where they cared for the poor (and who is now on the path to canonization in the Catholic Church), met Lax when he was around 25. She felt he was a gifted soul, as have many who met him—certainly a little different, some might say even a bit off. His mind was not on the nine-to-five world.

     There was a Friendship House in Harlem where the young Lax was serving as a volunteer, along with Thomas Merton. Catherine gave Lax a bucket of suds and a mop and told him to mop. When she came back a couple of hours later, she found him still there, sitting on the floor by the pail lost in his own world. She experienced this in a humorous way and felt there was something about this “son of Israel”—because he hadn’t yet converted to Catholicism—that would result in many books being written about him.

     As Merton had written in The Seven Story Mountain, “Lax was born with the deepest sense of who God was.” Merton said that he was often in this deep, contemplative mode, even in college. He indexed Lax more than anybody else in his autobiography. For Merton, and for others, Lax was a guiding light."

- Steve Georgiou
Read the whole interview HERE. You won't be sorry.

Steve Georgiou and Robert Lax at the harbor.

Me & Steve Georgiou, San Francisco, 2014

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

the silent call of the earth



 Shoes by Vincent Van Gogh

The philosopher Martin Heidegger saw the painting on exhibition in Amsterdam in 1930 and later wrote about it:

"From the dark opening of the worn insides of the shoes the toilsome tread of the worker stares forth. In the stiffly rugged heaviness of the shoes there is the accumulated tenacity of her slow trudge through the far-spreading and ever-uniform furrows of the field swept by a raw wind. On the leather lie the dampness and richness of the soil. Under the soles slides the loneliness of the field-path as evening falls. In the shoes vibrate the silent call of the earth, its quiet gift of the ripening grain and its unexplained self-refusal in the fallow desolation of the wintry field." - Martin Heidegger

"Poetry surrounds us everywhere, but putting it on paper is, alas, not so easy as looking at it. I dream my painting, and then I paint my dream." - Vincent Van Gogh

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

the unreality of the imaginary self

 Sketch by Thomas Merton

“In humility is the greatest freedom. As long as you have to defend the imaginary self that you think is important, you lose your peace of heart. As soon as you compare that shadow with the shadows of other people, you lose all joy, because you have begun to trade in unrealities and there is no joy in things that do not exist.”

~Thomas Merton

Monday, August 13, 2018

living superficially


 Jonathan Williams: Portrait of Thomas Merton

“When we live superficially … we are always outside ourselves, never quite ‘with’ ourselves, always divided and pulled in many directions … we find ourselves doing many things that we do not really want to do, saying things we do not really mean, needing things we do not really need, exhausting ourselves for what we secretly realize to be worthless and without meaning in our lives.”

—Thomas Merton, Love and Living, (Mariner Books, 1979)

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Dan owned nothing


At Play in the Lions’ Den: A Biography and Memoir of Daniel Berrigan 
by Jim Forest
Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York 2017

Reviewed by Sabina Clarke

In his compelling portrait of Daniel Berrigan, Jim Forest has given us a wonderful gift. He captures the amazing grace of Berrigan’s remarkable life as priest, poet, humanitarian, educator, anti-war activist and modern-day prophet. I could not put this book down.

Forest spent time with Berrigan as a young man and kept in touch with him over the years after he moved to the Netherlands where Dan visited him and his family. Theirs was a close bond. Consequently, his knowledge is firsthand. He succeeds in capturing the essence of Berrigan—his intellect, his humor, his compassion, his love for his community of Jesuits and his profound sense of humanity.

Unknown to most is that Berrigan was also the silent doer of daily works of mercy such as caring for the homeless, the dying and those suffering from AIDS when the epidemic first surfaced in 1984 — and when AIDS victims were shunned by society and blamed for their illness. Berrigan embraced them all and did not talk about it.

We find that Berrigan did not progress easily from acts of civil disobedience to acts of violence against military or government property. He was torn between his brother Philip who argued that petitionary nonviolence and civil acts of disobedience in protesting the Vietnam War were not working and that militant nonviolence was necessary and his close friend the Trappist monk Thomas Merton who argued against it. Gradually, he came to agree with Philip and together they began burning draft files and pouring their own blood on the files and drawing sometimes lengthy prison sentences.

Dorothy Day was also a strong influence and mentor. In the March 1965 issue of The Catholic Worker, she published Dan Berrigan’s first anti-war speech on the front page. Berrigan paid a high price for his militant acts of civil disobedience. He was often scorned and ostracized by his own community and on one occasion locked out of his residence, his belongings tossed outside on the steps. After giving a talk in support of Roger LaPorte, a former seminarian who immolated himself in front of the United Nations building protesting the Vietnam War, Berrigan was exiled by the Jesuits to South America — and returned only because of the huge public outcry and only on his stipulation that he be allowed to continue his peace work.

In all his university teaching positions he encouraged student activism and posed provocative questions to the University such as, “How did Cornell treat the migrant workers the University employed in its orchards?” and “What about its investment portfolios — segments of which connected Cornell to the military-industrial complex and the war in Vietnam.”

With a hundred of his Cornell University students he was arrested for the first time in 1967 at midnight on the steps of the Pentagon for protesting the Vietnam War. Reflecting on this he said, “For the first time, I put on the prison blue jeans and denim shirt, clerical attire I highly recommend for the new church.”

In 1975 he led a retreat on peace and reconciliation in Ireland and met with some members of the Irish Republican Army and was later criticized for being sympathetic to them. Even though he did not believe in taking even one life, he developed a rapport with their leader. When Hunger Striker Bobby Sands was on his deathbed, he was asked if he had one last wish before dying. He answered, “I would like to meet Father Berrigan.” With former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark, Berrigan flew to Belfast only to learn that Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher ruled that neither Dan nor Ramsey were allowed entrance. They stood vigil outside the prison as Bobby Sands slowly died.

Arrested more than 250 times,  he was noce on the FBI’s Most Wanted List. For four months led the FBI on a wild goose chase evading them until he was captured at a friend’s house on Block Island. In a particular daring escape after giving a talk at Cornell University and with agents from the FBI in attendance—after the lights dimmed he slipped into a costume of burlap sacking with a papier-maché head and aided by the Bread and Puppet Theater was whisked out into a waiting van and sped away. In an Oval Office conversation former President Nixon’s Chief of Staff Bob Haldeman wonders out loud where the Berrigans get their money for legal defense, Nixon responds, “They’ve got millions.”

Dan Berrigan died on April 30, 2016 — nine days before his 95th birthday. At his concelebrated Mass of the Resurrection, more than one thousand people attended. The homily was given by his friend and fellow Jesuit Stephen Kelly who opened with a greeting to the FBI, “We may let members of the FBI assigned here today know that it is Daniel Berrigan’s Funeral Mass of the Resurrection, so they can complete and perhaps close their files.”

In an interview with this writer in his apartment in New York in 2008, Daniel Berrigan said he entered the Jesuits at the age of eighteen because of its Spartan no-frills appeal when other orders were sending him literature featuring tennis courts and swimming pools and a more luxurious life. He stayed this way all his life. He gave away all his earnings from books and speaking engagements to the poor and others in need.

As his niece Frida Berrigan told a New York Times reporter on his death, “Dan owned nothing. He carried nothing. Whenever I traveled with him, he’d bring the little backpack of nothing. I’d pick him up and ask, ‘Is that all you have?’ He’d say, ‘Yes, that’s it. Let’s go.’” The final incantation of Father Kelly’s homily on Daniel Berrigan concluded with this…. that in his opinion… “Dan belonged among the Doctors of the Church.”

* * *

when the trees say nothing

Photo by BQ Cioffoletti "We do not realize that the fields and the trees have fought and still fight for their respective places ...

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