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

trinity


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.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Zen Catholicism


calligraphy by Thomas Merton

In some notes that Merton prepared for an exhibition of his calligraphic drawings, he writes:
“Neither rustic nor urbane, Eastern nor Western, perhaps can be called expressions of Zen Catholicism”. (from a notebook in the TMC collection)

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Spiritual Life

Snapshot of Merton Hermitage
Taken by Jim Forest in November 1964

"As for spiritual life: what I object to about [the phrase] ‘the Spiritual Life’ is the fact that it is a part, a section, set off as if it were a whole. It is an aberration to set off our ‘prayer’ etc. from the rest of our existence, as if we were sometimes spiritual, sometimes not. As if we had to resign ourselves tofeeling that the unspiritual moments were a dead loss. That is not right at all, and because it is an aberration, it causes an enormous amount of useless suffering. Our ‘life in the Spirit’ is all-embracing, or should be. First it is the response of faith receiving the word of God, not only as a truth to be believed but as a gift of life to be lived in total submission and pure confidence. Then this implies fidelity and obedience, but a total fidelity and a total obedience. From the moment that I obey God in everything, where is my ‘spiritual life’? It is gone out the window, there is no spiritual life, only God and His word and my total response."

— Thomas Merton, extract from a letter to Etta Gullick, an Oxford scholar with whom he had an extensive correspondence during the last eight years of his life
The Hidden Ground of Love: The Letters of Thomas Merton on Religious Experience and Social Concerns, ed. William H. Shannon (NY: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1985), p 357.


HT: Jim Forest

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

meeting yourself in the desert

No Better Place to Meet Yourself

--by Moussa Ag Assarid

- See more at: http://www.awakin.org/read/view.php?tid=2133#sthash.TRMTPvuT.dpuf

Moussa Ag Assarid (MAA): I don’t know my age. I was born in the Sahara desert, with no papers. I was born in a nomadic camp of Touaregs, between Timbuktu and Gao, in the north of Mali. [...]

J: What do they do for a living?
MAA: We shepherd camels, goats, sheep, cows and donkeys in a kingdom of infinite and of silence…

J: Is the desert really so silent?
(MAA): If you are on your own in that silence you hear your heart beat. There is no better place to meet yourself.

J: What memories do you have of your childhood in the desert?
MAA: I wake up with the Sun. The goats of my father are there. They give us milk and meat, and we take them were there is water and grass. My great-grandfather did it, and my grandfather, and my father, and me. There was nothing else in the world than that, and I was very happy!

J: Really? It doesn’t sound very exciting.
MAA: It is. At the age of seven you can go alone away from the camp, and for this you are taught the important things—to smell the air, to listen, to see carefully, to orient with the Sun and the stars…and to be guided by the camel if you get lost. He will take you where there is water.

J: To know that is valuable, no doubt.
MAA: Everything is simple and profound there. There are very few things, and each one has enormous value.

J: So that world and this one are very different.
MAA: There, every little thing gives happiness. Every touch is valuable. We feel great joy just by touching each other, being together. There, nobody dreams of becoming, because everybody already is.

J: What shocked you most on your first trip to Europe?
MAA: I saw people running in the airport. In the desert you only run if a sandstorm is approaching! It scared me, of course.

J: They were going after their baggage, ha ha.
MAA: Yes, that was it. [...]

J: What do you dislike the most here?
MAA: Many people here have everything, and it is still not enough for them. They complain. In [the modern world] many people complain all the time! They chain themselves to a bank; many people are anxious to have things, to have possessions. People are in a rush. In the desert there are no traffic jams, and do you know why? Because there nobody is interested in getting ahead of other people!

J: Tell me about a moment of deep happiness for you in the desert.
MAA: It happens every day, two hours before sunset. The heat decreases, there is still no cold air, and men and animals slowly return to the camp, and their profiles are painted against a sky that is pink, blue, red, yellow, green.

J: That sounds fascinating.
MAA: It’s a magical moment… We all get into the tents and we boil tea. Sitting in silence we listen to the sound of the boiling water… We all are immersed in calmness: with the heartbeats tuned to the rhythm of the boiling water, potta potta potta…

J: How peaceful.
MAA: Yes…here you have watches; there, we have time.

Moussa Ag Assarid is the oldest of thirteen children in a nomadic Touareg family. Born in northern Mali in 1975, he moved to France in 1999 to study Management at the University of Montpellier. The above is excerpted from an interview with Víctor Amela.
- See more at: http://www.awakin.org/read/view.php?tid=2133#sthash.TRMTPvuT.dpuf

Thursday, December 10, 2015

By my monastic life and vows I am saying No to all the concentration camps, the aerial bombardments, the staged political trials, the judicial murders, the racial injustices, the economic tyrannies, and the whole socio-economic apparatus which seems geared for nothing but global destruction in spite of all its fair words in favor of peace.


Today is the 47th anniversary of the death of Thomas Merton. The following text is extracted from his preface to the Japanese edition of “The Seven Storey Mountain”:

I have learned ... to look back into the world with greater compassion, seeing those in it not as alien to myself, not as peculiar and deluded strangers, but as identified with myself. In freeing myself from their delusions and preoccupations I have identified myself, nonetheless, with their struggles and their blind, desperate hope of happiness.

But precisely because I am identified with them, I must refuse all the more definitively to make their delusions my own. I must refuse their ideology of matter, power, quantity, movement, activism and force. I reject this because I see it to be the source and expression of the spiritual hell which man has made of his world: the hell which has burst into flame in two total wars of incredible horror, the hell of spiritual emptiness and sub-human fury which has resulted in crimes like Auschwitz or Hiroshima. This I can and must reject with all the power of my being. This all sane men seek to reject. But the question is: how can one sincerely reject the effect if he continues to embrace the cause?....

The monastery is not an “escape from the world.” On the contrary, by being in the monastery I take my true part in all the struggles and sufferings of the world. To adopt a life that is essentially non-assertive, nonviolent, a life of humility and peace is in itself a statement of one’s position. But each one in such a life can, by the personal modality of his decision, give his whole life a special orientation. It is my intention to make my entire life a rejection of, a protest against the crimes and injustices of war and political tyranny which threaten to destroy the whole race of man and the world with him. By my monastic life and vows I am saying No to all the concentration camps, the aerial bombardments, the staged political trials, the judicial murders, the racial injustices, the economic tyrannies, and the whole socio-economic apparatus which seems geared for nothing but global destruction in spite of all its fair words in favor of peace. I make monastic silence a protest against the lies of politicians, propagandists and agitators, and when I speak it is to deny that my faith and my Church can ever seriously be aligned with these forces of injustice and destruction.

— Thomas Merton
who died on the 10th of December 1968 while taking part in a conference of Benedictine and Trappist monks
(“Honorable Reader”: Reflections on My Work, ed. Robert Daggy; NY: Crossroad, 1986, p 63-67)


[HT: Jim Forest]