Saturday, February 18, 2017

destiny

"I can no longer see the ultimate meaning of a man's [sic] life in terms of either 'being a poet' or 'being contemplative' or even in a certain sense 'being a saint', (although that is the only thing to be). It must be something much more immediate than that. I -- and every other person in the world -- must say 'I have my own peculiar destiny which no one else has ever had or ever will have. There exists for me a particular goal, a fulfillment which must be all my own -- nobody else's -- and it does not really identify that destiny to put it under some category -- 'poet', 'monk', 'hermit'. Because my own individual destiny is a meeting, an encounter with God that God has destined for me alone. God's glory in me will be to receive from me something which God can never receive from anyone else."
- Merton, from a letter written to Mark Van Doren in March, 1948

Thursday, February 2, 2017

a flash of sanity

"Anunciation" by Thomas Merton; photo by Jim Forest
"At least a flash of sanity: the momentary realization that this is no need to come to certain conclusions about persons, events, conflicts, trends, even trends toward evil and disaster, as if from day to day and even from moment to moment I had to know and declare (at least to myself): This is so and so, this is good, this is bad; we are heading for a “new era” or we are heading for destruction. What do such judgments mean? Little or nothing. Things are as they are, in an immense whole of which I am a part, and which I cannot pretend to grasp. To say I grasp it is immediately to put myself in a false position, as if I were “outside” it. Whereas to be  in it is to seek truth in my own life and action, by moving where movement is possible and keeping still when movement is unnecessary, realizing that things will continue to define themselves and that the judgments and mercies of God will clarify themselves - and will be more clear to me if I am silent and attentive, obedient to God’s will, rather than constantly formulating statements in this age which is smothered  in language, in meaningless and inconclusive debate, and in which, in the last analysis, nobody listens to anything except what agrees with his own prejudices." 


-Thomas Merton, Learning to Love, page 366

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Thomas Merton

Photo by Gene Meatyard

Today is the birthday of Thomas Merton, born in Prades, France in 1915. His mother was an American, and his father was from New Zealand. They were both artists, and they met at an art school in Paris. Merton's mother died of stomach cancer when he was six years old; 10 years later, his father died of a brain tumor.

Merton converted to Catholicism in 1938, while he was a student at Columbia University. On December 10, 1941, he quit his job teaching at at St. Bonaventure College and entered the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani in Kentucky, to begin his life as a Trappist monk. He continued studying, and kept journals full of his questions and musings. His superior at the monastery, Father Abbot Dom Frederic Dunne, noticed his talent for writing and encouraged him to continue.

In 1961, Merton wrote, "It is possible to doubt whether I have become a monk (a doubt that I have to live with), but it is not possible to doubt that I am a writer, that I was born one and will most probably die as one." Over the course of his life, Merton wrote more than 70 books, 2,000 poems, and numerous essays and lectures. He's perhaps best known for his autobiography and conversion narrative, “The Seven Storey Mountain” (1948). It's been compared to the Confessions of St. Augustine. He ends the book with the line Sit finis libri, non finis quaerendi: "Here ends the book, but not the searching."

From “The Seven Storey Mountain”:

"It is only the infinite mercy and love of God that has prevented us from tearing ourselves to pieces and destroying His entire creation long ago.People seem to think that it is in some way a proof that no merciful God exists, if we have so many wars. On the contrary, consider how in spite of centuries of sin and greed and lust and cruelty and hatred and avarice and oppression and injustice, spawned and bred by the free wills of men, the human race can still recover, each time, and can still produce man and women who overcome evil with good, hatred with love, greed with charity, lust and cruelty with sanctity."
— Writer’s Almanac / 31 January 2017

* * *

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
─Thomas Merton
“Thoughts in Solitude” (p 83)

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The good is to be done because it is good

“The good is to be done because it is good, not because it goes somewhere. I believe if it is done in that spirit it will go somewhere, but I don’t know where. I don’t think the Bible grants us to know where goodness goes, what direction, what force. I have never been seriously interested in the outcome. I was interested in trying to do it humanly and carefully and nonviolently and let it go. We have not lost everything because we lost today.” -- Dan Berrigan
The photo -- Dan's last arrest -- was taken Good Friday, 2 April 2011, at the USS intrepid, the floating war museum moored on the Hudson River.
HT: Jim Forest

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Pax



“I may be wrong about Pax, but keep feeling that through good poems and pictures, peace can travel.”
— Robert Lax to Thomas Merton, 1953

[The image above is from the third issue of Lax's broadsheet Pax, which he published sporadically from 1958 - 1962, adding three new issues in 1985. HT: Michael McGregor]

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Merton and the counterculture

"Jerusalem" by Thomas Merton
Merton to beat poet/publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti, 8/61:
“Someday I want to talk to you about effective protest as distinct from a simple display of sensitivity and goodwill. I think we have to examine the question of genuine and deep spiritual non-cooperation, non-participation, and resistance. … [Just] standing up and saying with sincerity, candor, and youthful abandon “I am against it” has the following bad effects: a) it perpetuates an illusion of free thought and free discussion, which is actually very useful to those who have long since stifled all genuine freedom in this regard, b) it flatters the [establishment] by giving them something they can contrast themselves with, to their own complacent advantage.”
Merton to Nicaraguan poet Napoleon Chow, 5/63:
“It also seems to me that the protest of the beatniks, while having a certain sincerity, is largely a delusion. … Yet this much can be said for them: their very formlessness may perhaps be something that is in their favor. It may perhaps enable them to reject most of the false solutions and deride the “square” propositions of the decadent liberalism around them. It may perhaps prepare them to go in the right directions. I think the beats have contributed much to the peace movement in the US, in their own way, and they are quite committed to the only serious revolutionary movement we have: that of rights for the Negro.”

HT: Gordon Oyer

Friday, December 16, 2016

What's Wrong with Mindfulness


"Spiritual practice is the antithesis of the “means to an end” thinking that characterizes our usual secular point of view. The radical benefit of meditation as a spiritual practice is that it offers a way to step off the treadmill of asking questions like How am I doing? Am I there yet? Am I getting better or worse? It is an alternative to a world in which everything is a technique that can be done well or badly." 
Barry and Bob Rosenbaum, editors of What’s Wrong With Mindfulness, are interviewed by Sam Mowe about their book's major themes.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Titles


Titles
By Leonard Cohen
I had the title poet. And maybe I was one for a while. 
Also, the title singer was kindly accorded me
even though I could barely carry a tune.
For many years, I was known as a monk.
I shaved my head and wore robes and got up very early.
I hated everyone. But I acted generously. And no one found me out.
My reputation as a ladies' man was a joke.
It caused me to laugh bitterly through the 10,000 nights I spent alone.
From a third-story window above the Parc du Portugal,
I've watched the snow come down all day.
As usual, there's no one here. There never is.
Mercifully, the inner conversation is canceled by the white noise of winter.
I am neither the mind, the intellect nor the silent voice within.
That's also canceled.
And now, gentle reader, in what name - in whose name -
do you come to idle with me
in this luxurious and dwindling realms of aimless privacy?
-- Book of Longing (2006)
hear him read it midway in this interview:
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5422403
* * *

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Time of Praise

Venus Transit by  Carlos Gotay

The Time of Praise: 
“Le Temps Vierge” of Eternity

“You have given me roots in eternity.” 
(Thomas Merton, Entering the Silence, page 473)

Praises and canticles anticipate
Each day the singing bells that wake the sun.
Open the secret eye of faith
And drink these deeps of invisible life.

(Thomas Merton, “After the night Office: Gethsemani Abbey, Collected Poems, page 108)

“I have only time for eternity”.

(Thomas Merton, Entering the Silence, page 234)

33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

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Saturday, October 29, 2016

Holiness is visible

Leaves and Blossoms Along the Way: A Poem
by Mary Oliver

If you're John Muir you want trees to
live among. If you're Emily, a garden
will do.
Try to find the right place for yourself.
If you can't find it, at least dream of it. 
When one is alone and lonely, the body
gladly lingers in the wind or the rain,
or splashes into the cold river, or
pushes through the ice-crusted snow. 
Anything that touches. 
God, or the gods, are invisible, quite
understandable. But holiness is visible,
entirely. 
Some words will never leave God's mouth,
no matter how hard you listen. 
In all the works of Beethoven, you will
not find a single lie.
All important ideas must include the trees,
the mountains, and the rivers. 
To understand many things you must reach out
of your own condition. 
For how many years did I wander slowly
through the forest. What wonder and
glory I would have missed had I ever been
in a hurry!
Beauty can both shout and whisper, and still
it explains nothing. 
The point is, you're you, and that's for keeps.

This poem is excerpted with permission from Mary Oliver's latest collection of poetry, Felicity, published by Penguin Press in October, 2015.