Sunday, December 24, 2006

silence, part 3 (as in silent night)

The essay in which I most perceive Merton’s thoughts on Christmas is “The Time of the End is the Time of No Room”, which is in the RAIDS ON THE UNSPEAKABLE collection. Around this time of year, there is a poem of sort that is extracted (and some say, watered down) from this essay, and passed around the various internet channels. Last year I posted it as part of a meditation on Prisoners and Christmas, showing that Christmas, itself, is a veneration of outcasts, the dispossessed and forgotten.

The essay, “The Time of the End is the Time of No Room” is a sober statement about the climate of our time, and the message of Christmas. I could quote Merton at length – his wording is so strong, precise, and clear – but I wonder what the point is. If anyone who happens to read this is truly interested in Merton’s thoughts on end times and Christmas, they should get the book and read the essay.

It would be better for me to say, in my words, what I hear Merton saying. Let it filter through my psyche and soul.

I have been exploring the nature and role of silence – in Merton’s writing and thought, and in my own reaching for a contemplative way of being in the world. The practice of silence, the essence of silence, is central to my “survival” in a world of constant noise, 24 hour news, rushing, and crowd. It is also the message of Christmas. Not a silence of detachment and evasion from the world, but a silence that responds and speaks. The Word, silently exploding upon the world.

As Merton knew in his time, I know that my own world is in a state of crisis and insanity, riddled with fear. The Time of the End. The symptoms of a world bent upon destroying itself are even more glaring now than they were in 1960. It often seems likely that some sort of Apocalyptic End will happen in my lifetime. Anytime now.

Despite all the *talk* of religion, most of it I find to be cagey and pretending. Another place to hide at best; a prop for power and war-mongering at worse.

Since I was about 6 years old, I have been out-of-step with the “Christmas spirit”. I could never understand the hoopla and cheer, and figured that there was something wrong with me.

Now I am beginning to understand that I was too close to the Inn - the massed crowd - and hypnotized and distracted by the noise. But if I move away from the Inn, and follow the shepherds out a ways, I find that there is a silence too in this world.

If I but walk out into the darkness of night and look at the sky, I can see that there is a star there for me, as well, to follow.

“And one by one the shepherds, with their snowy feet.
Stamp and shake out their hats upon the stable dirt
And one by one kneel down to look upon their Life.”
(excerpted from “A Christmas Card”, FIGURES FOR AN APOCALYPSE, Thomas Merton)
A silent Christmas to all …


  1. I can completely relate. I like the notion of generosity and goodwill, but not just one day in the year. The church thing has its place, but it makes you wonder who you're stuck in the room with during service, and what it is that brought them there...altruism? guilt? curiousity?

  2. Thoughtful meditation, Shoo foo latte! No doubt Merton would have been influenced by all the advent readings on the end times in the Holy Office, which before Vat II were even strnger than now, I believe.

    Think of what he would have done with global warming!!!!! And of course his CONFSSIONS OF A GUILTY BYSTANDER apply more than ever, under the current political circumstances.

    Do you by any chace have the piece he gave to Ferlinghatti to publish when they met in SF on his way to Asia?

    Merton loved the irony of things. He had a great sense of humour. Unfortunately I can't put my finger on any of the great fun lines from his novitiate tapes. Perhaps a thread on his humour might be in order?

    My Dad, on his death bed, told me that I take life too seriously.
    Merton would have liked the irony of that.

    As always,


  3. That's a very interesting idea, Talker, a thread on Merton's humour. I suspect I would have to dig out my cassettes of his talks to the novices, because that's where I most remember the humour. The correspondence with Lax is filled with playfulness and fun, which is the side of humour that I most sense in Merton. Hmmmm.

    I'll look up that Ferlenghetti piece when I get home.

    blessed Xmas to you, Talker.

  4. I am not sure what Merton gave Ferlinghetti when he was in SF in 1968. Are you referring to the poem "Chant to be used in processions around a site with furnaces"? Merton referred to it as "the Auschwitz poem" and it was the lead poem in Ferlinghetti's first issue of JOURNAL FOR THE PROTECTION OF ALL BEINGS. But that was in 1961. Could it be "Original Child Bomb"? Merton had censorship problems with both of these poems.

    I'll look up the later correspondence that Merton was having with Ferlinghetti.


God speaks

God speaks, and God is to be heard, not only on Sinai, not only in my own heart, but in the voice of the stranger. — Thomas Merton, Emble...