Thursday, March 15, 2007

the sense of the holy

Brush drawing by Thomas Merton, 1964, "Untitled"
(image size: 5" h x 4 1/2" w)


March 18, 1960. The sense of the Holy, that lays one low, as in Isaias. To read Hallaj makes one lament and beat his breast. Where has it gone, this sense of the sacred, this awareness of the Holy? What has happened to us? … Is there no one left to wrestle with the angel, like Jacob and … Hallaj? (Witness to Freedom, p .276 note: Merton was reading Louis Massignon’s French translation (1957) of writings by Husayn ibn Mansur al-Hallaj, the celebrated Sufi mystic and martyr.)

December 9, 1964. The only response is to go out from yourself with all that one is, which is nothing, and pour out that nothingness in gratitude that God is who He is. All speech is impertinent, it destroys the simplicity of that nothingness before God by making it seems as if it had been “something”. (Dancing in the Water of Life, p. 178)


Notes from Roger Lipsey:
“This image must be counted among Merton’s masterpieces. Not even remotely entertaining, it breathes the spirit of what Miguel de Unamuno memorably called the tragic sense of life. … yet another transformation of the traditional Zen enso, [this image] is one of [Merton's] strongest emblems, though it does not give its secret away. Dark and heavy on the right, open and spacious on the left, it reports some enigmatic perception of what we are or the larger design of things. The pattern is circular, but the eye soon enough registers a subtle horizontal flow across the circle (from Merton’s humble grass stems, here serving as a lattice like mask in the printmaking process). This is a message-bearing enso, however difficult the message may be to put in words; it is full of darkly sparkling life. It must have surprised Merton as much as it surprises us: there are textures he could surely not have predicted. Chance and providence cooperated well.”

3 comments:

  1. I keep finding myself wishing that Merton had titled them, thinking that it would help me understand him more. But then I think, that would be the easy way out, spiritually. I imagine we're supposed to reach a point where we recognize them...

    ReplyDelete
  2. There is something familiar about them though, don't you think? Just can't quite put my finger on it, or wrap my mind around it ... :-)

    Merton was dead set against giving titles to his caligraphies. He felt strongly that they should not be tied down by verbal associations of any kind.

    ReplyDelete
  3. There is something familiar about them though, don't you think? Just can't quite put my finger on it, or wrap my mind around it ... :-)

    Merton was dead set against giving titles to his caligraphies. He felt strongly that they should not be tied down by verbal associations of any kind.

    ReplyDelete

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