Thursday, April 26, 2007

a spring morning alone in the woods

Photography by Thomas Merton

“A spring morning alone in the woods. Sunrise: the enormous yolk of energy spreading and spreading as if to take over the entire sky. After that: the ceremonies of the birds feeding in the wet grass. The meadowlark, feeding and singing. Then the quiet, totally silent, dry, sun-drenched mid-morning of spring, under the climbing sun. April is not the cruelest month. Not in Kentucky. It was hard to say Psalms. Attention would get carried away in the vast blue arc of the sky, trees, hills, grass, and all things. How absolutely central is the truth that we are first of all part of nature, though we are a very special part, that which is conscious of God. In solitude, one is entirely surrounded by beings which perfectly obey God. This leaves only one place open for me, and if I occupy that place, then I, too, am fulfilling His will. The place nature “leaves open” belongs to the conscious one, the one who is aware, who sees all this as a unity, who offers it all to God in praise, joy, thanks. To me, these are not “spiritual acts” or special virtues, but rather the simple, normal, obvious functions of man, without which it is hard to see how he can be human. Obviously, he has learned to live in another dimension, that which one may call “the world,” in the sense of a realm of man and his machines, in which each individual is closed in upon himself and his own ideas – clear or unclear – his own desires, his own concerns, and no one pays any attention to the whole. One has to be alone, under the sky, before everything falls into place and one finds his own place in the midst of it all.

It is not Christianity, far from it, that separates man from the cosmos, the world of sense and of nature. On the contrary, it is man’s own technocratic and self-centered “worldliness” which is in reality a falsification and a perversion of natural perspectives, which separates him from the reality of creation, and which enables him to act out his fantasies as a little autonomous god, seeing and judging everything in relation to himself.

We have to have the humility first of all to realize ourselves as part of nature. Denial of this results only in madness and cruelties.”
from “Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander”, pp. 294-295.

Monday, April 23, 2007

love is the epiphany of God in our poverty

"Love is the epiphany of God in our poverty. The contemplative life is then the search for peace not in an abstract exclusion of all outside reality, not in a barren negative closing of the senses upon the world, but in the openness of love. [The contemplative life] begins with the acceptance of my own self in my poverty and my nearness to despair in order to recognize that where God is there can be no despair, and God is in me even if I despair. Nothing can change God's love for me, since my very existence is the sign that God loves me and the presence of His love creates and sustains me. Nor is there any need to understand how this can be or to explain it or to solve the problems it seems to raise. For there is in our hearts and in the very ground of our being a natural certainty which is co-extensive with our very existence: a certainty that says that insofar as we exist we are penetrated through and through with the sense and reality of God even though we may be utterly unable to believe or experience this in philosophic or even religious terms. The message of hope [I offer you, then,] is not that you need to find your way through the jungle of language and problems that today surround God: but that whether you understand or not, God loves you, is present in you, lives in you, dwells in you, calls you, saves you, and offers you an understanding and light which are like nothing you have ever found in books or heard in sermons. [I have] nothing to tell you except to reassure you and say that, if you dare to penetrate your own silence and risk sharing that solitude with the lonely other who seeks God through you, then you will truly recover the light and the capacity to understand what is beyond words and beyond explanations because it is too close to be explained: it is the intimate union in the depths of you own heart, of God's spirit and your own secret inmost self, so that you and God are in all truth One Spirit. I love you, in Christ."

Thomas Merton. The Hidden Ground of Love. Letters, Volume 1. William H. Shannon, editor. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1985 : 157-158.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

the post-Christian era

“The present war crisis is something we have made entirely for and by ourselves. There is in reality not the slightest logical reason for war, and yet the whole world is plunging headlong into frightful destruction, and doing so with the purpose of avoiding war and preserving peace! This is true war-madness, an illness of the mind and the spirit that is spreading with a furious and subtle contagion all over the world. Of all the countries that are sick, America is perhaps the most grievously afflicted. On all sides we have people building bomb shelters where, in case of nuclear war, they will simply bake slowly instead of burning up quickly or being blown out of existence in a flash. And they are prepared to sit in these shelters with machine guns with which to prevent their neighbor from entering. This is a nation that claims to be fighting for religious truth along with freedom and other values of the spirit. Truly we have entered the “post-Christian era” with a vengeance. Whether we are destroyed or whether we survive, the future is awful to contemplate.”

from an article "The Root of War is Fear", published in The Catholic Worker in October, 1961

the root of war is fear

"At the root of all war is fear, not so much the fear men have of one another as the fear they have of everything. It is not merely that they do not trust one another: they do not even trust themselves. If they are not sure when someone else may turn around and kill them, they are still less sure when they may turn around and kill themselves. They cannot trust anything, because they have ceased to believe in God.

"It is not only our hatred of others that is dangerous but also and above all our hatred of ourselves: particularly that hatred of ourselves which is too deep and too powerful to be consciously faced. For it is this which makes us see our own evil in others and unable to see it in ourselves.

"When we see crime in others, we try to correct it by destroying them or at least putting them out of sight. It is easy to identify the sin with the sinner when he is someone other than our own self. …"

from "The Root of War is Fear", published in The Catholic Worker, October 1961; also Chapter 16 of New Seeds of Contemplation

Saturday, April 21, 2007

praying from the center of our true selves

"Our meditation should begin with the realization of our nothingness and helplessness in the presence of God. This need not be a mournful or discouraging experience. On the contrary, it can be deeply tranquil and joyful since it brings us in direct contact with the source of all joy and life. But one reason why our meditation never gets started is perhaps that we never make this real, serious return to the center of our own nothingness before God. Hence we never enter into the deepest reality of our relationship with him.

"In other words we meditate merely “in the mind,” or in the imagination, or at best in the desires, considering religious truths from detached objective viewpoint. We do not begin by seeking to “find the heart”, that is, to sink into a deep awareness of the ground of our identity before God and in God. “Finding our heart” and recovering the awareness of our inmost identity implies the recognition that our external, everyday self is to a great extent a mask and a fabrication. It is not our true self. And indeed our true self is not easy to find. It is hidden in obscurity and "nothingness,” the center where we are in direct dependence upon God. But since the reality of all Christian meditation depends on this recognition, our attempt to meditate without it is in fact self-contradictory. It is like trying to walk without feet."

- “Contemplative Prayer”, pp. 69-71