Friday, June 29, 2007

the daniel berrigan connection (part 2)

Several years ago someone gave me the record album, “America is hard to find”, pictured here. The cellophane is still around the record (though torn), and I have never bothered to open it since I don’t have a record player anymore. The recording is of a rock Mass, with poetry by Daniel Berrigan, held in Ithaca NY from February 27-March 2, 1970.

I keep the record as a memento of the time of Vatican 2 and the Vietnam war, the 1960’s and early 70’s. The energies of both of these events were intertwined for me. At the University of Dayton (a Catholic college) we had little group Masses in the lobby of my dormitory that were a far cry from the rigid rituals of my childhood. Daniel Berrigan and his brother Phil, both Jesuit priests, were risking arrest by speaking publicly against an American war. I felt much hope – for my Church and for my country.

In November of 1964, at Merton’s invitation, a religiously mixed group (Catholic and Protestant) arrived at Gethsemani for a meeting on violence and non-violence. The retreat was titled, “Spiritual Roots of Protest”. Among those who came were J.H. Yoder, Jim Forest, A.J. Muste, and Dan and Phil Berrigan, and Elbert Jean (Methodist).

The meeting was helpful in providing Merton with information on what was going on outside the monastery, and providing him with new friends. Merton gave a talk: “The Monastic Protest: The Voice in the Wilderness”, and quoted extensively from Franz Jägerstätter.

Merton was somewhat stunned by the uncanonical Mass that Dan Berrigan said entirely in English in the novitiate chapel, calling it “way out” yet “simple and impressive”. It was the first time he had seen communion given in both species and to both Catholics and Protestants.

A couple of years later (October 1966) Merton would concelebrate again with Dan. He comments in his journal:

Dan Berrigan arrived by surprise Tuesday – I was not expecting him until the end of the week. We concelebrated twice – once in the regular present rite, and today, with a new Mass he found somewhere which is very fine and simple. I don’t know how legal we were. It was a very moving simple English text (Canon and all). I think it was composed by Anglicans and has been used by them. Contrast to the Mass I said for Jacques [Maritain], old style, last week. That was very sober, austere, solemn, intense. This very open, simple, even casual, but very moving and real. Somehow I think the new is really better – and is far from anything we will be permitted here for a long time. I have nothing against the old. (Learning to Love, p. 149)
... to be continued ...

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

the daniel berrigan connection (part 1)

Merton, Dan Berrigan center, Phil Berrigan right

It was as a poet that Merton first noticed and admired the young Jesuit priest at Cornell University, Daniel Berrigan. He and Merton had been exchanging ideas. Reviewing New Seeds of Contemplation for America magazine, Berrigan wrote of Merton:
“I like it very much, especially the New Merton who is more involved and more human.”
Berrigan visited Merton at Gethsemani in August 1961 and Merton wrote in his journal:

“Father Dan Berrigan, an altogether winning and warm intelligence, with a perfect zeal, compassion and understanding. This, certainly, is the spirit of the church. This is a hope I can believe in, at least in its validity and its spirit.”
And thus began their strong friendship. Merton and Berrigan were, in many ways, like a Martha and a Mary, each one supporting and inspiring and clearly admiring the other. They exchanged thoughts about the church, religious life, the peace movement, the civil rights movement, poetry, the Vietnam war, and the predicament of being “silenced” (in Merton’s case) or “exiled” (in Berrigan’s case).

Berrigan consulted Merton as his mentor – he wanted to know Merton’s thoughts and opinion on civil disobedience, church disobedience. On occasion he invited Merton to “do” something, like send a cable to the Pope asking him to condemn the Vietnam war, or join an ecumenical clergy group encouraging young men to burn their draft cards. Could Merton suggest materials that he could use in a course he was teaching on nonviolence at Cornell.

Merton confided to Berrigan his doubts about his own role in the peace movement. He concluded that he was to stay out of the lecture circuit and campus appearances, but to speak as he could through his writings. In counseling Berrigan’s work for justice and peace, Merton urged clear thinking, analysis of motivation, and a look at the “long haul".
... to be continued...
See also:

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

the sanctuary of another's subjectivity

This week's reflection from The Merton Institute really speaks to me, so I am adding it to this collection.

"All through the Verba Seniorum [The Sayings of the Desert Fathers] we find a repeated insistence on the primacy of love over everything else in the spiritual life: over knowledge, gnosis, asceticism, contemplation, solitude, prayer. Love in fact is the spiritual life, and without it all the other exercises of the spirit, however lofty, are emptied of content and become mere illusions. The more lofty they are, the more dangerous the illusion.

Love, of course, means something much more then mere sentiment, much more than token favors and perfunctory almsdeeds. Love mean an interior and spiritual identification with one's neighbor, so that she is not regarded as an "object" to "which" one "does good." The fact is that good done to another as an object is of little or no spiritual value. Love takes one's neighbor as one's other self, and loves him with all the immense humility and discretion and reserve and reverence without which no one can presume to enter into the sanctuary of another's subjectivity. From such love all authoritarian brutality, all exploitation, domineering and condescension must necessarily be absent. The saints of the desert were enemies of every subtle or gross expedient by which "the spiritual man" contrives to bully those he thinks inferior to himself, thus gratifying his own ego. They had renounced everything that savored of punishment and revenge, however hidden it might be."

Thomas Merton. The Wisdom of the Desert. New York: New Directions Press, 1960: 17-18.

Thought to Remember

"Love demands a complete inner transformation-for without this we cannot possibly come to identify ourselves with our brother [and sister]. We have to become, in some sense, the person we love."

The Wisdom of the Desert: 18

Sunday, June 24, 2007

the louis "hawk" rogers connection

Photo by Bryan Sherwood

Bryan Sherwood sent me this photo today. We had been talking about restaurants in Bardstown and I recommended Colonel Hawk’s to him. So Bryan, who makes frequent trips to Gethsemani, found it – I had only given him sketchy directions (S. 4th Street) – and he took some photos.

There are only 2 places (other than Dr’s offices and the hospital) that I know Merton visited in Bardstown: the home of Thompson Willett and Hawk’s.

“It looks pretty run-down, do you think this is it?” Bryan asked. Tell you the truth, I don’t remember ever being at Hawk’s except at night, so I never was really sure what it looked like from the outside, but it was not a "fancy" place when I knew it the 50’s and 60’s. We would call ahead and then go as a big group. It always felt like a “secret” place. Special. And the best food in town.

My guess is that Merton came to know Hawk through his friendship with Thompson Willett, a local Catholic businessman (distillery owner).

On the night that Martin Luther King died, Merton went to the restaurant to be with his local Negro friends, Colonel Hawk and his daughter, Beatrice Rogers. Merton writes in his journal:
Hawk with his arm around me saying, “This is my BOY, this is my FRIEND.” … I could cry.” (“The Other Side of the Mountain”, p. 78)

Louis “Hawk” Rogers had worked in Washington DC as a cook, butler, chauffeur, and house manager for politicians. In 1941 he returned to his native Bardstown and built a small, concrete block dinner club. For almost 25 years the restaurant was prohibited by law from serving both black and white customers. It was a black owned public restaurant with a white-only clientele. Even though America Rogers, Hawk’s wife, could cook on the wood stove in the kitchen and Hawk could wait tables, they could not legally sit down and eat in their own restaurant.

The barriers were removed in the early 1960’s and the restaurant continued to thrive. I am not sure if it is still operational, it’s hard to tell from the photo. The last time I was there was probably in about the mid 1980’s. Colonel Hawk was alive and the walls were decorated with photos of Merton.

Baptist minister, Will Campbell, claims that he was Merton’s close friend and they would slip away from Gethsemane to “enjoy country music and go to places like Colonel Hawk’s on the backside of Bardstown, Ky., and enjoy lamb fries and illegal whiskey in the back room.”

Friday, June 22, 2007

apologies to an unbeliever

There are two more things to I want say about the friendship of Thomas Merton and Victor Hammer before moving on.

As I said in the comments of “more a monk than anyone I know”, Victor and Merton expressed themselves in different ways, artistically, and had difficulty appreciating the style of the other.

Victor Hammer was classical and refused to be carried away by contemporary fashion. Merton’s art was abstract, different.

Merton was especially sensitive to how Victor would react to his art when it was exhibited in Louisville, and he did not invite the Hammers to a private viewing that was held for special friends. The only comment Victor gave Merton about the calligraphies was: "It is a mad world we live in and I am afraid you are not fully aware of it with the things you draw as an artist. Or are you?"

Yet the extreme graciousness with which these friends carried their differences within a context of the highest respect and unlimited love for each other is remarkable. Merton treasured Victor's friendship and visits, which were reassuring and stabilizing: “We belonged together”. (Learning to Love, p.270)

The other is that Victor Hammer was what some people call an “unbeliever”. Though he was Catholic by birth, he distrusted the Church and no longer practiced his faith within the context of Church. He died in July 1967, refusing the Sacraments.

Merton referred to Victor as “a very believing ‘unbeliever’” – one whose distrust of Church is part of a deeper belief - and it was compassion for him, in part, that prompted the essay “Apology for an Unbeliever”. Here is an excerpt from that essay:

"At this point I am making a public renunciation, in my own name at least, of all tactical, clerical, apologetic designs upon the sincerity of your unbelief. . . I think this apology is demanded by the respect I have for my own faith. If I, as a Christian, believe that my first duty is to love and respect my fellow in his personal frailty and perplexity, in his own unique hazard and need for trust, then I think that the refusal to let him alone, to entrust him to God and his conscience, and the insistence on rejecting them as persons until they agree with me, is simply a sign that my own faith is inadequate.

"My own peculiar task in my Church and in my world has been that of the solitary explorer who, instead of jumping on all the latest bandwagons at once, is bound to search the existential depths of faith in its silences, its ambiguities, and in those certainties which lie deeper than the bottom of anxiety. In these depths there are no easy answers, no pat solutions to anything. It is a kind of submarine life in which faith sometimes mysteriously takes on the aspect of doubt, when, in fact, one has to doubt and reject conventional and superstitious surrogates that have taken the place of faith. On this level, the division between believer and unbeliever ceases to be so crystal clear. It is not that some are all right and others all wrong: all are bound to seek in honest perplexity. Everybody is an unbeliever more or less."
- From "Apologies to an Unbeliever" by Thomas Merton

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Victor Hammer - "more of a monk than anybody I know"

Victor and Carolyn Hammer at the Stamperia del Santuccio in Lexington, KY, ca. 1960.

Victor Hammer was a traditional artist-craftsman from the old school. Born in Vienna, he revered dexterity, apprenticeship, recipes passed down through generations of studio work. When the Nazis annexed Austria, he came to the United States, eventually becoming an artist-in-residence at Transylvania College in Lexington, KY. There he re-established a printmaking art known as the Stamperia del Santuccio, a name he had used while making books in Florence. Designing many of his own typefaces and cutting by hand, he was able to print some of the most beautiful books one will ever see.

Merton and Victor began working together in 1958, and the bond between them could not have been stronger. In 1960 he published an edition of Merton's much-appreciated poem, Hagia Sophia, the female figure of Holy Wisdom. Victor had painted her image without knowing who it was he was painting.

Of Victor, Merton wrote in his journal:

"Victor is more of a monk than anybody I know because he is rooted in his own solitude, his integrity and his work which receives no publicity. And he does not rebel uselessly, he is content, yet maintains his true honor in simplicity. There's therefore in him a humility and honor together, a kind of monastic silence. Not a passive self-effacement but a quietness that speaks to anyone who can listen, for it is full of honest reality."
- Turning Toward the World, p. 69

merton on merton art: "inconsequent", "firmly alien to the program"

Thomas Merton showing his drawings to Martha Schuman. July 14, 1967, Gethsemani. Photographer unknown.

Roger Lipsey’s book, “Angelic Mistakes, The Art of Thomas Merton” is one of the most comprehensive “about Merton” books that I’ve come across. Lipsey, an artist himself, has unique insights into Merton’s personality and art. He includes refreshingly original commentary on the subjects and people who influenced Merton and his work.

A comment to the considerable dance post asks about others who might have written on Merton’s artistic works. Other than the books about Merton's photography, I am not aware of any other work that specifically discusses Merton's artistic endeavors. However I think that comments from Merton himself shed some light. Merton insisted that words and meaning not be applied to his art. And though he reluctantly supplied titles for the work that was exhibited at a Louisville college in 1964, he encouraged the viewer to look at them without judgement.

“Here is a collection of shapes, powers, flying beasts, cave animals, bloodstains, angelic mistakes, etc., that can perhaps have some visual effect on the local bisons. I suggest selling them for around ten bucks apiece …”
- Thomas Merton in a letter to Jim Forest, 1966

“These abstractions – one might almost call them graffiti rather than calligraphies – are simple signs and ciphers of energy, acts or movements intended to be propitious. Their “meaning” is not to be sought on the level of convention or of concept. These are not conventional signs as are words, numbers, hieroglyphs, or symbols. …”

“… they came to life when they did, in the form of reconciliations, as expressions of unique and unconscious harmonies appropriate to their own moment though not confined to it. But they do not register a past and personal experience, nor attempt to indicate playfully the passage of a special kind of artist, like footsteps in the snow.”

“In a world cluttered and programmed with an infinity of practical signs and consequential digits referring to business, law, government and war, one who makes such nondescript marks as these is conscious of a special vocation to be inconsequent, to be outside the sequence and to remain firmly alien to the program.”

“In effect these writings are decidedly hopeful in their own way in so far as they stand outside all processes of production, marketing, consumption and destruction, which does not however mean that they cannot be bought. Nevertheless it is clear that these are not legal marks. Nor are they illegal marks, since as far as law is concerned they are perfectly inconsequent. It is this and this alone which gives them a Christian character (Galatians 6), since they obviously do not fit into any familiar setting of religious symbolisms, liturgical or otherwise. But one must perhaps ask himself whether it has not now become timely for a Christian who makes a sign or mark of some sort to feel free about it, and not consider himself rigidly predetermined to a system of glyphs that have a long cultural standing and are fully consequential, even to the point of seeming entirely relevant in the world of business, law, government, and war.”

From Signatures: Notes on the Author’s Drawings, which accompanied a 1964 exhibition at Catherine Spalding College in Louisville.

"Do you know of some group, club, clique, cell or cultural enclave that would dare to associate its name with these drawings?"

-Thomas Merton in a letter to Ethel Kennedy, 1965

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

an enemy of the state

On June 1, Pope Benedict XVI approved a series of decrees, issued by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, that attributed martyrdom to Franz Jägerstätter, a husband and father of three who was beheaded on August 9, 1943, for refusing any collaboration with the Nazis.

Jägerstätter left behind a widow and 3 small daughters. Both his priest and his bishop had urged him to give up his conscientious objection, and join the army. His sacrifice was uniformly regarded as foolish by his neighbors, and his story was known to but a handful of people for almost 2 decades.

In the early 1960’s, an American intellectual, Gordon Zahn was researching the Catholic response to Hitler and came across the story of Jägerstätter. He wrote a book: In Solitary Witness.

But for this book, we would not know the story of Franz Jägerstätter, who is now a candidate for beatification.

The book came to Merton’s attention, and he wrote an essay, “An Enemy of the State”, commenting on Jägerstätter’s life, conscientious objection, and the role of religion in military matters and war. Jägerstätter’s own bishop had judged his conscience to be “in error”, but “in good faith”, and that the priests and seminarians who died in Hitler's armies “firm in the conviction that they were following the will of God” to be following “a clear and correct conscience.”

Merton, while conceding that whose conscience was erroneous and whose was correct could ultimately only be decided by God, says that the real question raised by the Jägerstätter story is not merely that of the individual Catholic’s right to conscientious objection but the question of the Church’s own mission of protest and prophecy in the gravest spiritual crisis man has ever known.

Merton’s essay includes an impressive meditation from Franz Jägerstätter in which he intuits that his refusal to fight is not a private matter, but concerns the historical predicament of the Catholic Church in the 20th century:

“The situation in which we Christians of Germany find ourselves today is much more bewildering than that faced by the Christians of the early centuries at the time of their bloodiest persecution … We are not dealing with a small matter, but the great (apocalyptic) life and death struggle has already begun. Yet in the midst of it there are many who still go on living their lives as though nothing had changed … That we Catholics must make ourselves told of the worst and most dangerous anti-Christian power that has ever existed is something that I cannot and never will believe … Many actually believe quite simply that things have to be the way they are. If this should happen to mean that they are obliged to commit injustice, then they believe that others are responsible. … I am convinced that it is still best that I speak the truth even though it costs me my life. For you will not find it written in any of the commandments of God or of the Church that a man is obliged under pain of sin to take an oath committing him to obey whatever might be commanded him by his secular ruler. We need no rifles or pistols for our batte, but instead spiritual weapons, - and the foremost of these is prayer.”
[“Franziska and Franz Jägerstätter” is a wonderful essay by John Dear, recounting his meeting with Franziska Jägerstätter (Franz’s widow) in 1997. It is online here.]

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

two wise kids (lax)

two wise kids came by the other day: one from the west, and one from ethiopia: john (the west) & theodore – who’s partly greek, but born in ethiopia & looks like the princely son of haile salassie.

they stopped at the typing house and read the scrolls of poems I had there: theodore read most, saying he didn’t like poetry usually but did like these & saw what i’d meant when i’d said the day before that I was working on a new kind. both boys (they’re 27 & 24) said that even then they’d pictured something like this they now saw. i asked theodore if he got tired reading & he said no – the rhythm mostly, but also the simple and natural words (words referring to the natural scene) & the repetitions kept him going. said something like this takes place in african music: that the important thing for a drummer or dancer, for example (singer too), is to get to the very center of the rhythm, center of the beat, “the nerve,” said theodore, of the rhythm: to find that first: to start from it as a base, and from it all other things, even very elaborate things, develop.

which sounded like african music, like hindu music too, but also like bach.

Robert Lax, "Love Had A Compass", p. 205

or like prayer ...

Monday, June 4, 2007

the maritain connection

Jacques Maritain at Gethsemani, October 7, 1966. Photograph by Thomas Merton

Jacques Maritain was a key intellectual and humanist in the 20th century Catholic Church. Together with another French scholar, Etienne Gilson, he revived and re-interpreted the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas. As an author, Maritain’s scope was wide – works on the theory of knowledge and phases of religious philosophy, studies on the just society and human rights, and works co-authored with his wife, Raissa, on contemplative prayer and the inner dimensions of Christian life.

Thomas Merton and Jacques Maritain met just twice: in 1939 during an early stage of Merton’s conversion, and again in the fall of 1966 when Merton invited Maritain to spend a few days at Gethsemani.

They were both French. Merton felt Maritain responsible for his conversion (he “sang him” into the Church), and they had been corresponding regularly since 1949. Jacques Maritain and Suzuki, the Buddhist, were the two religious elders whom Merton offered unconditional regard.

Their relationship became especially warm and strong during the 1960’s – the years after Raissa’s death. Merton felt great affinity with Raissa’s dedication to contemplative prayer. He helped to make Raissa’s journal available to a wider audience, and translated and published some of her poetry.

Maritain’s book Art and Scholarship, which was first written in 1920, was a master reference text for Merton. Maritain introduces and returns, again and again, to the notion of “creative intuition”. In his notes from that book, Merton writes under the heading of “Art and Kairos – art and the moment of great, life-giving insight”:

“In the end, all the rules having become connatural to him, the artist seemingly has no other rule than to espouse at each moment the living contour of a unique and dominating emotion that will never recur.” – from Art and Scholasticism and The Frontiers of Poetry, by Jacques Maritain, p. 48.

Maritain sung Merton into the Church, and then was able to show him how to find, in traditional Catholic thought, the basis for freedom he had discovered through his explorations of Zen Buddhism.
See also:
"life in its totality" - an addendum to the Maritain visit

interpersonal love & society

This week's reflection from The Merton Institute:
"The progress of the person and the progress of society go together. Our modern world cannot attain to peace, and to a fully equitable social order, merely by the application of laws which act upon humanity, so to speak, from outside ourselves. The transformation of society begins within the person. It begins with the maturing and opening out of personal freedom in relation to other freedoms-in relation to the rest of society. The Christian "giving" that is required of us is a full and intelligent participation in the life of our world, not only on a basis of natural law, but also in the communion and reconciliation of interpersonal love. This means a capacity to be open to others as persons, to desire for others all that we know to be needful for ourselves, all this is required for the full growth and even temporal happiness of a fully personal existence."

Thomas Merton. Love and Living. Naomi Burton Stone and Brother Patrick Hart, editors. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1979: 155.

Thought to Remember

"How does Man attain to a real union of love with his neighbor? Not merely by abstract agreement about truths concerning the end of all things and the afterlife, but by a realistic collaboration in the work of daily living in the world of hard facts in which everyone must work in order to eat."

Thomas Merton. Love and Living. Naomi Burton Stone and Brother Patrick Hart, editors. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1979: 143.

Friday, June 1, 2007

considerable dance

"Considerable Dance", brush drawing by Thomas Merton

"The Lord plays and diverts Himself in the garden of His creation, and if we could let go of our own obsession with what we think is the meaning of it all, we might be able to hear His call and follow Him in His mysterious, cosmic dance. We do not have to go very far to catch echoes of that game, of that dancing. When we are alone on a starlit night; when by chance we see the migrating birds in autumn descending on a grove of junipers to rest and eat; when we see children in a moment when they are really children; when we know love in our own hearts; or when, like the Japanese poet Basho, we hear an old frog land in a quiet pond with a solitary splash – at such times the awakening, the turning inside out of all values, the “newness,” the emptiness and the purity of vision that make themselves evident, provide a glimpse of the cosmic dance.

"For the world and time are the dance of the Lord in emptiness … No despair of ours can alter the reality of things, or stain the joy of the cosmic dance which is always here. Indeed, we are in the midst of it, and it is in the midst of us, for it beats in our very blood, whether we want it to or not.

"Yet the fact remains that we are invited to forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnity to the winds and join in the general dance. "


Lipsey’s comments on this drawing:

“ …Considerable Dance seems to me without secrets … designed and sophisticated: an armature of mostly diagonal brushstrokes creates a tilted platform for dancing curved strokes that set the image into joyful motion … [the] message is no more and no less than shared joy …”
(Angelic Mistakes, The Art of Thomas Merton, by Roger Lipsey, p. 46)