Monday, September 28, 2009

the shadows serve You ...

Photo by Thomas Merton
Winter view of fields and distant hills

The things of Time are in connivance with eternity. The shadows serve You. The beasts sing to You before they pass away. The solid hills shall vanish like a worn out garment. All things change and die and disappear. Questions arrive, assume their actuality, and disappear. In this hour I shall cease to ask them and silence shall be my answer. The world that Your love created, that the heat has distorted, that my mind is always misinterpreting, shall cease to interfere with our voices.

-- Thomas Merton, quoted in Dialogues with Silence, edited by Jonathan Montaldo, originally from the Sign of Jonas

HT: barefoot toward the Light

Thursday, September 24, 2009

the smokescreen of words

the smokescreen of words

“We put words between ourselves and things. Even God has become another conceptual unreality in no-man’s land of language that no longer serves as a means of communion with reality.

“The solitary life, being silent, clears away the smoke-screen of words that man has lad down between his mind and things. In solitude we remain face to face with the naked being of things. And yet we find that the nakedness of reality which we have feared, is neither a matter of terror nor for shame. It is clothed in the friendly communion of silence, and this silence is love. The world our words have attempted to classify, to control and even to despise (because they could not contain it) comes close to us, for silence teaches us to know reality by respecting it where words have defiled it.”

- Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude, pp. 92-93

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Franz Jägerstätter: Letters and Writings from Prison

The following excerpts are from Anna Brown’s review of the book, Franz Jägerstätter: Letters and Writings from Prison:

Reading Franz Jägerstätter's Letters and Writings from Prison, I discovered, was the literary equivalent of walking into a burning building. I, like the Catholic prelates and Austrian officials, wanted to flee while my hide was still intact. At other points in my reading, however, tears would flow down my face as I found it harder and harder to turn away from the truth of his insight and actions. ...

In an essay that he wrote in 1942, "On Today's Issue: Catholic or National Socialist," Franz Jägerstätter recalls a dream that he had ...

"I saw [in a dream] a wonderful train as it came around a mountain. With little regard for the adults, children flowed to this train and were not held back. There were present a few adults who did not go into the area. I do not want to give their names or describe them. Then a voice said to me, This train is going to hell.' Immediately, it happened that someone took my hand, and the same voice said to me; 'Now we are going to purgatory.' What I glimpsed and perceived was fearful. If this voice had not told me that we were going to purgatory, I would have judged that I had found myself in hell."

For Franz Jägerstätter, the train symbolizes National Socialism with all of its sub-organizations and programs (the National Socialist Public Assistance Program, Hitler Youth, etc). As he puts it, "the train represents the National Socialist Volk community and everything for which it struggles and sacrifices." He remembers that just prior to having this dream, he had read that 150,000 young Austrian people had joined Hitler Youth. He recounts, sadly, that the Christians of Austria had never donated as much money to charitable organizations as they now donated to Nazi party organizations. He realized that it wasn't really the money that the Nazis were after, it was the souls of the Austrian people: You were either with the Fuhrer or you were nothing. Upon this realization, Franz Jägerstätter writes, "I would like to cry out to the people aboard the National Socialism train: 'Jump off this train before it arrives at your last stop where you will pay with your life!'"

His admonition to "jump off the train" is one that must be heard and acted upon, perhaps never more so than today. In his recent meditation on Franz Jägerstätter's life, Father Daniel Berrigan urges that we not become complacent in these "post-Hitler" times: 'To speak of today; it is no longer Hitler's death train we ride, the train of the living dead. Or is it? The same train. Only, if possible (it is possible) longer, faster, cheaper. On schedule, every hour on the hour, speedy and cheap and unimaginably lethal. An image of life in the world. A ghost train still bound, mad as March weather, for hell. On earth… Despite all fantasies and homilies and 'States of the Union' urging the contrary. Today, a world of normalized violence, a world of standoff, of bunkers and missiles nose to nose, a world of subhuman superpowers and the easy riders. The train beats its way across the world, crowded with contented passenger-citizen-Christians."
More information about Franz Jägerstätter is here and here.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Moonlight is in this prayer, stillness ...

Some great quotes and Merton insight from Jim Forest (thanks, Jim). I had never before seen those words from the Sign of Jonas. They may very well be my favorite of all of the Merton words. Take your time reading them.

from Jim:

A day or two ago I sent out to my Merton list this short passage from St. Gregory of Sinai:

Become what you are.
Find Him who is already yours.
Listen to Him who never ceases speaking to you.
Own Him who already owns you.

* * *

This reminded me of some of Merton's writings, for example these three:

* * *

As for this finding of God, we cannot even look for Him unless we have already found Him, and we cannot find Him unless He has first found us. We cannot begin to seek Him without a special gift of His grace; yet if we wait for grace to move us before beginning to seek Him, we will probably never begin.

-- Thomas Merton
No Man is an Island [1955]

* * *

In one sense we are always traveling, and traveling as if we did not know where we were going. In another sense we have already arrived. We cannot arrive at the perfect possession of God in this life, and that is why we are traveling and in darkness. But we already possess Him by grace, and therefore, in that sense, we have arrived and are dwelling in the light. But oh! How far have I to go to find You in Whom I have already arrived!

-- Thomas Merton
The Seven Storey Mountain
New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1948, p 419

* * *

And last of all there is this, partly as summarized in my Merton biography, “Living With Wisdom”:

Sitting on a cedar log under a tree in February 1952, gazing out at light blue hills in the distance, Merton saw his true self as a kind of sea creature dwelling in a water cavern which knows of the world of dry land only by faint rumor. When he got free of plans and projects — the first level of the sea with its troubled surface — then he lived
in the second level, in the deep waters out of reach of storms, where there was “peace, peace, peace.... We pray therein, slightly waving among the fish.... Words, as I think, do not spring from this second level. They are only meant to drown there. The question of socialization does not concern these waters. They are nobody’s property.... No questions whatever perturb their holy botany. Neutral territory. No man’s sea. I think God meant me to write about this second level.”

Still deeper down Merton was aware of a third level,

>> swimming in the rich darkness which is no longer thick like water but pure, like air. Starlight, and you do not know where it is coming from. Moonlight is in this prayer, stillness, waiting for the Redeemer.... Everything is charged with intelligence, though all is night. There is no speculation here. There is vigilance... Everything is spirit. Here God is adored, His coming is recognized, He is received as soon as He is expected and because He is expected He is received, but He has passed by sooner than He arrived, He was gone before He came. He returned forever. He never yet passed by and already He had disappeared for all eternity. He is and He is not. Everything and Nothing. Not light not dark, not high not low, not this side not that side. Forever and forever. In the wind of His passing the angels cry, “The Holy One is gone.” Therefore I lie dead in the air of their wings.... It is a strange awakening to find the sky inside you and beneath you and above you and all around you so that your spirit is one with the sky, and all is positive night.” ,,

– Thomas Merton
Sign of Jonas, pp 138-9

Friday, September 11, 2009

In the ruins of New York

Oh how quiet it is after the black night
When flames out of the clouds burned down your cariated teeth,
And when those lightnings,
Lancing the black boils of Harlem and the Bronx,
Spilled the remaining prisoners,
(The tens and twenties of the living)
Into the trees of Jersey,
To the green farms, to find their liberty.

How are they down, how have they fallen down
Those great strong towers of ice and steel,
And melted by what terror and what miracle?
What fires and lights tore down,
With the white anger of their sudden accusation,
Those towers of silver and of steel?

From Figures For An Apocalypse, VI - In the Ruins of New York (1947) by Thomas Merton

HT to Fr. Z.

Interesting that this poem was written before the World Trade Towers were even built! The North Tower was completed in 1970, and the South Tower in 1971 - both after Merton had died.

The prayer life of a flexible instrument

There are these “drawings” that Merton left behind. Not “drawings of” anything. They remind me of the images that come back to us from the Hubble telescope. Outer space. Are these inner space?

Roger Lipsey says that Merton inked grass and then pulled the prints directly from the grass. On this one he probably layered brushwork with a dense lattice of inked grass stems, which functioned as a kind of stencil. Merton must have been pleased “to create such fragile, temporary patterns of grass. That nearly empty, luminous drifts of energy or matter appeared in prints derived from these fragile setups must have been a shock”.
(“Angelic Mistakes, The Art of Thomas Merton”, by Roger Lipsey, p. 53)

April 3, 1965. “ To be a flexible instrument in the hand of God is a great and sometimes terrible vocation ... We are all in some way instruments. And we all have to be virtuosos at taking a back seat when necessary. Way back. The prayer life of a flexible instrument cannot be well ordered. It has to be terribly free. And utterly responsive to a darkly, dimly understood command.”
("The School of Charity" p. 271)

October, 1968. “You have to see your will and God’s will dualistically for a long time. You have to experience duality for a long time until you see it’s not there. In this respect I am a Hindu. Ramakrishna has the solution. Don’t consider dualistic prayer on a lower level. The lower is higher. There are no levels. Any moment you can break through to the underlying unity which is God’s gift in Christ. In the end, Praise praises. Thanksgiving gives thanks. Jesus prays. Openness is all.”
(David Steindl-Rast, citing Merton in conversation, in "Thomas Merton, Monk: A Monastic Tribute", p. 89)