Monday, March 22, 2010

"always divided and pulled in many directions"

“When we live superficially ... we are always outside ourselves, never quite ‘with’ ourselves, always divided and pulled in many directions ... we find ourselves doing many things that we do not really want to do, saying things we do not really mean, needing things we do not really need, exhausting ourselves for what we secretly realize to be worthless and without meaning in our lives.”

-- Thomas Merton
Love and Living

Saturday, March 20, 2010

let the great world spin

Occasionally on this blog I have recommended a book because of its relation to Merton’s writings, or because of its unique contemplative perspective.  I’ve got another one: “Let The Great World Spin” by Colum McCann.  It has nothing to do with Merton other than sharing a city.

At first glance, it might seem to have little to do with contemplativeness either.   Sirens are mentioned often.  On one hand it is a simple narrative of lives entwined in the early 1970’s. Most of it takes place on one day in New York in August 1974 when Phillipe Petit (unnamed in the book) makes his tightrope walk across the World Trade Center towers, a walk that was called “the artistic crime of the 20th century.”

Here is a description from Random House:

In the dawning light of a late-summer morning, the people of lower Manhattan stand hushed, staring up in disbelief at the Twin Towers. It is August 1974, and a mysterious tightrope walker is running, dancing, leaping between the towers, suspended a quarter mile above the ground. In the streets below, a slew of ordinary lives become extraordinary in bestselling novelist Colum McCann’s stunningly intricate portrait of a city and its people.

... a dazzlingly rich vision of the pain, loveliness, mystery, and promise of New York City in the 1970s.

... A sweeping and radical social novel, Let the Great World Spin captures the spirit of America in a time of transition, extraordinary promise, and, in hindsight, heartbreaking innocence. Hailed as a “fiercely original talent” (San Francisco Chronicle), award-winning novelist McCann has delivered a triumphantly American masterpiece that awakens in us a sense of what the novel can achieve, confront, and even heal.

I don't want to say too much and spoil the discovery.  I feel more in love and more alive for having read this book. 

Monday, March 15, 2010

sheep & wolves

"In the refectory a tendentious book about Communism is being read. Communism is insidious. We should hate all that is insidious, especially this ultimate diabolical insidiousness which is Communism. If we truly hate it with all the power of our being, then we can be sure that we ourselves are, and will remain righteous, free, sincere, honest, open. Today, then (we are told) hatred of Communism is the test of a good Christian. The pledge of all truth is political hate. Hate Castro. Khrushchev. Hate Mao. All this in the same breath as "God's merciful love" and "the beatings of the Sacred Heart." There seems to be some other dimension we have not discovered....

[St. John] Chrysostom has some fine things to say about sheep and wolves in the III Nocturn of St. Barnabas' Day. "As long as we remain sheep, we overcome. Even though we may be surrounded by a thousand wolves, we overcome and are victorious. But as soon as we are wolves, we are beaten: for then we lose the support of the Shepherd, who feeds not wolves, but only sheep." (from Homily 34 on St. Matthew)"

-- Thomas Merton
Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander
p 33 of the Doubleday hardcover edition, p 44-45 of the Image
paperback edition

HP to Jim Forest

Sunday, March 7, 2010


"In silence we face and admit the gap between the depth of our being, which we consistently ignore, and the surface which is untrue to our own reality. We recognize the need to be at home with ourselves in order that we may go out to meet others, not just with a mask of affability, but with real commitment and authentic love.

That is the reason for choosing silence."

Merton, Thomas. Love & Living. Naomi Burton Stone and Br. Patrick Hart, Editors. New York: Harcourt. 1979, p. 41.

From the daily Lenten series of quotes being sent out by Vanessa Hurst at The Merton Institute.  Her selection of Merton writings is excellent.  You can subscribe to the daily emails at