Saturday, July 31, 2010

the contemplative stance

"Contemplation becomes a way of life.  I don’t like to think of it so much as something I do, but something I am; so I often use the phrase “the contemplative stance.”  It’s a way of living, moving, and being in this world.  The very word means “to see.”

"I fully admit that we don’t live all of our twenty-four hours there.  The world keeps pulling us back into our false and small self.  “Put on this hat.  Attach to this identity.  Take on this hurt.  Put on this self-importance,” we say to ourselves.  It’s all right as long as we know how to take it back off again, and rather quickly, if possible.  “Who was I before I was hurt?” is your original face, your true identity in God, your own “immaculate conception.”  We must all crawl our way back to such innocence and such freedom."

- Fr. Richard Rohr OFM, Adapted from Contemplative Prayer (CD)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

what is your relationship with silence?

"As a rule, most people are afraid of silence.  That’s our major barrier to prayer and to depth.  Silence and words are related.  Words that don’t come out of silence probably don’t say much.  They probably are more an unloading than a communicating.

"Yet good words can also feed silence.  But even the word of God doesn’t bear a great deal of fruit—it doesn’t really break open the heart—unless it’s tasted and chewed, unless it’s felt and suffered and enjoyed at a level deeper than words.  If you look for the citations of Mary Magdalene in the Gospels, she acts, waits, listens, and asks, and hardly ever “says.”

"If I had to advise one thing for spiritual growth, it would be silence.

- Fr. Richard Rohr OFM

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Gerard Manley Hopkins Connection

I got this passage about Merton's conversion to Catholicism in an email today from Jim Forest.  Today is the birthday of Gerard Manley Hopkins.  I thought it was interesting, but deleted it after I read it.  Then I kept musing about it throughout the day.  Merton's conversion to Catholicism is amazing (almost miraculous) - it was while reading a biography of Hopkins that it became absolutely clear to Merton he must become a Catholic. I decided that I wanted this insight into Merton's conversion to be part of the louie collection.

An extract from “Living With Wisdom: A Biography of Thomas Merton” by Jim Forest:

... All the internal contradictions of the society in which Merton lived were converging within him. He could see that "my likes or dislikes, beliefs or disbeliefs meant absolutely nothing in the external, political order. I was just an individual, and the individual had ceased to count.... I would probably soon become a number on the list of those to be drafted. I would get a piece of metal with my number on it ... so as to help out the circulation of red-tape that would necessarily follow the disposal of my remains."

In the midst of such dark thoughts another important book landed in Merton's life, G.F. Leahy's biography of the English poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, a convert to Catholicism who later became a Jesuit priest. Merton was studying Hopkins for a doctoral thesis he never completed. Sitting in his room on West 114th Street on a wet fall day, Merton started reading a chapter that described Hopkins's journey to Catholicism while a student at Oxford in 1866.

"All of a sudden," Merton recalled, "something began to stir within me, something began to push me, to prompt me. It was a movement that spoke like a voice. ‘What are you waiting for?' it said. ‘Why are you sitting here? Why do you still hesitate? You know what you ought to do? Why don't you do it?'

"I stirred in the chair. I lit a cigarette, looked out the window at the rain, tried to shut the voice up. ‘Don't act on your impulses,' I thought. ‘This is crazy. This is not rational. Read your book.'"

He tried to press on with Hopkins's life, but the inner voice only renewed its appeal: "It's useless to hesitate any longer. Why don't you get up and go?" He read another few sentences about Hopkins's conversion, and then came his own moment of consent. "I could bear it no longer. I put down the book, and got into my raincoat, and started down the stairs. I went out into the street. I crossed over, and walked along by the gray wooden fence, towards Broadway, in the light rain. And then everything inside me began to sing."

Nine blocks away was Corpus Christi and its presbytery. As it happened, its pastor, Father Ford, was just returning.

"Father," Merton asked, "may I speak to you about something?"

"Yes, sure, come into the house."

They sat in the parlor.

"Father, I want to become a Catholic."

Father Ford gave him three books to read and arranged for Merton to return for instruction two evenings a week.

The news of his impending baptism (officially a "provisional baptism," as Merton had been baptized in a Protestant church near Prades when he was an infant) was broken to Bob Lax with a frisbee-like toss of his hat. "I remember the moment," said Lax, "because he'd never before, and never since, thrown a hat in my direction." On November 18, 1938, Merton was baptized.

"What do you ask from God's Church," Merton was asked. "Faith!" "What does faith bring you?" "Life everlasting."

Witnessing the rite of passage were four friends, three of them Jews: Bob Lax, Sy Freedgood, and Bob Gerdy. Only his godfather, Ed Rice, was Catholic.

Merton entered a confessional for the first time, worried that the young priest sitting on the other side of the partition might be shocked to hear some of the events and habits that were about to be recounted. "But one by one, species by species, as best I could, I tore out all those sins by their roots, like teeth. Some of them were hard."

Baptized and absolved, for the first time he was not only present at Mass but was able to receive communion. "Now I had entered into the everlasting movement of that gravitation which is the very life and spirit of God ... goodness without end.... He called out to me from His own immense depths."
Here is a link to the Writer's Almanac Entry today about Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

"... He is not waiting for anything. He is there."

From 1993 to 1999, two uncommon film-makers, Nicolas Humbert and Werner Penzel, spent several weeks every year with Robert Lax on Patmos where they developed a long-standing friendship with the poet and collaborated with him on several film projects.  I have no doubt that Lax, who wrote screenplays in his earlier years, was as much a part of the creative endeavor as the men who held the cameras.  A large amount of video commentary about Lax was accumulated.

There is no commentary in these films, nor is there any story.  It is just the present.

In an essay, “A Window on the Word”, Michael Philipp describes Three Windows: Hommage a Robert Lax,  a video installation produced by Humbert and Penzel after Lax's death, which attempts to approach a way of life and a philosophy with visual and aural media. 

Here are a few quotes from that essay:
"He does not hurry and bustle about, his activity is not purposeful or directed towards some end, but concentrates on what can be grasped in daily life.  He has no commission to carry out, no deadline to meet, no plan to observe.  His creative will is confined to the construction or words.  He has the equilibrium of the well-informed, the peace of experience, the composure of a man who has arrived, even when he is in a train or on a ferry.  He misses nothing.  He is not waiting for anything.  He is there."
"We see the simple life of his hermitage, the loner’s withdrawal from the world, the outsider’s retreat , monastic, Spartan, clear-cut, yet it is also a world that can be symbolically surveyed.  The symbols of everyday life, concrete, unspectacular, objective: a hat tilted at an angle on the back of the chair; a stick leaning against the door; a spoon on the table - the life of objects and life lived with those objects, the immediacy of handling them."
"Beside and in front of the symbols of the phenomena that become metaphors in the film stands the direct, the immediate and elementary: sea, house, mountain, bay - images like concepts: they show something, they explain nothing.  They show what is ordinary, just as what is said is what is meant; there are no abstractions in these images or in the text, nothing sensational, nothing didactic, no secret.  The only revelation is that life is the message, poetry is its medium, the word that was in the beginning is its element."
"The poet speaks: not to the camera, he does not need the camera.  Nor does it trouble him either, he simply ignores it.  It accompanies him - unobtrusively but intensively - not he lives without it.  The poet speaks to himself, but he does not speak of himself; he speaks of the world, his world.  He confesses to no belief, he is an observer; he does not describe, he names.  His poems are short, clear, pointed; they are polar rather than dialectical, their subtlety does not lie in synthesis; they link opposites without neutralizing them, they create relationships:
from a


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

At Thomas Merton's Hermitage

 photo by Thomas Merton

This is too good not to share.

Brian has sent a link to an article in Image Magazine, "At Thomas Merton's Hermitage".  Franciscan priest, Fr. Murray Bodo, spends 6 days in the spring of 1995 at Merton's hermitage at Gethsemani.  The recounting of his contemplative explorations in Merton's space is profoundly insightful for those who seek a more silent and solitary balance to contemporary living and who like Merton lore. 

For example, I found it intriguing to see what Merton had on his bookshelf as he left for Asia:

On the table rest a few books I’ve pulled off the shelf from the original collection Merton had here when he left for the Far East in 1968: The Portable Thoreau, The Mirror of Simple Souls by an unknown French mystic of the thirteenth century, Early Fathers from the Philokalia, Western Mysticism, The Mediaeval Mystics of England, The Flight from God by Max Picard, The Ancrene Riwle, The Book of the Poor in Spirit by a Friend of God (fourteenth century), A Guide to Rhineland Mysticism, A Treasury of Russian Spirituality, The Teaching of SS. Augustine, Gregory, and Bernard.
Or, the way the way that time alone awakens one to the simple clarity of just being alive:

"... I putter about the hermitage, make the bed, wash the breakfast dishes, sweep the porch; and something begins to order itself inside me as I order my external world. The ordering and puttering become a kind of prayer, a way of attending to the human which is a way of attending to the divine, charged as we are and the world is with the presence of God.

Domestic chores also become simply something to do. One cannot pray and meditate unendingly. There is a rhythm to life lived anywhere that calms the heart if we surrender to the necessities of the world around us and the world within."

It's just an excellent article and I'm honored to add it to this eclectic collection of contemplative writing.  This is a really good find.  Thanks, Brian!