Tuesday, March 29, 2011

mental and emotional rubbish

The greatest need of our time is to clean out the enormous mass of mental and emotional rubbish that clutters our minds and makes of all political and social life a mass illness. Without this housecleaning we cannot begin to see. Unless we see, we cannot think.

-- Thomas Merton
Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (New York: Image) p 77

This quote really hitting home today.  HT to Jim Forest for passing it on to me.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Catherine de Hueck Doherty

Photo of Catherine de Hueck Doherty by Merton, 1941
Merton first met Catherine de Hueck Doherty when she spoke at St. Bonaventure University in Olean, N.Y., in 1941. He had heard about her work in Friendship House (FH) when he lived in New York City, but he had never met her. On that very evening after hearing her talk, he was inspired to ask if he could come to Harlem. Catherine said yes. (How many others had said they wanted to come and never did!) He spent “[two] weeks of evenings,” as he put it, at Friendship House in Harlem. He met Catherine again later that same year at St. Bonaventure when she came for another talk.

The following passage is from Seven Story Mountain, where Merton is reflecting on his first encounter with Catherine:

“The Baroness was born a Russian. She had been a young girl at the time of the October Revolution. She had seen half of her family shot, she had seen priests fall under the bullets of the Reds, and she had escaped from Russia the way it is done in the movies, but with all the misery and hardship which the movies do not show, and none of the glamour which is their specialty.

“The experiences she had gone through, instead of destroying her faith, intensified and deepened it until the Holy Ghost planted fortitude in the midst of her soul like an unshakable rock. I never saw anyone so calm, so certain, so peaceful in her absolute confidence in God.

“Catherine de Hueck is a person in every way big: and the bigness is not merely physical: it comes from the Holy Ghost dwelling constantly within her, and moving her in all that she does." - Seven Story Mountain, pp. 342-343

the ferlinghetti connection, part 2

Into the Interior

by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

I am your whispered voice
your inside voice
your interior voice
your unheard voice
your unspoken voice
your unvoiced voice
your unspeakable voice
I am your heart's voice and your heartless voice
your deepest voice
under layers of living & speaking
the voice of your buried life
your invisible life
your silent life
your unknown life
your unopened life
your unrealized life
the undiscovered life that no one sees
not even your lover
not even yourself

If you will listen to me
if you will lend me the ear
of your mind
and of your bent heart
if you will heed my whisperings...
heed my whisperings...
heed my whisperings...
heed my whisperings...

* * *
-- Lawrence Ferlinghetti
How to Paint Sunlight: Lyric Poems & Others (1997-2000)   
New York: New Directions

See the ferlinghetti connection (part 1)

Sunday, March 6, 2011

a monk as a bird is a bird - Mahanambrata Brahmachari - a messenger from another world

Mahanambrata Brahmachari was a soft-spoken Hindu scholar who offered early and important intellectual encouragement to both Merton and Lax.

Robert Lax never tried to be like others.  Did he have any models?  He had the ability to learn from others.  Open, unbiased, he appears to have always discovered in others whatever it was he needed in his search for self.

Important for him was his meeting with Brahmachari, the young Hindu monk who set out on foot from Calcutta to the Ecumenical World Congress in the USA, and arrived two years late in 1938.

"A monk as a bird is a bird," Lax described him.

In complete disregard of the regulations of their hall of residence, Lax and his friend Thomas Merton put him up for several months in their rooms at Columbia University.

Brahmachari  observed American society with the eyes of a stranger, and thus unwittingly altered the way the two students saw things.  They began to question much that they had previously taken for granted.  Brahmachari's remarks were free of any sarcasm or irony; he did not evaluate, but simply noted and burst out laughing - which was simply an expression of his utter astonishment at the way he saw people living their lives there.  Dressed in a white robe, a pea-yellow shawl, a yellow turban embroidered in red with prayers, and his blue sneakers, he was a messenger from another world. The fact that Brahmachari hadn't a cent to his name and despite this didn't feel the slightest worry or care, but instead radiated a phenomenal calm, made a deep impression the the two friends Lax and Merton.  He had such a deep inner repose and acted so confidently that it seemed he had a direct link with heaven and the world lay at his feet.  His sincerity and warmth were like signs from the higher sphere.  Brahmachari was not the slightest bit bothered about politics.  Lax had the feeling, as he says, that Brahmachari was in touch with something like a timeless world in which we all exist and in which, if we were to do nothing but live a life of quietude, rectitude, and goodness, everything else would come of its own accord.  For Brahmachari, the life of the spirit was the only possible choice.  He lived in the moment, in the present moment.  Love and devotion - Brahmachari exemplified his message.  He was, as Robert Lax says, a wonderfully gentle person.  There can be no doubt that Brahmachari had a lasting influence or Robert Lax's [and Merton's] human dealings.

- Sigrid Hauff, A Line in Three Circles - The Inner Life of Robert Lax, 2007
During Brahmachari's years in the US he kept a diary, much of which has been lost.  However here is an entry he made when he first met Merton (Mr. Tom Martin) and Lax.  The rest of the diary entries can be found HERE.
New York-Wednesday, May 25. Taxi to 135 madison Avenue-the factory of Seymour's father. Leave one passage of (Shree Murti). Take bus to Columbia. Meet Seymour's roommate, Mr. Robert Lx. To Philosophy library reading Karl Marx. Meet Mr. Tom Martin. Three of us go out for lunch after waiting an hour for Seymour hoping he would come. After lunch they take me to one of their girl student friend, Dunny Eilin-her home in Panama. happy visit with her. ...
When he was in Asia, Merton made attempts to locate Brahmachari.  Brahmachari died in 1999 in Calcutta at the age of 95.  The NY Times obituary is here.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

am i supposed to wish for something?

Robert Lax, Photo by Hartmut Geerken

Lax never paid much attention to having his writings published.  During his earlier years he wondered what exactly he was supposed to do, working as a tutor, on the radio, and writing film scripts in Hollywood.  But eventually he settled into doing just what was in front of him.

what do you most 
wish for
in all this world? 

am i supposed
to wish
for something?

- Lax, episodes Pendo/Verlag 1983, p. 69

whatever you have 
to say
will get itself

don't worry

who worries?

that's all i'm

-Lax, journal A, Pendo/Verlag, 1986 p. 36

Thursday, March 3, 2011

we are wanderers

(Robert Lax hands) Photo by Hartmut Geerken

For we are all wanderers in the
earth, and pilgrims.  We have no
permanent habitat here.  The migration
of people for foraging & exploiting can
become, with grace, in (latter days)
a traveling circus.  Our tabernacle must
in its nature be a temporary tabernacle.

We are wanderers in the earth, but
only a few of us in each generation
have discovered the life of charity, the
living from day to day, receiving
our gifts gratefully through grace,
and rendering them, multiplied
through grace, to the giver.

-- Robert Lax, mogador's book 1992 68/70