Friday, April 6, 2012

from the darkness comes light

 brush drawing by Thomas Merton
(image size: 8 1/2" h x 5" w, on gray card)
The monk who is truly a man of prayer and who seriously faces the challenge of his vocation in all its depth is by that very fact exposed to existential dread. He experiences in himself the emptiness, the lack of authenticity, the quest for fidelity, the “lostness” of modern man. … The monk confronts his own humanity and that of his world at the deepest and most central point where the void seems to open out into black despair. The monk confronts this serious possibility, and rejects it … The option of absolute despair is turned into perfect hope by the pure and humble supplication of monastic prayer. The monk faces the worst, and discovers in it the hope of the best. From the darkness comes light. From death, life. From the abyss there comes, unaccountably, the mysterious gift of the Spirit sent by God to make all things new, to transform the created and redeemed world, and to re-establish all things in Christ. (The Climate of Monastic Prayer, p. 25)

Notes from Roger Lipsey:
“ … the Celtic cross reflects what Merton once called Zen Catholicism – a phrase borrowed from Dom Ailred Graham, a Benedictine abbot and author whom Merton admired. This is a magnificent rendering, uncanny but still comfortable and settled in its fusion of freely brushed Zen calligraphy with the unique design of the Irish medieval cross. Here is the Zen brush-drawn circle yet again, at home in an unexpected place. …”(Angelic Mistakes, The Art of Thomas Merton, by Roger Lipsey, pp. 48-49)

7 comments:

  1. For me this speaks to the doorway through which faith appears. The dark, bleak emptiness described above first comes into consciousness slowly, hinted at, not full force or all at once. This slow mounting darkness is designed to give us time to decide if we have fully accepted our God. Or not. Because only with faith can we 'transform' the enormous and frightening darkness into light. Without it, we have time to turn and run. Which I have done many, many times. And will time and time again.

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    1. I have to take the despair and emptiness at face value - surrender to them. Only then does some kind of transformation happen where I sense hope. I'm not sure where faith comes in for me, or what I believe. I'll have to think about that some ( though trying not to THINK about all this too much either :-). I don't think that I have anything to do with the movement from despair to hope, though, other than to let go of trying to run the show. Hope this makes sense.

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  2. Makes perfect sense...for me, the transformation of dark to light only happens with faith. Darkness, in other words, is too strong for me to handle alone. As in, no contest.

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  3. In the apophatic tradition it is in the darkness of faith that we find the light of the Divine. It is in emptying ourselves of our ego that we we are filled with the presence of the Sacred.

    I think Sister Joan Chittister has the same idea when she says:

    "Zen teaches that we should sit in meditation as if a samurai were standing in front of us with sword upheld, ready to kill us with a single stroke. In this way, we constantly face death. And the time comes when, liberated from the fear of death, we are filled with enlightenment and joy. The point is clear: When we empty ourselves of our fears–fear of failure, fear of loss, fear of criticism–we become free to do what needs to be done in life."

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  4. Isn't darkness also the place where the light is to bright for me to see?

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    1. I was listening to Lax read 21 pages last night, Claire, and he has a long meditation on darkness, and movements in darkness, and finally the white that he can see sparkling in the darkness. He likens it to the foam of a wave on the surface of a deep and dark sea. The white (light) comes and goes, but the darkness is always there.

      But I've also heard of the dazzling, blinding light, but I don't know if I can relate to it like I can to the darkness. It's like I don't have any experience with that kind of brightness. It scares me a little. Like fire or something. Then again, Merton talked about the blazing sun that is shining from each of us, if we could but see it.

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  5. That's an interesting idea, Matt, sitting before a samurai with a sword. It does bring a sense of urgency to the call to BE who you are.

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