Tuesday, July 31, 2012


drawing by Thomas Merton
Beloved Spirit, You are all the prudence and the power
That change our dust and nothing into fields and fruits;
Enfold our lives forever in the compass
   of Your peaceful hills.
- Thomas Merton, Life and Holiness, p 68-69

patmos - “as though nothing were happening”

Robert Lax
Lax’s journal entries from Patmos in 1969 tell of the deep feelings of peace that he felt there:

and I felt all today as i did yesterday that
peace, deep feeling of peace is here, that here is
where i should stay at least for a while (& heal
the nerve-ends), that here things would grow,
things would speak (kal, summoned to mind,
seems a wild, wild merry-go-round from
here.) that here the days would go as though
nothing were happening, but something would
be happening, that i would do nothing all
day long, but toward evening of every day
I’d write (& slowly become) more articulate
almost every time i’ve been here the days have
gone that way: i’ve felt as though nothing
were happening: yet at the end of the year
i’ve found that the work i did at patmos was
(often) the work that stood.

- Robert Lax

Monday, July 30, 2012

above the level of thought

drawing by Thomas Merton
"The months have gone by, and You have given me peace, and I am beginning to see what it is all about.  I am beginning to understand.

"You have called me to Gethsemani not to wear a label by which I can recognize myself and place myself in some kind of category.  You do not want me to be thinking about what I am, but about what You are.  Or rather, You do not even want me to be thinking about anything much: for You would raise me above the level of thought.  If I am always trying to figure out what I am and where I am and why I am, how will that work be done?

"I do not make a big drama of this business.  I do not say: “You have asked me for everything, and I have renounced all.”  I no longer desire to see anything that implies a distance between You and me.  If I stand back and consider myself and You, as if something had passed between us, from me to You, I will inevitably see the gap between us and remember the distance between us."

- Thomas Merton, The Seven Story Mountain, p. 421

Sunday, July 29, 2012

no more fuss about being a contemplative

drawing by Thomas Merton
"My God, I give up my attachment to peace, the delight and sweetness of contemplation, of Your love and Your presence.  I give myself to You to love Your will and Your honor alone.

"I know that, if You want me to renounce the manner of my desiring You, it is only in order that I may possess You surely and come to union with You.

"I will try from now on, with Your grace, to make no more fuss about “being a contemplative,” about acquiring that perfection in myself.  Instead I will seek only You, not contemplation and not perfection, but You alone.

"Then maybe I will be able to do the simple things that You would have me do, and do them well, with a perfect and pure intention in all peace and silence and obscurity, concealed even from my own self, and safe from my poisonous self-esteem."

-Thomas Merton, Entering the Silence, pp. 77-78

Friday, July 27, 2012

vocation to solitude

Drawing by Thomas Merton
"Vocation to Solitude – To deliver oneself up, to hand oneself over, entrust oneself completely to the silence of a wide landscape of woods and hills, or sea, or desert; to sit still while the sun comes up over the land and fills its silences with light.  To pray and work in the morning and to labor in meditation in the evening when night falls upon that land and when the silence fills itself with darkness and with stars.  This is a true and special vocation.  There are few who are willing to belong completely to such silence, to let it soak into their bones, to breathe nothing but silence, to feed on silence, and to turn the very substance of their life into a living and vigilant silence."

Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude, p. 101

Thursday, July 26, 2012

What we have to be is what we are

drawing by Thomas Merton
The passage below is excerpted from a wonderful talk given by Jonathan Montaldo in Rome in July 2012 (posted on his blog, Monkswork).

He’s right - readers of Merton are not just peering into the life of someone who searched for God and an authentic life, they are following Merton’s invitation to enter the mystery of their own lives.  Merton’s words point toward something Other than himself.  I especially like Jonathan’s use (below) of the phrase: “un-walled-up human beings”.

... May Merton’s witness mentor our confidence to accept our inexhaustibly rich vocation to be fully alive as joy-filled, compassionate and un-walled-up human beings. A month before his death in Bangkok, Thailand by accidental electrocution on December 10, 1968, Thomas Merton gave his contemplative life’s project an unintended final summary in a talk he gave in Calcutta, India:
"I stand among you as one who offers a small message of hope, that first, there are always people who dare to seek on the margin of society, who are not dependent on social acceptance, not dependent on social routine, and prefer a kind of free-floating existence under a state of risk. And among these people, if they are faithful to their own calling, to their own vocation, and to their own message from God, communication on the deepest level is possible.

"And the deepest level of communication is not communication, but communion. It is wordless. It is beyond words, and it is beyond speech, and it is beyond concept. Not that we discover a new unity. We discover an older unity. My dear brothers and sisters, we are already one. But we imagine that we are not. So what we have to recover is our original unity. What we have to be is what we are. "
Thomas Merton. The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton. Edited by James Laughlin, Naomi Burton Stone and Brother Patrick Hart (New York: New Directions, 1973): 307-308

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

afternoon poem

march 20/64        kalymnos

this is the afternoon and so it is time to make
a poem of the afternoon, to come up from
under it with a long sigh and to swing into it
from above: the afternoon, the golden time:
to have no subject but the world, life and the
world, life in the world, the texture of life, the
texture of every minute as it passes

this is the afternoon and so it is time to make
a poem of the afternoon (the afternoon is
making a poem of itself)

afternoon, the afternoon, the people stand on
the sunlit quay and wait for the kanaris.

they stand on the quay and wait for the boat:
the kanaris to arrive ...

- Robert Lax, journal C/tagebuch C.PV, 1990, p. 8

Monday, July 23, 2012

Merton's Hagia Sophia

Here are page-by-page photos of Victor Hammer's hand-printed edition of Merton's "Hagia Sophia":


Thanks Jim Forest!  I've always wanted to see a copy of this book. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Peace of Wild Things

The Peace of Wild Things
by Wendell Berry

When despair grows in me
and I wake in the middle of the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Prayer is distraction

After Merton spoke to the novices at Loretto on May 15, 1963, he encouraged them to ask questions or offer comments:

What about distractions in prayer?

"I used to try to pray by shutting out everything, and that was nice, but, of course, I was a novice.  There used to be a man that lived down the back road, and I remember that the best part of my novitiate thanksgiving was this man going to work at the distillery.  Every morning as he went down the back road, he whistled the same sort of tune, one of his own tunes, and you'd hear him coming.  He always came at the same time, and for some reason or another, that was a wonderful thing in that thanksgiving.  Here was the world.  Here was this lonely man on the back road, and it meant a great deal.

Merton goes on to draw another example from nature:

"Our place at Gethsemani is full of birds.  You simply listen to every one of the birds individually, which is heresy according to the spiritual books, for it's a deliberate distraction.  Actually, it's a wonderful thanksgiving, because who made those birds, and who put them there, and who is making them sing, and who is the source of their life?  It is the one who is in my heart and is the source of my life, and I'm one with all those things.
 - from "Hidden in the Same Mystery - Thomas Merton and Loretto",  pp. 31-32

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Prayer is the freedom to say 'yes' or 'no'

Loretto Motherhouse - photo by Patricia Drury
On October 4, 1961, Merton addressed the novices at Loretto.  On this particular day he was talking to the novices about prayer and how to prepare yourself for it.  After he got home he began to think about it and he had more to say.  The following is from a letter that he wrote to Sr. Helen Jean, the novice master:
"I didn't say all I would like to have said about prayer.  I think prayer supposed some kind of training, some kind of training that would not be just theologically in a vacuum.  There must be some kind of basic training such as this way."

"In training for mental prayer, the real training, the ... discipline, and learning is how to exercise oneself in different ways.

"The purpose of the ascetical life, the disciplined life, is freedom.  Because as we begin to move through an ascetical life, it is so we can say 'yes' and 'no' when we want to." 
From Sr. Luke's commentary:
"The purpose of the ascetical life is freedom so that when we choose to say "no," we can say "no"; when we choose to say "yes", we can say "yes."  The addictive society in which we live today could learn a lot from that.  The ability to choose, the chance to choose and to say "yes" or "no" to opportunities offered -- it takes some kind of training and discipline to be able to do that.  That's what he is talking about.  He sort of laid it down as a first principle here.  So he wants them to have this ability."
from "Hidden in the Same Mystery - Thomas Merton and Loretto",  p. 68

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Prayer is responding to reality

Loretto Motherhouse, Nerinx KY - photo by Patricia Drury
There is no prayer or inner life without reality.  Prayer is rooted in reality.

"Well, you see, prayer is basically response," he said.  "In prayer we are continually responding to the questions of who we are and who God is.  We're working with reality here -- the reality of our own identity and freedom and its relationship to God." ...

Prayer helps you find your identity, your true self united with God.  In this identity, you find your freedom; and in this freedom, you are able to respond to reality.  

"The interior life is what happens to you when you come alive in contact with reality," he says.  "You do not come in contact with God except through reality.  The interior life is the capacity to respond.  Prayer is not praying five or six times a day.  It is an expression of who we are."

- from "Hidden in the Same Mystery - Thomas Merton and Loretto" pp. 56-57, an essay by Sr. Mary Luke Tobin, Merton on Prayer: Start Where You Are

Monday, July 2, 2012

Prayer is who you are

Loretto Motherhouse, Nerinx KY - photo by Patricia Drury
Prayer begins with reality, with who you are.

This was the simple message that Merton brought to the Sisters of Loretto.  On several occasions Merton spoke to the novices at the nearby Loretto motherhouse as a gesture of friendly sharing.  The topic was prayer and his advice was simple and useful.  The following is transcribed from a talk he gave on a spring morning in 1963:
"Don't let your prayer be a fight against reality.  And the first reality you've got is yourself, and that's where prayer begins.  It begins with you and you don't have to go from you to God, because God is in you.  All you've got to do is to stay where you are.  You don't have to get out of this "base, earthly being" which you are and climb Jacob's ladder and get way up in heaven where God is, because if you do that, you'll never pray.  You couldn't pray.

"You have to start where you are and stay with it, because God is in you as you are, and doesn't expect you to be any other than you are, except that there is a change that God is going to make in your life.  But you have to learn how to get together with God in your life so that this change can be made."
- from "Hidden in the Same Mystery - Thomas Merton and Loretto",  p. 25 from the Talk of Father Louis to Novices and Postulants, May 15, 1963