Saturday, March 29, 2014

"all that is most abject, forgotten, despised and put aside" (UPDATED)


Jaime Andrade was an Ecuadorian sculptor and engraver from Quito, Ecuador. Themes for his work seem to be inspired by socially conscious themes the land and sky in Ecuador, the largely poor, indigenous populations- the Andes and the tropical coastal area, as well as the Inca heritage. He uses the natural properties and colors of stone and metal to create sculptural collages and play on light and texture.
Jaime Andrade Moscoso El Arbol 21" high. The sculpture was part of the IBM collection and was exhibited at the New York World's Fair in 1940.

In 1958 Merton commissioned Andrade to do a statue of the Virgin Mary and child Jesus in dark wood for the novitiate library. "A statue," as he explains, "that would tell the truth about God being 'born' Incarnate in the Indians of the Andes. Christ poor and despised among the disinherited of the earth." (Merton, A Search for Solitude, p. 177.)

Merton describes its imagery as "precisely that of Louis M[assignon]" Merton interpreted the mother as an indigenous Andean who reflected "a great mystery of poverty and darkness and strength" and the child as "the Resurrection to be born from the despised peoples of Mexico and the Andes" who holds a "mystical bit of fruit" that represented salvation. She represents "all that is most abject, forgotten, despised, and put aside."

"I want to say how deeply moved I am at this idea of Louis Massignons's that salvation is coming from the most afflicted and despised. This, of course, is the only idea that makes any sense in our time." (from a letter to Jacques Maritain, 17 Aug 1960)


This is a very poor scan of a not great reproduction of the Merton commissioned statue at Gethsemani. Merton took the picture, the original photograph is now at Bellarmine University in Louisville.  In seeing the Mother and Child statue take place, Merton suggested that the child hold something - a branch, fruit, or root, something indigenous to South America. Definitely not corn "because of its association with bad art". 


Friday, March 21, 2014

a disentanglement, slow and patient of the soul’s own inner & eternal song

Robert Lax.
Photo taken by Brother Patrick Hart, on his trip to Greece in April of 1992
In his “concise statement of my project,” written as part of his application for a Guggenheim Fellowship in the mid-sixties, Lax emphasised the syllable as the key to his poetic research. He viewed the syllable as “the unit of which poems are made.” 
His work with it was part of his effort to dig under the present structures of world poetry in search of a firmer and deeper foundation  
to discover beneath the traditional modes of poetry a firmer, more universal foundation 
to discover deep in the human consciousness a firmer, more universal foundation
for the (eternal) & recurrent modes of poetry 
The spiritual aspect of this project is expressed in Lax’s description of it as “a disentanglement, slow and patient of the soul’s own inner & eternal song.”

-from Karen Alexander's "The Abstract Minimalist Poetry of Robert Lax" http://www.cipa.ulg.ac.be/pdf/alexander.pdf

Every man got one poem, and when he stumbles on it he got to make it smaller and smaller and blacker and blacker and then it will finally convince.

Ad Reinhardt, hanging black canvasses. 
"Yet evidence suggests that Lax’s colour poems were not entirely uninfluenced by current events. On 15 September 1963, four young black girls were killed in a racist bomb attack while attending church in Birmingham, Alabama. In early October, Merton wrote Lax that he was “tired of belonging to the humiliating white race.” 
Reinhardt was a prominent subject of exchanges between Lax and Merton at this time. They discussed his participation in Civil Rights Marches, and writing from Greece, Lax declared himself present at the marches in spirit. Both were full of praise for their artist friend, and not just for his political activities. By this time Reinhardt had begun to paint his five-foot square black paintings exclusively. “Old Reinhardt is a splendid fellow and all but the king of the birds,” wrote Lax. “His paintings is magnificent and works like dynamite when set down in any particular locale. They are all black paintings (get it?) black, black, black & can hardly help doing some good in the whole situation.”  
In the midst of this conversation, Lax gave Merton some poetic advice:  “as reinhardt makes now all the time the same black painting, make you also all the time the same dark poem; all the time, just that one poem: here a word, there a word, maybe a little different; only when you think it should be, until it gets to be tight as a sonnet: the music, the music always the same, here a word, there a word just a little different.”  
“You got the right answers,” returned Merton, “I think this poem should get blacker and blacker and blacker like Reinhardt’s paintings, then everyone will see the light, they will have to. Every man got one poem, and when he stumbles on it he got to make it smaller and smaller and blacker and blacker and then it will finally convince.”  
Lax replied that he had “of recent months become so generally small & black myself that it is useless for me to apply for abrogation from the whites. How come you want to get out of the race (they would snigger) you was never in it.”" 
[This exchange took place between 5 October and 2 November 1963. See When Prophecy Still  Had a Voice, pp. 251-259.]

-from Karen Alexander's "The Abstract Minimalist Poetry of Robert Lax" http://www.cipa.ulg.ac.be/pdf/alexander.pdf

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Mad Farmer Liberation Front (Practice Resurrection)


Wendell Berry, Fall 1967, at a picnic with Merton, Gethsemani
Photograph by Ralph Eugene Meatyard
Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front
Wendell Berry
Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.

And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.

When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.

Listen to carrion -- put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.

Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn't go.

Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

--by Wendell Berry from his collection The Mad Farmer Poems

Thursday, March 13, 2014

(I found this photo of Merton's hermitage on the web. No photographer was noted, but I suspect it might be Gordon Oyer)

"I love the woods, particularly around the hermitage. Know every tree, every animal, every bird. Sense of relatedness to my environment -- a luxury I refuse to renounce. Aristocrat, conservative: I don't give a damn." 
March 23, 1967

"In eight weeks I am to leave here. Who knows, I may not come back. Not that I expect anything to go wrong -- though it might -- but I might conceivably settle in California to start the hermit thing Father Flavian spoke of: it depends … Really I don't care one way or another if I never come back. 
July 29, 1968

"I really expect little or nothing from the future. Certainly not great "experiences" or a lot of interesting new things. Maybe, but so what? What really intrigues me is the idea of starting out into something unknown, demanding and expecting nothing very special, hoping only to do what God asks of me, whatever it may be."
July 29, 1968

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Ruby Bridges

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Extraordinary video and a truly holy little girl.

Back to that book about the spiritual roots of protest. Merton says that the contemplative roots of protest had to be motivated "not only by outrage but by compassion for those who, driven by fear or a warped patriotism, experience themselves as objects of protest” (from the Foreword by Jim Forest).

That sounds very much like what Ruby Bridges was doing to me.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Tom was grateful that we weren't pious … Gene photographed.

Photograph of Thomas Merton by Ralph Eugene Meatyard
Early winter 1967, reading from Notes for Cables to the Ace, then called "Edifying Cables"
"Ralph Eugene Meatyard met Thomas Merton on January 17, 1967, at the Trappist monastery of Our Lady of Gethsemani near Bardstown, Kentucky. The day was bright and cold. The next day Merton wrote his friend Bob Lax that he had been visited by "three kings from Lexington," as Michael Mott records in his biography. Tom's letters to Lax were always madcap and full of private jokes, so that why we were cast as the Magi must remain a mystery. We brought no gifts, we came in Gene's car, but we were decidedly remote in religion: Gene, I think, was a lapsed Methodist; Jonathan Williams, a very lapsed Episcopalian; and I, a Baptist who would figure in Tom's judgment as the only real pagan he had ever met. 
Tom was grateful that we weren't pious. His life was bedeviled by people who had read a third of The Seven Story Mountain and wanted to say they had met him. … 
… Tom served us goat cheese made at the abbey, packets of salted peanuts, and jiggers of bourbon. Jonathan asked at this Epicurean meal what Tom was writing. He was writing what came to be Section 35 of Cables to the Ace. Would we like to hear some of it? ... 
… My notes say: Gene photographed as we talked. For the rest of their friendship, up until Tom's departure for the East, Gene photographed."

- from "Tom and Gene", by Guy Davenport, Father Louie, Photographs of Thomas Merton by Ralph Eugene Meatyard.

monasticism

"Monasticism. I see more and more the danger of identifying the monastic vocation and spirit with a particular kind of monastic consciousness -- a particular tradition, however "authentic." … Maybe monasticism needs to be stated all over again in a new way. I have no way of knowing how to tackle this idea. It is just beginning to dawn on me."

- Thomas Merton, February 6, 1967

Monday, March 10, 2014

Pursuing the Spiritual Roots of Protest


For three days in November of 1964 fourteen of America’s best known Christian peacemakers gathered, by invitation of their host Thomas Merton, at the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani in Kentucky for an informal retreat to discuss “The Spiritual Roots of Protest.” Gordon Oyer, with an insatiable “curiosity and relentless digging,” has reconstructed for our generation the story and discussions from those three days at a monastery in the damp, chilly, rural Kentucky hills.

Jim Forest, one of the fourteen participants, recalls the persistent question during those three days—”By what right do we protest?” He writes, “Merton and others at the retreat made me more aware that acts of protest are not ends in themselves but ultimately must be regarded as efforts to bring about a transformation of heart of one’s adversaries and even one’s self. . . Merton put great stress on protest that had contemplative roots, protest motivated not only by outrage but by compassion for those who, driven by fear or a warped patriotism, experience themselves as objects of protest” (from the Foreword).

Order the book HERE.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Anything you can grasp is not it

Photo of Thomas Merton by Ralph Eugene Meatyard
"Gene Meatyard's photographs, with their use of chance, motion, and multiple exposures, mirror the ever-changing ephemeral nature of the Self, which we normally fool ourselves into imagining as fixed and stable. When we open a book of photographic portraits, we are used to looking for how the photographer has captured the essence of his subject in a given image. 
These pictures don't do that. 
Rather than gratify what Merton called "the hunger of having a clear satisfying idea of who and what he is and where he stands," they subvert the whole notion of Essence, or of a Self to be captured. While some of the photographs tantalize us by catching Merton in what we imagine to be an especially revealing or even "spiritual" moment, others offer a blur, an awkward or even apparently unexpressive scene. Taken together, they present the lesson that Merton, like all of us, like any moment, cannot be grasped or fixed by an image, whether photographic or mental. 
Anything you can grasp is not it. 
Go after the Essence and you'll just come up with another moment's mask. (Ask Lucybell Crater.)"

- Barry Magid, from the Preface to "Father Louie, Photographs of Thomas Merton by Ralph Eugene Meatyard. 1991 Timken Publishers

time is not the devourer of all things

"Hence the Christian is not afraid of the clock, nor is he in cunning complicity with it. The Christian life is not really a “victory over time” because time is not and cannot be a real antagonist. Of course, the Christian life is a victory over death: but it is a victory which accepts death and accepts the lapse of time that inevitably leads to death. But it does this in a full consciousness that death is in no sense a “triumph of time.” For the Christian, time is no longer the devourer of all things. Christian worship is at peace with time because the lapse of time no longer concerns the Christian whose life is “hidden with Christ in God.”
Merton, Thomas (2010-04-01). Seasons of Celebration (p. 47). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

time is the sphere of spontaneity

Photo of Thomas Merton by Eugene Meatyard
"… when the human being recovers, in Christ, the freedom of the Child of God, she lives in time without predetermination, because grace will always protect her freedom against the tyranny of evil. The Christian then knows that time does not murmur an implicit threat of enslavement and final destruction. Time on the contrary gives scope for her freedom and her love. Time gives free play to gratitude and to that sacrifice of praise which is the full expression of the Christian’s childship in the Spirit. In other words time does not limit freedom, but gives it scope for its exercise and for choice. Time for the Christian is then the sphere of her spontaneity, a sacramental gift in which she can allow her freedom to deploy itself in joy, in the creative virtuosity of choice that is always blessed with the full consciousness that God wants God's children to be free, that God is glorified by their freedom. For God takes pleasure not in dictating predetermined solutions to providential riddles, but in giving human beings the opportunity to choose and create for themselves solutions that are glorious in their very contingency."

Merton, Thomas (2010-04-01). Seasons of Celebration (p. 46). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Ordinary Life (Meatyard & Merton)

Photograph of Thomas Merton by Ralph Eugene Meatyard
"…Who was Gene Meatyard, or Thomas Merton, or Louie? 
I don't know. 
Their shared genius was to defy definition, to remain a blur, unpredictably and mysteriously alive. But don't think there was anything special about them. 
Emptied of the pursuit of specialness, we receive the grace of ordinary life, "as if existence itself were heavenliness."
- Barry Magid, from the Preface to "Father Louie, Photographs of Thomas Merton by Ralph Eugene Meatyard. 1991 Timken Publishers

time (2)

Photo of Merton by Eugene Meatyard.  Early winter 1967, by a favorite place at monks' sheep barn, many poems written here.

"… the Christian is at peace with time because she is at peace with God. She need no longer be fearful and distrustful of time, because now she understands that time is not being used by a hostile “fate” to determine her life in some sense which she himself can never know, and for which she cannot adequately be prepared. Time has now come to terms with human freedom."

- Merton, Thomas (2010-04-01). Seasons of Celebration (p. 45). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

time (1)

Photo of Thomas Merton by Eugene Meatyard, 1967
"The Liturgy accepts our common, everyday experience of time: sunrise, noonday, sunset; spring, summer, autumn, winter. There is no reason for the Church in her prayer to do anything else “with time”, for the obvious reason that the Church has no quarrel with time. The Church is not fighting against time. The Christian does not, or at any rate need not, consider time an enemy. Time is not doing her any harm, time is not standing between her and anything she desires. Time is not robbing her of anything she treasures."

-Thomas Merton, Seasons of Celebration (FSG 1965)

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

ash wednesday

"Ash Wednesday is for people who know that it means for their soul to be logged with these icy waters: all of us are such people, if only we can realize it.
"There is confidence everywhere in Ash Wednesday, yet that does not mean unmixed and untroubled security. The confidence of the Christian is always a confidence in spite of darkness and risk, in the presence of peril, with every evidence of possible disaster...
"Once again, Lent is not just a time for squaring conscious accounts: but for realizing what we had perhaps not seen before. The light of Lent is given us to help us with this realization.
"Nevertheless, the liturgy of Ash Wednesday is not focussed on the sinfulness of the penitent but on the mercy of God. The question of sinfulness is raised precisely because this is a day of mercy, and the just do not need a savior."
-Thomas Merton, Seasons of Celebration (FSG 1965), 113-124

Apocalyptic times

Charlottesville VA, August 2017 "There is no need to insist that in a world where another Hitler is very possible the mere existenc...