Thursday, August 6, 2020

Flash of Light, Wall of Fire

Patients being treated in a medical tent in Hiroshima on Aug. 9.

Credit...Yotsugi Kawahara, courtesy Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum

“Americans, when they think about atomic war, think about the mushroom cloud,” said Benjamin Wright, a doctoral student at the University of Texas at Austin who helped curate “Flash of Light, Wall of Fire,” a new book of photographs about the 1945 bombings.
“Perhaps they think of a destroyed city, but it’s very much a bird’s-eye view,” Mr. Wright said by telephone.

The book, published this month by the University of Texas Press to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the bombings, attempts to change that. It includes images from more than a dozen Japanese photographers, starting with Mr. Matsumoto’s photo of a Hiroshima wall clock that stopped at the moment when a nuclear bomb detonated above the city in a flash of light.

Credit...Shunkichi Kikuchi, courtesy Harumi Tago

Credit...Eiichi Matsumoto

Friday, July 31, 2020

be faithful

Former President Clinton, in his eulogy for John Lewis at the funeral yesterday, mentioned that Lewis had Merton's autobiography (The Seven Storey Mountain) with him, but apparently it was another Merton book, New Seeds of Contemplation.
Spring 2020 newsletter of the International Thomas Merton Society

Merton at the Selma March      
March 7, 2020 marks the fifty-fifth anniversary of the 1965 “Bloody Sunday” voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, a key turning point in the struggle for civil rights for African Americans. A little-known detail about that event was that Thomas Merton was present both in spirit and in word. Leading the march was 25-year-old John Lewis, chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), who was expecting to be arrested for participating in this “illegal” demonstration and came prepared for jail, with a backpack containing a toothbrush and toothpaste, an apple and an orange, and two books to read while incarcerated, one of which was Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation. ...

At the October 2019 wake at the U.S. Capitol for another African American congressman and civil rights icon, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley encountered Rep. Lewis. Recalling having been told by Lewis on a previous occasion about New Seeds in his backpack, and “Remembering our affinity for Merton, I ask the congressman, ‘What do you think Thomas Merton would say to us as Americans today if he were alive?’ After only a brief moment of reflection, he looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘“Be faithful.” He would say, “Be faithful.”’ And so it is,” O’Malley concludes: “the clock ticks on, and the reputations of some men soar even as their abilities vanish before our eyes. But some things never die. Some ideas refuse to be buried. Justice. Dignity. Generational progress. The truth that we are all in this together” – ideals shared by the civil rights leader and the monk whose printed words accompanied him on that historic day fifty-five years ago, and whose spirit, Lewis believes, continues to summon Americans to be faithful to their truest principles and their best selves.

HT: Jim Forest & Patrick O'Connell

Thursday, July 30, 2020

if Thomas Merton could find his way and keep his faith and believe in the future, he, John Lewis could too ...

In a funeral eulogy delivered today in Atlanta, former President Clinton spoke of Lewis' humanity, strength and his unwavering belief in a future without racism. His eulogy included a reference to Thomas Merton:

Then, there was Bloody Sunday, he figured he might get arrested. And this is really important for all the rhapsodic things we believe about John Lewis, he had a really good mind and he was always trying to figure out how I can make the most out of every single moment. So he’s getting ready to march from Selma to Montgomery, he wants to get across the bridge. What do we remember? He cut quite a strange figure: He had a trench coat and a backpack. Now, young people probably think that’s no big deal but there weren’t that many backpacks back then. And you never saw anybody in a trench coat looking halfway dressed up with a backpack. But John put an apple, an orange, a toothbrush, toothpaste to take care of his body because he figured he would get arrested. And two books, one by Richard Hofstadter on America’s political tradition to feed his mind, and one, the autobiography of Thomas Merton, a Roman Catholic Trappist monk who was the son of itinerant artists making an astonishing personal transformation. What’s a young guy who’s about to get his brains beat out and planning on going to prison doing taking that? I think he figured that if Thomas Merton could find his way and keep his faith and believe in the future, he, John Lewis could too.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Good Trouble

John Lewis called Pope Francis' 2015 address to Congress 

"one of the most moving speeches I have ever heard in all my years in Congress...It was amazing that the Pope mentioned the Selma-to-Montgomery march because...I carried one of Thomas Merton's books in my backpack"

Here is the full statement from John Lewis:

"The Holy Father, Pope Francis of the Holy See, delivered a powerful message to Congress and the American people today. In his humble, gentle way he used his authority to encourage us to simply do what is right to protect to dignity of all humankind.

"He said: "All political activity must serve and protect the good of the human person and be based on respect for his or her dignity ... Politics is ... an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good.

"These words and ideas speak to the center of our work as member of Congress and to the importance and vitality of our roles as individual citizens. Pope Francis delivered one of the most moving speeches I have ever heard in all my years in Congress. I loved the way he used the life and work of President Abraham Lincoln, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton as the basis for his lesson for all of us.

"Though I was reluctant to openly shed tears, I cried within to hear his words. I was deeply moved to realize I had a connection in some way with some of those he mentioned. When TIME magazine, years ago, did a story on "living saints", they actually included Dorothy Day and I in the story. Also Thomas Merton was a monk whose words I studied during non-violence training in the Civil Rights Movement. It was amazing that the Pope mention the Selma-to-Montgomery march because during the first attempt to march to Montgomery, now known as Bloody Sunday, I carried one of Thomas Merton's books in my backpack.

"Pope Francis spoke to the heart and soul of Congress and America. It is my prayer that members of Congress will heed his simple call to respect the dignity and divinity of every human being then we would be better servants of the American people, this would be a better country, and a better world."

#RIPJohnLewis #GoodTrouble

Friday, June 19, 2020


While looking for something else, I came across this photo of an old post card. This is how Gethsemane looked when I was a child, and how it looked when Merton was there. A single road led to the front gate; we parked the car on either side of the road. We walked down the path on the left to get to the Church. The little door to the left of the main door led to the gift shop, where we browsed the holy cards. There was a sign over an interior door in the gift shop that read "no women allowed". I remember a "God Alone" sign, but I thought it was over the main gate.

Things were always quiet at Gethsemane, and I liked going over there, even though I never knew quite what to make of it.

This is me with some friends standing before the Church in Nov. 2019. The monks are more open to women and the public now, while still protecting the silence and solitude. 

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Thomas Merton, Essential Writings

From Jim Forest (on the little book, "Essential Writings"). I too, think that this collection of quotes are a pretty good synopsis of Merton's thought and spirit. I like the simple incisiveness of the quotes and the way in which they are compiled. Reminds me of why I always go back to Merton, again and again. Merton touches something in me that resonates, wakes me up some.

“The Christian must have the courage to follow Christ. The Christian who is risen in Christ must dare to be like Christ: he must dare to follow conscience even in unpopular causes. He must, if necessary, be able to disagree with the majority and make decisions that he knows to be according to the Gospel and teaching of Christ, even when others do not understand why he is acting this way… (p. 189).” 
 My first encounter with Merton was in 1969, when I was 19 years old investigating the pacifist roots of the Christian faith. I picked up Merton’s booklet entitled “Blessed Are the Meek: The Christian Roots of Nonviolence,” published by the Catholic Peace Fellowship. The entire contents of this booklet are included in these “Essential Writings.”) 
This volume is divided into three sections, in addition to the preface and a brief biography of Merton’s life: contemplation, compassion and unity. The selections are presented, more or less, in chronological order, giving the reader some insight into the development of his thinking over the years. I have a friend who says that Merton “went off the deep end” near the end of his life. But I dare say that my friend probably didn’t read what Merton wrote. This book assures me that Merton never strayed from the Christian tradition, even while trying to engage in dialogue with monks and mystics from other traditions.

Below are favorite quotes.


“For me to be a saint means to be myself. Therefore the problem of sanctity and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I am and of discovering my true self (p. 55).”

“Every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul (p. 57).”

“There is another essential aspect of Christianity: the interior, the silent, the contemplative, in which hidden wisdom is more important than practical organizational science, and in which love replaces the will to get visible results (p. 67).”

“Ideally speaking, the hermit life is supposed to be the life in which all care is completely put aside (p. 68).”

“A Christian can realize himself called by God to periods of silence, reflection, meditation, and ‘listening.’…Perhaps it is very important, in our era of violence and unrest, to rediscover meditation, silent inner unitive prayer, and creative Christian silence (p. 73).”

“We recognize the need to be at home with ourselves in order that we may go out to meet others, not just with a mask of affability, but with real commitment and authentic love (p. 75).”

“The purest faith has to be tested by silence in which we listen for the unexpected, in which we slowly and gradually prepare for the day when we will reach out to a new level of being with God (p. 76).”

“If there is no silence beyond and within the many words of doctrine, there is no religion, only a religious ideology (p. 78).”

“He who attempts to act and do things for others or for the world, without deepening his own self-understanding, freedom, integrity, and capacity to love, will not have anything to give others (p. 86).”


“…we can no longer assume that because a man is ‘sane’ he is therefore in his ‘right mind.’ The whole concept of sanity in a society where spiritual values have lost their meaning is itself meaningless (p. 99).”

“The demonic sickness of Auschwitz emanated from ordinary people, stimulated by an extraordinary regime…(p. 103).”

“Christians must become active in every possible way, mobilizing all their resources for the fight against war. First of all there is much to be studied, much to be learned. Peace is to be preached, nonviolence is to be explained as a practical method, and not left to be mocked as an outlet for crackpots who want to make a show of themselves. Prayer and sacrifice must be used as the most effective spiritual weapons in the war against war, and like all weapons they must be used with deliberate aim: not just with a vague aspiration for peace and security, but against violence and against war. This implies that we are also willing to sacrifice and restrain our own instinct for violence and aggressiveness in our relations with other people (p. 106).”

“Thus we never see the one truth that would help us begin to solve our ethical and political problems: that we are all more or less wrong, that we are all at fault, all limited and obstructed by our mixed motives, our self-deception, our greed, our self-righteousness and our tendency to aggressivity and hypocrisy (p. 109).”

“For only love—which means humility—can exorcise the fear which is at the root of all war (p. 111).”

“I do not mean to imply that prayer excludes the simultaneous use of ordinary human means to accomplish a naturally good and justifiable end (p. 112).”

“So instead of loving what you think is peace, love other men and love God above all. And instead of hating people you think are warmongers, hate the appetites and the disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed—but hate these things in yourself, not in another (p. 114).”

“War is our enemy (p. 115).”

“The real crimes of modern war are committed not at the front (if any) but in war offices and ministries of defense in which no one ever has to see any blood unless his secretary gets a nosebleed (p. 120).”

“A nonviolent victory, while far more difficult to achieve, stands a better chance of curing the illness instead of contracting it (p. 122).”

“Christian nonviolence is not built on a presupposed division, but on the basic unity of man (p. 124).”

“And if the Spirit dwells in us and works in us, our lives will be continuous and progressive conversion and transformation in which we also, in some measure, help to transform others and allow ourselves to be transformed by and with others, in Christ (p. 125).”

“The beatitudes are simply aspects of love. They refuse to despair of the world and abandon it to a supposedly evil fate which it has brought upon itself. Instead, like Christ himself, the Christian takes upon his own shoulders the yoke of the Savior, meek and humble of heart. This yoke is the burden of the world’s sin with all its confusions, and all its problems. These sins, confusions and problems are our very own. We do not disown them (p. 134).”


“If I can unite in myself…I can prepare in myself the reunion of divided Christians…If we want to bring together what is divided, we can not do so by imposing one division upon the other or absorbing one division into the other (p 141).”

“Every man, to live a life full of significance, is called simply to know the significant interior of life and to find ultimate significance in its proper inscrutable existence, in spite of himself, in spite of the world and appearances, in the Living God (pp. 144-145).”

“…those who travel most see the least (p. 145).”

“For my own part I consider myself neither a conservative nor an extreme progressive. I would like to think I am what Pope John was—a progressive who wants to preserve a very clear and marked continuity with the past and not make silly and idealistic compromises with the present—yet to be completely open to the modern world while retaining the clearly defined, traditionally Catholic position (p. 150).”

“Western civilization is now in full decline into barbarism (a barbarism that springs from within itself) because it has been guilty of a twofold disloyalty: to God and to Man (p. 152).”

“Since the Word was made Flesh, God is in man. God is in all men. All men are to be seen and treated as Christ (p. 152).”

“It is my belief that we should not be too sure of having found Christ in ourselves until we have found him also in the part of humanity that is most remote from our own (p. 153).”

“If the Lord of all took flesh and sanctified all nature, restoring it to the Father by His resurrection, we too have our work to do in extending the power of the resurrection to the whole world of our time by our prayer, our thought, our work and our whole life (p. 156).”

“We cannot love ourselves unless we love others, and we cannot love others unless we love ourselves (p. 157).”

“One must cling to one tradition and to its orthodoxy, at the risk of not understanding any tradition. One cannot supplement his own tradition with little borrowings here and there from other traditions. On the other hand, if one is genuinely living his own tradition, he is capable of seeing where other traditions say and attain the same thing, and where they are different. The differences must be respected, not brushed aside, even and especially where they are irreconcilable with one’s own view (p. 167).”

“…it is illuminating to the point of astonishment to talk to a Zen Buddhist from Japan and to find that you have much more in common with him than with those of your own compatriots who are little concerned with religion, or interested only in its external practice (p. 171).”

“…I think we have now reached a stage of (long overdue) religious maturity at which it may be possible for someone to remain perfectly faithful to a Christian and Western monastic commitment, and yet to learn in depth from, say, a Buddhist or Hindu discipline and experience (pp. 174-175).


“The Christian must have the courage to follow Christ. The Christian who is risen in Christ must dare to be like Christ: he must dare to follow conscience even in unpopular causes. He must, if necessary, be able to disagree with the majority and make decisions that he knows to be according to the Gospel and teaching of Christ, even when others do not understand why he is acting this way… (p. 189).”

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Teilhard prayer

“Now that I have found the joy of utilizing all forms of growth to make you, or to let you grow in me, grant that I may willingly consent to this last phase of communion in the course of which I shall possess you by diminishing in you…

            When the signs of age begin to mark my body (and still more when they touch my mind): when the ill that is to diminish me or carry me off strikes from without or is born within me, when the painful moment comes in which I suddenly awaken to the fact that I am ill or growing old; and above all at that last moment when I feel I am losing hold of myself and am absolutely passive within the hands of the great unknown forces that have formed me: in all those dark moments, O God, grant that I may understand that it is you (provided only my faith is strong enough) who are painfully parting the fibers of my being in order to penetrate to the very marrow of my substance and bear me away within yourself.”
- Teilhard de Chardin

Flash of Light, Wall of Fire

Patients being treated in a medical tent in Hiroshima on Aug. 9. Credit... Yotsugi Kawahara, courtesy Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum “Ameri...