Saturday, April 22, 2023

The Healing Path by Jim Finley


Whoo boy … (another book review):

I’ve been sort of following Jim Finley since I read his “Merton’s Palace of Nowhere” book. I loved reading that book. Not only did Finley get Merton, he was able to express Merton’s spiritual world in a poetic and beautiful way. It felt as if my heart were resonating with his words and he was saying things that I knew in my own soul but had never heard said out loud before. Merton did that too, but Merton’s words were more reasonable. Finley’s words dipped a little deeper into the Unknown and he made some daring leaps. 

But I never came across another book by Jim Finley. I saw Finley on some YouTube videos, and knew that he was giving retreats, had become a psychotherapist, heard the rumors about the monk abuse at Gethsemane, listened to a podcast or two, but as far as I knew he hadn’t written another book until this one: “The Healing Path”. 

I read the book in about 2 days. It’s short. Finley is still pious and can droll on and on with mystical insights. But what is astounding about this book is the humility and rock bottom honesty. Finley takes his place among the screwed up human beings on the earth. He owns his place among the deeply wounded and scarred, who makes hurtful and lasting mistakes in his relationships.

At times I found myself wanting to criticize Finley. Correct him. His passivity and passive aggression is maddening. Get up, man, fight back. He’s supposed to be a “mystic” for God’s sake. One who has wisdom and integrity. Instead, he shows how downright creepy he can be, unable to engage with or respond emotionally to his wife. He checked out. Let her carry the load of blame. The episode that rings most true is when his wife breaks a beloved framed picture of a Japanese Mary and Christ child over his head. This was a moment of grace. Finley says nothing and picks up the pieces of shattered glass. 

Gushing about how he made love to his new girlfriend with 10 minutes of filing his divorce papers left me cold.

In the end, I am left, again, astounded and grateful to Jim Finley for laying this all out. There are nuggets of wisdom and real spiritual guidance here, like: “do not do violence to yourself while you wait for healing”. Once again, in writing this book, Jim Finley has gone where few have gone before him.

Not many people could write a book like this, exposing the wounds and also the wounding, and daring to suggest that this is where we might find our way to God. Only, perhaps, a real mystic. I will be mulling over this book for awhile. 

UPDATE: I guess I did read another book by Jim Finley, “The Contemplative Heart”, and have quoted from it a few times in this blog over the years.

Saturday, April 8, 2023



Judas by Paul-Henri Bourguignon

He is Risen

The March by Paul-Henri Bourguignon

Just came across this Easter homily from Merton (from where else but Facebook). I love the way Merton steers us away from superstition toward a living reality. This excerpt doesn’t do it justice, you have to read the whole homily.

Homily is HERE

"When the holy women arrived at the tomb, they found the stone was rolled away. But the fact that the stone was rolled away made little difference, since the body of Jesus was not there anyway. The Lord had risen. So too with us. We create obscure religious problems for ourselves, trying desperately to break through to a dead Christ behind a tombstone. Such problems are absurd. Even if we could roll away the stone, we would not find his body because he is not dead. 

"He is not an inert object, not a lifeless thing, not a piece of prop- erty, not a super-religious heirloom: HE IS NOT THERE, HE IS RISEN. 

"The Christian life, Christian worship, Christian community, the Eucharist, all these have been obscured by a limited ritualistic piety that insists on treating the Risen Lord as if he were a dead body, a holy object, not Spirit, and Life, and Son of the Living God. 

"Today let us come with faith to the banquet of the Lamb, the Risen Savior, to the Bread of Life that is not the food of the dead but the true and Risen Body of Christ. He who encounters the Risen Christ in the banquet of his Body and Blood will live forever! 

"Come, People of God, Christ our Passover is sacrificed, and in sharing his banquet we pass with him from death to life! He has risen. 

 "He is going before us into his Kingdom! Alleluia!"

Saturday, February 11, 2023

The Merton Center

I don't know why it took me so long to get to The Merton Center in Louisville. I've been in and out of KY several times over the years. I have a very good friend who lives within walking distance to the Bellarmine campus. I even stay over night with her, and her husband is a professor at Bellarmine.

Anyway, I finally got there this past autumn, and enjoyed everything I saw there. All of Merton's books, audios of his talks to the novices, many, many photos (both his photos and those taken of him). Photos of his brother, John Paul. His Calligraphies. Original typed manuscripts. The statue of the Virgin and Child he had Jaime Andrade sculpt. His denim jacket. The icon. The stole Pope John XXIII sent to him. It's all there.

All of my photos are on a Flickr site HERE.

I am so late getting this up because I have been very ill the last few months. 

A good monk


Photo via Mepkin Abbey

Celebrating Brother Joseph’s simple and holy life

A beautifully written tribute to a simple and holy Trappist monk, Brother Joseph OSCO, from the Mepkin Abby in South Carolina. A hidden, unknown and deeply contemplative life. 

His innocence was his hallmark, a man at home with himself in any situation, even those in which the more scrupulous might blanch. He was simple in the best sense of that word, which is so freighted in normal usage. For simple was what a monk was to be, unheralded by others, not even his fellow monks, his gaze on a more significant reward.

Read more HERE.

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Awake and Alive


This book wasn’t what I was expecting either.

I haven’t bought a Merton book for awhile. I suppose it was the title that attracted me. Being “awake” is something that I look for in a spiritual guide. Someone who is HERE, fully alive. This is what I reach for in my own life, so I gravitate toward writers who might show me the way, or some shortcuts. 

Merton said once that he felt closer to the writers and artists around the world that he corresponded with than with his fellow monks at the abbey. I suppose that he meant that he felt closer to fellow artists in thought and spirit with what he was trying to do with his life. As a monk AND as an artist. This book gives voice to what Merton’s fellow monks thought of Merton. 

Having just finished “Dearest Sister Wendy”, I could see Merton through the eyes of someone who took her monastic vocation seriously. Sister Wendy didn’t give Merton much slack. Neither do his fellow monks. They are kind, and they give Merton credit for his efforts to teach and guide the novices. But they don’t idolize Merton. 

In some off the cuff and unedited remarks (probably transcribed for oral interviews) from some of the men (now old men) who had been novices while Merton was Novice Master (the 1950s and early 1960s) we hear honest portrayals of a complex and flawed man, nothing really special. Just one of us. 

As a super Merton fan (just look at this blog), I found this refreshing. I think that Merton, himself, would too. 

Saturday, October 8, 2022

Sister Wendy, Contemplative


Sister Wendy Becket, Icon by William Hart McNichols

I knew her as the art nun, but I also knew that she lived alone as a hermit. When I caught wind that a book was coming out about her (“Dearest Sister Wendy”, Robert Ellsberg) I was intrigued. 

The book was not what I expected. I was expecting to enhance my appreciation of art, at least a little. Wasn't art the love of her life? But there is very little art commentary in this book, or spiritual insight into the art world. 

Instead, there is personal honesty: a deep look at the inner world of an odd and holy woman who is called to a solitary life of prayer. And her miraculous opening out and sharing of herself in an almost daily correspondence with Robert Ellsberg during the last 2 years of her life. 

It turns out that God is the love of Sister Wendy's life. 

Sister Wendy is delightfully funny. And odd. And very smart. And humble. I'd almost say that she had no ego. Those 7 hours of daily praying must have been at a high order of meditation. And yet, in so many words, without words, she lets you know about this simple prayer of hers.

I’ve been intrigued with solitary monastic life for awhile, most of my life. When I was a child it was the Carmelite monastery in Louisville that most caught my attention. What did the nuns do in that walled and silent place? I’m odd, too - introverted - so I sort of can identify with and understand Sister Wendy.

Sister Wendy knew her way early in life. She joined an order of teaching nuns when she was just 16 years old. She never doubted this move or looked back. She followed the rules; she obeyed. Her life was totally in the hands of God and she trusted that the circumstances of life would guide her to where God wanted her to be. And they did. 

After about 20 years in a teaching role Sister Wendy had a physical breakdown of sorts. Seizures that were diagnosed as epilepsy. She was given permission to live as a consecrated virgin and hermit. Secluded in a trailer on the grounds of a Carmelite monastery in Quidenham, England, Sister Wendy lived her life alone and in prayer. She went to the monastery for Mass every day, but otherwise she was in her little trailer, praying for at least 7 hours a day. She read - about art, about religion, about Thomas Merton, Pope Francis, and others. 

Sister Wendy took the rules of monasticism seriously, which is probably one of the reasons she had such a hard time with Merton. Merton talked a lot about the monastic life, but he broke most of the rules. His engagement with “the world” was relentless. She wondered why his writing did not convey much joy in his life. 

Reading Sister Wendy’s takes on Merton is revealing. Even at 88 years old and in failing health, her mind is still sharp and penetrating. Her insights in to what is happening in the world are compassionate and wise. Most of her life has been spent in silent prayer, away from the world. Not talking to people. When her correspondence with Mr. Ellsberg begins, Sister Wendy is hesitant. How does one speak of a life of silent prayer? There are no words. Nothing, as she would say. 

And yet, over the course of 2 years and possibly for the first time in her life, Sister Wendy relates from a deep and authentic place in herself who she is and who God is for her.

The Healing Path by Jim Finley

  Whoo boy … (another book review): I’ve been sort of following Jim Finley since I read his “Merton’s Palace of Nowhere” book. I loved readi...