Sunday, February 18, 2007

enough self-respect to attend to this mystery

Brush drawing by Thomas Merton, "Untitled", 1964
image size: 3" h x 5" w

December 18, 1966. “ The need to open up an inner freedom and vision, which is found in relatedness to something in us which we don’t really know. This is not just the psychological unconscious. It is much more than that. Tillich called it the ground of our being. Traditionally it is called “God”, but images and ideas of the deity do not comprehend it. What is it? … The real inner life and freedom of man begin when this inner dimension opens up and man lives in communion with the unknown within him. On the basis of this he can also be in communion with the same unknown in others. How to describe it? Impossible to describe it.” (“Witness to Freedom”, pp. 329-330)

“Gabriel Marcel says that the artist who labors to produce effects for which he is well known is unfaithful to himself. This may seem obvious enough when it is badly stated: but how differently we act. We are all too ready to believe that the self that we have created of our more or less inauthentic efforts to be real in the eyes of others is a “real self”. We even take it for our identity. Fidelity to such a nonidentity is of course infidelity to our real person, which is hidden in mystery. Who will you find that has enough faith and self-respect to attend to this mystery and to begin by accepting himself as unknown?” (“Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander”, p. 134)

Comments of Roger Lipsey: “A later image, dated 1964, draws the traditional Christian icon entirely into his own world of signs, the world he described as teeming with “shapes, powers, flying beasts.” This image bears some resemblance to aboriginal cave art but also to Zen calligraphy and to the art of Paul Klee, the only twentieth-century artist with whom Merton felt a reverential link well beyond simple admiration. Leaving nothing to be desired, it can be counted among Merton’s quiet masterpieces. It shows us how to swim – perhaps without utter clarity of vision, but with energy, committed weight, and direction.” (“Angelic Mistakes, The Art of Thomas Merton”, by Roger Lipsey, p. 45)

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