Saturday, March 22, 2008

an act for which there can be found no word

image by Thomas Merton. Untitled.
image size: 7 1/4" h x 10" w

April 10, 1965. The religion of our time, to be authentic, needs to be the kind that escapes practically all religious definition. Because there has been endless definition, endless verbalizing, and words have become gods. There are so many words that one cannot get to God as long as [God] is thought to be on the other side of words. But when [God] is placed firmly beyond the other side of words, the words multiply like flies and there is a great buzzing religion, very profitable, very holy, very spurious. One tries to escape it by acts of truth that fail. One’s whole being must be an act for which there can be found no word. This is the primary meaning of faith. On this basis, other dimensions of belief can be made credible. Otherwise not. My whole being must be a yes and an amen and an exclamation that is not heard. Only after that is there any point in exclamations and even after there is no point in exclamations. One’s acts must be part of the same silent exclamation … If only [we] could realize that nothing HAS TO BE uttered. Utterance makes sense only when it is spontaneous and free.” (The Courage for Truth, p. 25)

Notes from Roger Lipsey (Angelic Mistakes, p. 52-53):

“[this image]… can be understood as glimpses of another world, another quality of energy and organization, not maps but something more like visions from the margin of experience, where matter and energy become interchangeable.. appears to have been done completely without the brush; he seems to have inked grass stems and pulled prints directly from them … chance and providence meet …

When first encountered, these works may seem slight and odd. What a great distance has been traveled from the majestic Zen brushworks. Is it distance gained? The notion of gain or loss is misleading at this point in Merton’s development as an artist; there is simply change in a search that no longer measured itself and perhaps never measured itself along a line of progression. But I can report from my own experience that these images of little visible substance, hovering at some “incomparable point” in space, once seemed to me slight but now strike me as remarkable. This is not a crucial claim or perspective. It simply asks us to keep looking.”


  1. Whoa, what happened to "In the beginning was the Word?"

  2. I'm not sure what you mean, Marc.

    The biblical passage refers to the nature of the relationship between God the Creator, and Jesus. Jesus is the utterance of God the Creator.

    Merton is referring to words - "the endless verbalizing" - that surrounds religion. He is pointing toward a deeper experience of ones own relationship with God, where these words are trivial/useless.

  3. I'll get back to you on that one, but for now...lookee I'm on t.v.!
    (click on featured video link on left

  4. Well, at least you aren't the guy who left his dog out in the cold :-)

  5. I think what implied here with Merton is a larger issue. By the Word, I was thinking of how much the nouveau mystics want to rub out the Word, so we can progress to the next stage of evolution. The other is whether experience or tradition is where one's home base is, so to speak. By making experience primary, the door is opened to a religion of subjectivity, in other words, heresy. It's a sticky point, and an important one.

  6. Do you think that Merton is moving outside of "tradition" with these thoughts, Marc? I can't see where he is contradicting anything biblical, but rather he is delving more deeply into traditional faith.

  7. "The religion of our time, to be authentic, needs to be the kind that escapes practically all religious definition. Because there has been endless definition, endless verbalizing, and words have become gods"

    I come back to "In the beginning the Word was...God" What distinguishes the hebrew prophets is that their message was revelatory, a divine call, not a mystical experience.

    You could say that the 3 primary religious absolutes are:
    Mysticism as an absolute value
    Prophetic: A call issued by through the prophet
    Rational Knowledge: the product of the enlightenment - as an absolute value

    What distinguishes Christianity, what makes it unique, is its prophetic sense, not its mystical.

    Heresy has become a pejorative term in and of itself. But I think it is necessary for clarity, and that is where the Church comes in, to "validate" private revelations or not. How can you determine what is heresy, if you have no definition?

    Or I could be entirely wrong.

    This is very zen, this quote here by Merton, but I don't think it is particularly Catholic.

  8. Hmmm. This quote from Merton does not strike me as mystical, but rather contemplative which, from my understanding, is the very source of prophecy.

    He is pointing, not toward a private revelation, but a universal one.

    I hear what you are saying about heresy, Marc - and I agree that the Catholic Church has a responsibility to guard and protect her truth - but I do not think that Merton, anywhere, violates that truth. And I've been reading Merton a long time. He is thoroughly Catholic. (More Catholic than most Catholics)

  9. Evidently, not everyone in the Catholic hierarchy agrees with you Beth:

    Tee hee

  10. It's unfortunate that these so-called policemen of the faith have missed the gift of Merton in thier obsessive need to discount him. But that has always been the reaction to true prophets ... so I'm not surprised that Merton is targetted.

    It is best just to ignore them and move on. In time, they will come around ...

  11. PS - the article that you refer to, Marc, actually defends Merton as representative of the Catholic Faith and disagrees with the 2 writers who were disappointed that Merton had been included in the draft of the Cathechism.

    I can't find anywhere in the article that you refer me to any reference to "hierarchies" of the Catholic Church not believing that Merton was "Catholic".

    So - I'm not sure what your point is.

  12. By the hierarchy, I was thinking of the Monsignor who had penned the original article for the conservative Catholic news service

    It's conjectural on my part, but I wouldn't be surprised if others in the priesthood who read Ignatius Press share his views.

    My point was, that because of his adoption of eastern techniques and ways of thinking, he had strayed from the "party line".

    Each religion is distinct and has fundamental differences. We need the "police" to ensure that the laws aren't broken (dogmas). If you dismiss dogma, I perfectly understand, but how can you possibly be Catholic without it?

  13. I'm sure that there are many priests who would agree with the Monsignor. There are also many who would disagree.

    Merton was interested in many religions, but he did not dismiss Catholic dogma. In fact, he went to great efforts to explain and protect it.

  14. It is probably a mental deficiency on my part, but I can't comprehend how one can describe the ultimate religion as being one without definition, and at the same time, be upholding dogma. Dogma by it's nature, is definitions, and dogma, to a Catholic, must be the first and last criterion of truth, else, they are not Catholic.
    But I will aquiesce....:)

  15. Well, since this is my blog, I understand your aquiscence, Marc :-) ... keep reading Merton, you'll begin to comprehend how Catholicism is *more* than a set of definitions!


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