Tuesday, December 29, 2009

deeds of no purpose

If you're thinking of New Year's resolutions, you might consider this:

"... "deeds of no purpose" ... "a life of effortlessness", or in Sanskrit anabhogacarya ...

"All the Mahayana sutras give the greatest significance to the attainment of this "life of no-purposiveness". The lilies of the field are living it, so are the greatest spiritual leaders of the world. And all the "Great Vows" of the Bodhisattva grow out of it; his vows are no vows in the ordinary sense of the word."

- from "The Training of the Zen Buddhist Monk", by Daistez Teitaro Suzuki, p. 118

Thursday, December 10, 2009

December 10th

Fr. Louis (Thomas) Merton (center, white and black habit) and Fr. Jean Leclercq (to his right) at the December 1968 meeting in Bangkok.

If there is a feast day for Father Louie, December 10th is it. This is the day, in 1941, that he arrived at the Abby of Our Lady of Gethsemane to begin his life as a Trappist monk. Twenty seven years later, on this day, he died in Bangkok Thailand while participating in a monastic conference.

I have written several times on this blog about Merton’s death. I think that my favorite is the picture poem that Bob Lax drew when he heard that his friend had died.

On that last day, Merton was speaking to the “Meeting of the Monks of Asia”, a gathering that was organized by AIM (Aide a l’Implantation Monastique). The event had brought together seventy monks, nuns, and scholars from twenty-two countries in Asia, America, and Europe, along with journalists and television crews from three countries.

Merton was not especially looking forward to the talk. The journalists and camera crews - his very notoriety - were what he wished to avoid. In fact, the photographers, journalists, and TV crews did, in fact, focus on him, and he was the only person at the conference who was treated that way.

Merton's talk was about the future of monasticism. Not necessarily the monasticism that is tied to an institution (what happens when the institution collapses?), but to the monk/man who knows the score. The monk who takes up a critical attitude toward the world and its structures, who says, in one way or another, that the claims of the world are fraudulent, who attains a liberty that no one can touch and who lives by the law of love.

I thought of Merton's speech this morning while watching Barack Obama accept the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo. His speech, like Merton's, was about the future.

"I do not believe that we will have the will, or the staying power, to complete this work without something more – and that is the continued expansion of our moral imagination; an insistence that there is something irreducible that we all share."

Below are some posts where I have discussed Merton's death in this blog. It is an eclectic collection, as is this entire blog.

The Funeral of Thomas Merton - a white celebration (December 17, 2008)

the monk / poet's journey toward silence (December 10, 2008)

a monk among monks (January 19, 2008)

the Daniel Berrigan connection, part 4 (July 15, 2007)

photo of a dream, finding your way (March 4, 2007)

When Prophecy Had A Voice
(December 10, 2006)

the death of Thomas Merton (December 10, 2006)

kanchenjunga (December 9, 2006)

on photographing kanchenjunga (December 9, 2006)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Don't think: Look! (Zen)

"The language used by Zen is therefore in some sense an antilanguage, and the “logic” of Zen is a radical reversal of philosophical logic. The human dilemma of communication is that we cannot communicate ordinarily without words and signs, but even ordinary experience tends to be falsified by our habits of verbalization and rationalization. The convenient tools of language enable us to decide beforehand what we think things mean, and tempt us all too easily to see things only in a way that fits our logical preconceptions and our verbal formulas. Instead of seeing things and facts as they are we see them as reflections and verifications of the sentences we have previously made up in our minds. We quickly forget how to simply see things and substitute our words and our formulas for the things themselves, manipulating facts so that we see only what conveniently fits our prejudices. Zen uses language against itself to blast out these preconceptions and to destroy the specious “reality” in our minds so that we can see directly. Zen is saying, as Wittgenstein said, “Don’t think: Look!”"
-Thomas Merton, Zen and the Birds of Appetite, pp. 48-49

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Friends and the Church

"If I stay with the Church it is out of a disillusioned love, and with a realization that I myself could not be happy outside, though I have no guarantee of being happy inside either. In effect, my 'happiness' does not depend on any institution or any establishment. As for you, you are part of my 'Church' of friends who are in many ways more important to me than the institution".
Merton in a letter to Czeslaw Milosz

Thursday, December 3, 2009


photo by Thomas Merton

Advent musings

"It is important to remember the deep, in some ways anguished seriousness of Advent, when the mendacious celebrations of our marketing culture so easily harmonize with our tendency to regard Christmas, consciously or otherwise, as a return to our own innocence and our own infancy ...
"But the Church, in preparing us for the birth of a "great prophet", a savior and a king of peace, has more in mind than seasonal cheer. The Advent mystery focuses the light of faith upon the very meaning of life, of history, of man, of the world and of our own being. In Advent we celebrate the coming and indeed in some ways the presence of Christ in our world."
(from "Seasons Of Celebration")

"If we accept God's revelation of Himself in the infant of Bethlehem. we must also recognize that this acceptance has grave consequences for our lives. It means accepting One for whom there is no room in the 'inn' of an excited and distraught world. We see this in the disturbing symbol of that census which brings 'the whole world' into the books of the Roman imperial power. If we accept this infant as our God, then we accept our own obligations to grow with Him in our world of arrogant power and travel with Him as he ascends to Jerusalem and the Cross, which is the denial of power."
(from "Love And Living")

HT to Frank G. for these quotes.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

" ... it is she who makes me write it down ..."

The following thoughts from Merton, sixty years ago, on the last day of Advent, while looking at a picture of Fra Angelico’s “Annunciation”.
December 23, 1949

Late Afternoon. The quiet is filled with an altogether different tonality. The sun has moved altogether around and the room is darker. It is serious. The hour is more weary. I take time out to pray, and I look at the Angelico picture, feeling like the end of Advent, which is today. ‘Ecce completa sunt omnia quae dicta sunt per angelum de Virgine Maria.’ – that was the antiphon after the Benetictus this morning. For a few minutes I stayed silent and didn’t move and listened to the watch and wondered if perhaps I might not understand something of the work Our Lady is preparing.
It is an hour of tremendous expectation.
I remember my weariness, my fears, my lack of understanding, my dimness, my sin of over-activity. What is she preparing: have I offended her? What is coming up? She loves me. I reject emotion about it. Her love is too serious for any emotion of which I might be capable. Her love shapes worlds, shapes history, forms an Apocalypse in and around me, gives birth to the city of God. I am drawn back again into liturgy by a sense of my great need. I look at the serene, severe porch where Angelico’s angel speaks to her. Angelico knew how to paint her. She is thin, immensely noble, and she does not rise to meet the angel. Mother, make me as sincere as the picture. All the way down into my soul, sincere, sincere. Let me have no thought that could not kneel before you in that picture. No image, no shadow. I believe you. I am silent. I will act like the picture. Ecce completa sunt. It is the end of Advent and the afternoon is vivid with expectancy.
She is here and she has filled the room with something that is uniquely her own, too clean for me to appreciate. She is here with the tone of her expectancy. There is nothing wrong in writing it, for it is she who makes me write it down.

- Thomas Merton, Entering the Silence, pp. 385-386

HT to my friend, Frank G.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

"am I not arrogant too?"

Septuagesima Sunday, 1967] ... And, after all, am I not arrogant too? Am I not unreasonable, unfair, demanding, suspicious and often quite arbitrary in my dealings with others? The point is not just "who is right" but "judge not" and "forgive one another" and "bear one another's burdens". This by no means implies passive obsequiousness and blind obedience, but a willingness to listen, to be patient. This is our task.
-- Thomas Merton
The Road to Joy
Robert E. Daggy, editor
(New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1989): pp 96-97

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Prayer for Dorothy Day

Today is the birthday of Dorothy Day, who was born on November 8, 1897.

O Dorothy, I think of you and the beat people and the ones with nothing and the poor in virtue, the very poor, the ones no one can respect. I am not worthy to say I love all of you. Intercede for me, a stuffed shirt in a place of stuffed shirts and a big dumb phone, who has tried to be respectable and has succeeded. What a deception! I know, of course, that you are respected, too, but you have a right to be. You didn’t jump into the most respectable possible situation and then tell everyone about it. I am worried about all this, but I am not beating myself over the head. I just think that, for the love of God, I should say it, and that, for the love of God, you should pray for me.

-Thomas Merton, The Hidden Ground of Love, p. 137
Other posts in this blog that mention Dorothy Day are here.

Some interesting photos of Dorothy and a large search-able collection of her writings are here.

Dorothy Day, photo by Vivian Cherry

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Meeting D.T. Suzuki in NYC, 1964

In June of 1964 Thomas Merton met with D.T. Suzuki in New York City. Dr. Suzuki was 94 years old.

The invitation came suddenly only a few days before the trip, and Merton was apprehensive and reluctant to accept. He had only been on a plane once before, and rarely left the monastery. He never expected his Abbot to grant permission, but, surprisingly Dom James did, and the flight was booked. Merton was shaken up a bit - “I can think of nowhere I would less rather go than New York”, - but once the trip got underway, he loved it:
“ - these are my people for God’s sake! - I had forgotten - the tone of voice, the awareness, the weariness, the readiness to keep standing, an amazing existence, the realization of the fallible condition of man, and of the fantastic complexity of modern life.

“I loved being here, seeing familiar houses and places and unfamiliar huge apartments yet knowing where I was ...” (Dancing in the Water of Life, pp. 109-114)
About his meeting with Suzuki, Merton had this to say:
“I sat with Suzuki on the sofa and we talked of all kinds of things to do with Zen and with life ... For once in a long time I felt as if I had spent a few moments with my own family.” (Dancing in the Water of Life, pp. 116-117)

“One had to meet this man in order to fully appreciate him. He seemed to me to embody all the indefinable qualities of the “Superior Man” of the ancient Asian, Taoist, Confucian, and Buddhist traditions. Or, rather in meeting him one seemed to meet that “True Man of No Title”, that Chuang Tzu and Zen Masters speak of. And of course this is the man one really wants to meet. Who else is there? In meeting Dr. Suzuki and drinking a cup of tea with him I felt I had met this one man. It was like finally arriving at one’s own home.” (Zen and the Birds of Appetite, p. 61)
Later Merton said in a letter to a friend:
“Without contact with living examples, we soon get lost or give out .... He really understands what interior simplicity is all about and really lives it. This is the important thing.” (Letter to Anglican priest, Fr. Aelred, Dec. 8, 1964, The School of Charity, p. 254)
Of course, Merton experienced the meeting in multiple ways. This is how he recounted it to Lax:
“I was to visit Suzuki, yes Suzuki, you heard me right. I was to visit with him very old, but secretary young and spry make the tea ceremony and Suzuki with the ear trumpet propose many koans from a Chinese book and in the middle they gang up on me with winks and blinks and all kinds of friendly glances and assurances and they declare with one voice: “Who is the western writer who understand best the Zen IT IS YOU” they declare. You in this connection means me. It is I in person that they have elected to this slot and number of position to be one in the west. First west in Zen is now my food for thought.” (Letter to Robert Lax, July 10, 1964, When Prophecy Still Had A Voice, p. 280)
Merton was able to see the Van Gogh exhibit at the Guggenheim while in New York and the evening before he left, he splurged on a very good dinner with a couple of glasses of wine and some Benedictine.

Pure Merton.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Faith rooted in the unknown

This week's quote from the Merton Institute:

[Christmas Letter, 1966] Most of you, even with all that you have to suffer, are much better off than you realize. Yet the heart of man can be full of so much pain, even when things are exteriorly "all right". It becomes all the more difficult because today we are used to thinking that there are explanations for everything. But there is no explanation for most of what goes on in our own hearts, and we cannot account for it all. No use resorting to mental tranquilizers that even religious explanations sometimes offer. Faith must be deeper than that, rooted in the unknown and in the abyss of darkness that is the ground of our being. No use teasing the darkness to try to make answers grow out of it. But if we learn how to have a deep inner patience, things solve themselves, or God solves them if you prefer, but do not expect to see how. Just learn to wait, and do what you can and help other people.

Thomas Merton. The Road to Joy, Robert E. Daggy, editor (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1989): 94.

Thought for the Day

Often in helping someone else we find the best way to bear with our own trouble.

The Road to Joy: 94.

Monday, October 26, 2009

so much for the Desert Fathers ...

"The day of the Desert Fathers is forever gone and we are waiting for a new sun to rise above the horizon of egotism and sordidness in every sense."
- D.T. Suzuki, from Zen and the Birds of Appetite, p. 115

Sunday, October 25, 2009

"How I Pray is Breath" (Merton on Zen)

Photo by Thomas Merton

[Through the early 1960s, Suzuki sent Merton annual illustrated calendars featuring images by the 18th century Zen priest and artist, Sengai. Suzuki printed commentary on each image, which made the calendar a book about the substance and style of Zen. Photographs of the interior of Merton’s hermitage show that the Sengai calendar had a place of pride.]

“How I pray is breathe.”

Back to Dr. Suzuki...

In the years following Merton’s letter of introduction to D.T. Suzuki, he would become one of the keenest students of Zen in the West. He published essays on Zen topics in a variety of journals.

“But more importantly still, Zen became a force in his life. It was a touchstone of truth, a code for consciousness, a description of the depths of reality and human nature, a way of being in Nature, a new kind of paradoxical wit and humor, a finger pointing not just at the moon but at a universe of meaning - it was all these things and more.”

- p. 10 from Roger Lipsey’s book, Angelic Mistakes - The Art of Thomas Merton

In 1962 Merton wrote to a friend in Asia:

“There are times when one has to cut right through all he knows and the Zen view of things is a good clean blade.”

- Merton letter to Paul Sih, January 2, 1962, The Hidden Ground of Love, p.551

Merton did not receive any formal instruction in Zen, his sangha were his brothers at Gethsemane. But his Christian practice of contemplative prayer had created layers of kinship and receptivity:

“What is really meant ... is continual openness to God, attentiveness, listening, disposability, etc. In terms of Zen, it is not awareness of but simple awareness.”

- Merton letter to a woman religious, March 27, 1968, Witness to Freedom: The Letters of Thomas Merton in Times of Crisis, edited by William Shannon, p. 197

Saturday, October 24, 2009


Photo by Thomas Merton

the sayings of the Desert Fathers (from the Wisdom of the Desert)

Merton’s translations of the “sayings” of the Desert Fathers are from the Verba Seniorium, which is part of a larger book, Migne’s Latin Patrology. They have long been part of traditional monastic lore. Benedict himself had prescribed that they be read aloud before Compline.

The sayings are simple and concrete, about ordinary life. They remind me of a little book of short Zen anecdotes - Zen Flesh, Zen Bones - that I’ve had in my bathroom for many years. Merton says that they are “plain answers to plain questions.”

It is interesting that the Desert Fathers lived at about the same time (3rd and 4th centuries A.D.) that Zen was developing in the East.

Merton found in the Desert Fathers something akin to what he was seeking in the monastery. A way of seeing and being that was true. A way to live that was not steeped in delusion. I believe that he was reaching for and defining a contemplative consciousness that transcends our usual ego driven Cartesian consciousness, and will be our life line into the future.

Here are a few sayings of the Desert Fathers that I have pulled from Wisdom in the Desert:

Once two brothers were sitting with Abbot Poemen and one praised the other brother saying: He is a good brother, he hates evil. The old man said: What do you mean, he hates evil? And the brother did not know what to reply. So he said: Tell me, Father, what it is to hate evil? The Father said: That man hates evil who hates his own sins, and looks upon every brother as a saint, and loves him as a saint.

Abbot John used to say: We have thrown down a light burden, which is the reprehending of our own selves, and we have chosen instead to bear a heavy burden, by justifying our own selves and condemning others.

Abbot Hor said to his disciple: Take care that you never bring into this ell the words of another.

Blessed Magarius said: This is the truth, if a monk regards contempt as praise, poverty as riches, and hunger as a feast, he will never die.

One of the elders said: Pray attentively and you will soon straighten out your thoughts.

Abbot Joseph asked Abbot Pastor: Tell me how I can become a monk. The elder replied: If you want to have rest here in this life and also in the next, in every conflict with another say: Who am I? And judge no one.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

the Desert Fathers (according to Merton)

“In the fourth century A.D. the deserts of Egypt, Palestine, Arabia and Persia were peopled by a race of men who have left behind them a strange reputation...”

This is the way Thomas Merton begins The Wisdom of the Desert, a book that was published in 1960. It was one of Merton’s favorites among his own books, showing how deeply he identified with the 4th century Christian Fathers who sought solitude and contemplation in the deserts of the Near East.

Merton introduces his translations Desert Fathers sayings with a rather lengthy discussion of just who these hermits were:
These were men who believed to let oneself drift along, passively accepting the tenets and values of what they knew as society, was purely and simply disaster. ...

It should seem to us much stranger than it does, this paradoxical flight from the world that attained its greatest dimension (I almost said frenzy) when the “world” became officially Christian. These men seem to have thought that there is really no such thing as a “Christian state”. ...

They were not rebels against society ... one of the reasons why they fled from the world of men was that in the world men were divided into those who were successful and those who had to give in and be imposed upon. The Desert Fathers declined to be ruled by men, but had no desire to rule over others themselves. ...

What the Fathers sought most of all was their own true self, in Christ. And in order to do this, they had to reject completely the false, formal self fabricated under social compulsion in “the world”. ...

Their flight to the arid horizons of the desert meant also a refusal to be content with arguments, concepts, and technical verbiage. ...

... such a path could only be traveled by one who was very alert and very sensitive to the landmarks of a trackless wilderness ...

The proximate end to all this striving was “purity of heart” - a clear unobstructed vision of the true state of affairs, an intuitive grasp of one’s own inner reality as anchored, or rather lost, in God through Christ ...
Merton senses the commonality of the Desert Fathers and the Indian Yogis and Zen monks of China and Japan. In 20th century America, though, such beings are tragically rare. He notes that there is a primitive wisdom among some of the Native American tribes, but it is different from that of the Desert Fathers, who made a clean break with a conventional, accepted social context in order to “swim for one’s life in an apparently irrational Void.”

He uses words like “fabulous originality” to describe these “primitive souls”. And even though he says that the world still needs solitaries and hermits, he admits that simply imitating their simplicity, austerity and prayer would be an unsatisfactory answer to today’s problems:

“We must liberate ourselves, in our own way, from involvement in a world that is plunging to disaster. But our world is different from theirs. Our involvement in it is more complete. Our danger is far more desperate. Our time, perhaps, is shorter than we think.

...we need to learn from these men of the fourth century how to ignore prejudice, defy compulsion and strike out fearlessly into the unknown.” pp. 23-24

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Pilgrimage to Perry Street

This is a little different, but very much in keeping with the spirit of louie, louie. Thanks to Jim Martin, SJ and America magazine. (I'll get back to Zen and the Desert Fathers shortly ...)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Merton and Zen, the beginning ...

Dr. D.T. Suzuki (1870-1966)

“I have my own way to walk, and for some reason or another, Zen is right in the middle of wherever I go.”

In 1959 Merton began his correspondence with D.T. Suzuki. Since 1956, he had been reading everything he could find by the Japanese Zen Buddhist scholar.

Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki
is credited with the introducing “Zen” to the Western world. He lived in a cottage on the grounds of monastery near Tokyo, but traveled often to the West. Merton would eventually collaborate with him on published dialogues and meet him in person in New York in 1964. His first letter to Suzuki, dated March 12, 1959, is worth noting:

“Perhaps you are accustomed to receiving letters from strangers. I hope so, because I do not wish to disturb you with a bad-mannered intrusion. I hope a word of explanation will reconcile you to the disturbance, if it is one. The one who writes to you is a monk, a Christian, and so-called contemplative of a rather strict Order. A monk, also, who has tried to write some books about the contemplative life and who, for better or worse, has a great love of and interest in Zen.

“I will not be so foolish as to pretend to you that I understand Zen. To be frank, I hardly understand Christianity. ...

“Not to be foolish and multiply works, I’ll say simply that it seems to me that Zen is the very atmosphere of the Gospels, and the Gospels are bursting with it. It is the proper climate for any monk, no matter what kind of monk he may be. If I could not breathe Zen I would probably die of spiritual asphyxiation. But I still don’t know what it is. No matter. I don’t know what the air is either.”

“... Enclosed with this letter are a couple of pages of quotations from a little book of translations I have made. These are translations from the hermits who lived in the Egyptian deserts in the fourth and fifth centuries A.D. I feel strongly that you will like them for a kind of Zen quality they have about them ... I believe that you are the one man, of all modern writers, who bears some resemblance of the Desert Fathers who wrote these little lines, or rather spoke them ...”

Letter to D.T. Suzuki, March 12, 1959, The Hidden Ground of Love, pp. 561-562


Photograph by Thomas Merton

Thursday, October 15, 2009

through a barn window

Photograph by Thomas Merton
One of Gethsemani's farm fields viewed through a barn window.

contemplative freedom

"The contemplative life must provide an area, a space of liberty, of silence, in which possibilities are allowed to surface and new choices - beyond routine choice - become manifest. It should create a new experience of time, not as a stopgap, stillness, but as “temps vierge” - not a blank to be filled or an untouched space to be conquered and violated, but a space which can enjoy its own potentialities and hopes - and its own presence to itself. One’s own time. But not dominated by one’s own ego and its demands. Hence open to others - compassionate time, rooted in the sense of common illusion and in criticism of it."
-Thomas Merton, The Other Side of the Mountain, p. 262

“When nothing is securely possessed one is free to accept any of the somethings. How many are there? They roll up at your feet. How many doors and windows are there in it? There is no end to the number of somethings and all of them (without exception) are acceptable. If one gets suddenly proud and says for one reason or another: I cannot accept this; then the whole freedom to accept any of the others vanishes. But if one maintains secure possession of nothing (what has been called poverty of spirit), then there is no limit to what one may freely enjoy. In this free enjoyment there is no possession of things. There is only enjoyment. What is possessed is nothing ... When in the state of nothing, one diminishes the something in one: Character. At any moment one is free to take on character again, but then it is without fear, full of life and love. For one’s been at the point of the nourishment that sustains in no matter what one of the something situations.”
- John Cage, Silence, pp. 132-133

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

war and peace, hatred and love

“I have learned that an age in which politicians talk about peace is an age in which everybody expects war: the great men of the earth would not talk of peace so much if they did not secretly believe it possible, with one more war, to annihilate their enemies forever. Always, ‘after just one more war’ it will dawn, the new era of love: but first everybody who is hated must be eliminated. For hate, you see, is the mother of their kind of love.

Unfortunately the love that is to be born out of hate will never be born. Hatred is sterile; it breeds nothing but the image of its own empty fury, its own nothingness. Love cannot come of emptiness. It is full of reality. Hatred destroys the real being of man in fighting the fiction which it calls ‘the enemy.’ For man is concrete and alive, but ‘the enemy’ is a subjective abstraction. A society that kills real men in order to deliver itself from the phantasm of a paranoid delusion is already possessed by the demon of destructiveness because it has made itself incapable of love. It refuses, a priori, to love. It is dedicated not to concrete relations of man with man, but only to abstractions about politics, economics, psychology, and even, sometimes, religion.”
-Thomas Merton
from Seeds
Selected and edited by Robert Inchausti
[Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc, 2002 - page 50]
Originally published in The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton
[New York: New Directions, 1977, pages 374-75]

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Our Lady of the Olive Trees

[Update: The Marion Library at the University of Dayton has verified that the painting below is in its "Epinal" collection. These works of art were named after the French town of Epinal and date to the 2nd half of the 19th Century. They are quite large and are the precursors to what are today known as holy cards. This may not be the leaflet, per se, that Merton was remembering in the Sign of Jonas, but it sure looks like it could be especially with that writing below the picture.]

Toward the end of the book, The Sign of Jonas, Merton mentions Our Lady of the Olive Trees:
"There came from France a tiny, ancient leaflet, printed somewhere in the Auvergne at least half a century ago. It is about Our Lady of the Olive Trees, at Murat. Had I heard of her? I must have. I stood in the shadow of her church ..."
When Merton was 10 years old, his artist father took him to France to live with him. Merton learned French easily and studied mostly at boarding schools while visiting his father on Sundays. During the summer of 1927 when he was 12 years old, Merton lived with an elderly Catholic couple, the Privats, in Murat, a small village in the Auvergne region of France.

This photo comes from a collection of Marian art at the Univerisity of Dayton. I wonder if it is the leaflet that Merton speaks of.Our Lady of Olives takes its origin from a wooden statue of Our Lady which survived the destruction of the Church of Murat caused by lightning in 1493. (Hence, Our Lady of the Olives is the protectress against lightning. Interesting in light of how Merton died from a bolt of electricity.). No one is sure where the name, Our Lady of the Olives comes from. Some say this is a reference to the wood from which she is carved, others say it is an allusion to suffering (Garden of Olives).

Merton comes to this memory just after having committed himself to compassion, whom he names Queen of the hermits and mother of the poor.

"What is my new desert? The name of it is compassion. There is no wilderness so terrible, so beautiful, so arid and so fruitful as the wilderness of compassion ...

"Do you suppose I have a spiritual life? I have none, I am indigence, I am silence, I am poverty, I am solitude, for I have renounced spirituality to find God, and He it is Who preaches loud in the depths of my indigence, saying: “I will pour out my spirit upon thy children and they shall spring up among the herbs as willows beside the running waters” (Isaias, 44:3-4). “The children of thy barrenness shall say in thy ears: the place is too strait for me, make me room to dwell in” (Isaias, 49:10). I die of love for you, Compassion: I take you for my Lady, as Francis married poverty I marry you, the Queen of hermits and the Mother of the poor.

-Thomas Merton, The Sign of Jonas, p. 334
Below are photos of the church at Murat and the statue of Our Lady of Olives.

Murat, France (there is a large white statue of the Blessed Mother on that hill on the left)

Monday, September 28, 2009

the shadows serve You ...

Photo by Thomas Merton
Winter view of fields and distant hills

The things of Time are in connivance with eternity. The shadows serve You. The beasts sing to You before they pass away. The solid hills shall vanish like a worn out garment. All things change and die and disappear. Questions arrive, assume their actuality, and disappear. In this hour I shall cease to ask them and silence shall be my answer. The world that Your love created, that the heat has distorted, that my mind is always misinterpreting, shall cease to interfere with our voices.

-- Thomas Merton, quoted in Dialogues with Silence, edited by Jonathan Montaldo, originally from the Sign of Jonas

HT: barefoot toward the Light

Thursday, September 24, 2009

the smokescreen of words

the smokescreen of words

“We put words between ourselves and things. Even God has become another conceptual unreality in no-man’s land of language that no longer serves as a means of communion with reality.

“The solitary life, being silent, clears away the smoke-screen of words that man has lad down between his mind and things. In solitude we remain face to face with the naked being of things. And yet we find that the nakedness of reality which we have feared, is neither a matter of terror nor for shame. It is clothed in the friendly communion of silence, and this silence is love. The world our words have attempted to classify, to control and even to despise (because they could not contain it) comes close to us, for silence teaches us to know reality by respecting it where words have defiled it.”

- Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude, pp. 92-93

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Franz Jägerstätter: Letters and Writings from Prison

The following excerpts are from Anna Brown’s review of the book, Franz Jägerstätter: Letters and Writings from Prison:

Reading Franz Jägerstätter's Letters and Writings from Prison, I discovered, was the literary equivalent of walking into a burning building. I, like the Catholic prelates and Austrian officials, wanted to flee while my hide was still intact. At other points in my reading, however, tears would flow down my face as I found it harder and harder to turn away from the truth of his insight and actions. ...

In an essay that he wrote in 1942, "On Today's Issue: Catholic or National Socialist," Franz Jägerstätter recalls a dream that he had ...

"I saw [in a dream] a wonderful train as it came around a mountain. With little regard for the adults, children flowed to this train and were not held back. There were present a few adults who did not go into the area. I do not want to give their names or describe them. Then a voice said to me, This train is going to hell.' Immediately, it happened that someone took my hand, and the same voice said to me; 'Now we are going to purgatory.' What I glimpsed and perceived was fearful. If this voice had not told me that we were going to purgatory, I would have judged that I had found myself in hell."

For Franz Jägerstätter, the train symbolizes National Socialism with all of its sub-organizations and programs (the National Socialist Public Assistance Program, Hitler Youth, etc). As he puts it, "the train represents the National Socialist Volk community and everything for which it struggles and sacrifices." He remembers that just prior to having this dream, he had read that 150,000 young Austrian people had joined Hitler Youth. He recounts, sadly, that the Christians of Austria had never donated as much money to charitable organizations as they now donated to Nazi party organizations. He realized that it wasn't really the money that the Nazis were after, it was the souls of the Austrian people: You were either with the Fuhrer or you were nothing. Upon this realization, Franz Jägerstätter writes, "I would like to cry out to the people aboard the National Socialism train: 'Jump off this train before it arrives at your last stop where you will pay with your life!'"

His admonition to "jump off the train" is one that must be heard and acted upon, perhaps never more so than today. In his recent meditation on Franz Jägerstätter's life, Father Daniel Berrigan urges that we not become complacent in these "post-Hitler" times: 'To speak of today; it is no longer Hitler's death train we ride, the train of the living dead. Or is it? The same train. Only, if possible (it is possible) longer, faster, cheaper. On schedule, every hour on the hour, speedy and cheap and unimaginably lethal. An image of life in the world. A ghost train still bound, mad as March weather, for hell. On earth… Despite all fantasies and homilies and 'States of the Union' urging the contrary. Today, a world of normalized violence, a world of standoff, of bunkers and missiles nose to nose, a world of subhuman superpowers and the easy riders. The train beats its way across the world, crowded with contented passenger-citizen-Christians."
More information about Franz Jägerstätter is here and here.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Moonlight is in this prayer, stillness ...

Some great quotes and Merton insight from Jim Forest (thanks, Jim). I had never before seen those words from the Sign of Jonas. They may very well be my favorite of all of the Merton words. Take your time reading them.

from Jim:

A day or two ago I sent out to my Merton list this short passage from St. Gregory of Sinai:

Become what you are.
Find Him who is already yours.
Listen to Him who never ceases speaking to you.
Own Him who already owns you.

* * *

This reminded me of some of Merton's writings, for example these three:

* * *

As for this finding of God, we cannot even look for Him unless we have already found Him, and we cannot find Him unless He has first found us. We cannot begin to seek Him without a special gift of His grace; yet if we wait for grace to move us before beginning to seek Him, we will probably never begin.

-- Thomas Merton
No Man is an Island [1955]

* * *

In one sense we are always traveling, and traveling as if we did not know where we were going. In another sense we have already arrived. We cannot arrive at the perfect possession of God in this life, and that is why we are traveling and in darkness. But we already possess Him by grace, and therefore, in that sense, we have arrived and are dwelling in the light. But oh! How far have I to go to find You in Whom I have already arrived!

-- Thomas Merton
The Seven Storey Mountain
New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1948, p 419

* * *

And last of all there is this, partly as summarized in my Merton biography, “Living With Wisdom”:

Sitting on a cedar log under a tree in February 1952, gazing out at light blue hills in the distance, Merton saw his true self as a kind of sea creature dwelling in a water cavern which knows of the world of dry land only by faint rumor. When he got free of plans and projects — the first level of the sea with its troubled surface — then he lived
in the second level, in the deep waters out of reach of storms, where there was “peace, peace, peace.... We pray therein, slightly waving among the fish.... Words, as I think, do not spring from this second level. They are only meant to drown there. The question of socialization does not concern these waters. They are nobody’s property.... No questions whatever perturb their holy botany. Neutral territory. No man’s sea. I think God meant me to write about this second level.”

Still deeper down Merton was aware of a third level,

>> swimming in the rich darkness which is no longer thick like water but pure, like air. Starlight, and you do not know where it is coming from. Moonlight is in this prayer, stillness, waiting for the Redeemer.... Everything is charged with intelligence, though all is night. There is no speculation here. There is vigilance... Everything is spirit. Here God is adored, His coming is recognized, He is received as soon as He is expected and because He is expected He is received, but He has passed by sooner than He arrived, He was gone before He came. He returned forever. He never yet passed by and already He had disappeared for all eternity. He is and He is not. Everything and Nothing. Not light not dark, not high not low, not this side not that side. Forever and forever. In the wind of His passing the angels cry, “The Holy One is gone.” Therefore I lie dead in the air of their wings.... It is a strange awakening to find the sky inside you and beneath you and above you and all around you so that your spirit is one with the sky, and all is positive night.” ,,

– Thomas Merton
Sign of Jonas, pp 138-9

Friday, September 11, 2009

In the ruins of New York

Oh how quiet it is after the black night
When flames out of the clouds burned down your cariated teeth,
And when those lightnings,
Lancing the black boils of Harlem and the Bronx,
Spilled the remaining prisoners,
(The tens and twenties of the living)
Into the trees of Jersey,
To the green farms, to find their liberty.

How are they down, how have they fallen down
Those great strong towers of ice and steel,
And melted by what terror and what miracle?
What fires and lights tore down,
With the white anger of their sudden accusation,
Those towers of silver and of steel?

From Figures For An Apocalypse, VI - In the Ruins of New York (1947) by Thomas Merton

HT to Fr. Z.

Interesting that this poem was written before the World Trade Towers were even built! The North Tower was completed in 1970, and the South Tower in 1971 - both after Merton had died.

The prayer life of a flexible instrument

There are these “drawings” that Merton left behind. Not “drawings of” anything. They remind me of the images that come back to us from the Hubble telescope. Outer space. Are these inner space?

Roger Lipsey says that Merton inked grass and then pulled the prints directly from the grass. On this one he probably layered brushwork with a dense lattice of inked grass stems, which functioned as a kind of stencil. Merton must have been pleased “to create such fragile, temporary patterns of grass. That nearly empty, luminous drifts of energy or matter appeared in prints derived from these fragile setups must have been a shock”.
(“Angelic Mistakes, The Art of Thomas Merton”, by Roger Lipsey, p. 53)

April 3, 1965. “ To be a flexible instrument in the hand of God is a great and sometimes terrible vocation ... We are all in some way instruments. And we all have to be virtuosos at taking a back seat when necessary. Way back. The prayer life of a flexible instrument cannot be well ordered. It has to be terribly free. And utterly responsive to a darkly, dimly understood command.”
("The School of Charity" p. 271)

October, 1968. “You have to see your will and God’s will dualistically for a long time. You have to experience duality for a long time until you see it’s not there. In this respect I am a Hindu. Ramakrishna has the solution. Don’t consider dualistic prayer on a lower level. The lower is higher. There are no levels. Any moment you can break through to the underlying unity which is God’s gift in Christ. In the end, Praise praises. Thanksgiving gives thanks. Jesus prays. Openness is all.”
(David Steindl-Rast, citing Merton in conversation, in "Thomas Merton, Monk: A Monastic Tribute", p. 89)

Friday, August 28, 2009

weeds against the whitewashed sheep barn

Photo by Thomas Merton

monasticism as prophecy

"The great problem for monasticism today is not survival, but prophecy."
- Thomas Merton in the letter to Fr. Jean Leclerq in which he accepted the invitation to speak at the Congress in Bangkok. 1968.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Merton on Love

The following is excerpted from an article: “a buyer’s market for LOVE?”, which appeared in the December 24, 1966 issue of the AVE MARIA magazine. This was shortly after he had fallen into a romantic relationship with a nurse:

“... for love takes you out of yourself. You lose control. You “fall”. You get hurt. It upsets the ordinary routine of life. You become emotional, imaginative, vulnerable, foolish. You are no longer content to eat and sleep, make money and have fun. You now have to let yourself be carried away with this force that is stronger than reason and more imperious than even business!

“... but the question of love is one that cannot be evaded. Whether or not you claim to be interested in it, from the moment you are born you are bound to be concerned with love, because love is not just something that happens to you: It is a special way of being alive.

“ ... We do not live merely to vegetate through our days until we die. We do not live merely to take part in the routines of work and amusement that go on around us. We are not just machines that have to be cared for and driven carefully until they run down.
“Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone - we find it with another. We do not discover the secret of our lives merely by study and calculation in our own isolated meditations. The meaning of our life is a secret that has to be revealed to us in love, by the one we love.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

silence as protest

"I make monastic silence a protest against the lies of politicians, propagandists and agitators.... "

Thomas Merton, In My Own Words: 107

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The bombing of Hiroshima and the Feast of the Transfiguration

Points for meditation to be scratched on the walls of a cave.

I went to Mass this morning and the priest talked about the great feast of the Transfiguration, which is today. He did not mention the bombing of Hiroshima, which took place 64 years ago today. They go together for me. I cannot think of one without thinking of the other.

Poet-monk, Thomas Merton, wrote a poem, “Original Child Bomb,” the title being an exact translation of the Japanese word for the bomb that dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.

The poem is a short history written in numbered, laconic sentences about the development and first use of nuclear weapons, despite the appeal of some of the bomb’s makers that it not be used without prior warning. Nonetheless, the bomb was dropped on a city considered of minor military importance.

“The people who were near the center became nothing. The whole city was blown to bits and the ruins caught fire instantly everywhere, burning briskly. 70,000 people were killed right away or died within a few hours. Those who did not die at once suffered great pain. Few of them were soldiers.”

Merton noted the odd way that religious terms had been used by those associated with the bomb. Its first test was called Trinity. The mission to drop the Hiroshima bomb returned to Papacy, the code name for Tinian.

Dorothy Day’s response to the bombing was published in the Catholic Worker in September, 1945: “We Go on Record: the Catholic Worker Response to Hiroshima”:

Mr. Truman was jubilant. President Truman. True man; what a strange name, come to think of it. We refer to Jesus Christ as true God and true Man. Truman is a true man of his time in that he was jubilant. He was not a son of God, brother of Christ, brother of the Japanese, jubilating as he did. He went from table to table on the cruiser which was bringing him home from the Big Three conference, telling the great news; "jubilant" the newspapers said. Jubilate Deo. We have killed 318,000 Japanese.

That is, we hope we have killed them, the Associated Press, on page one, column one of the Herald Tribune, says. The effect is hoped for, not known. It is to be hoped they are vaporized, our Japanese brothers -- scattered, men, women and babies, to the four winds, over the seven seas. Perhaps we will breathe their dust into our nostrils, feel them in the fog of New York on our faces, feel them in the rain on the hills of Easton.

Jubilate Deo. President Truman was jubilant.. ...

This text is not copyrighted. However, if you use or cite this text please indicate the original publication source and this website (Dorothy Day Library on the Web at http://www.catholicworker.org/dorothyday/). Thank you.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Peace In the Post-Christian Era

"A profound writing ... more timely than tomorrow's headlines." - Daniel Ellsburg

"The book you hold in your hands was intended for publication in 1962. While Thomas Merton would be pleased that 42 years later this labor of love is at last in bookshops and libraries, it would distress him that, far from being a poignant memento of a bygone era, it remains both timely and relevant." - Jim Forest, from the Foreward to Peace In The Post Christian Era

[To Jacques Maritain, Feb, 1963] I do not want to bother you with a multitude of things of mine, but I am putting into the mail a mimeographed copy of my "unpublishable" book on "Peace in the Post Christian Era." Unpublishable because forbidden by our upright and upstanding Abbot General who does not want to leave Christian civilization without the bomb to crown its history of honor. He says that my defense of peace "fausserait le message de la vie contemplative" [would falsify the message of the contemplative life]. The fact that a monk should be concerned about this issue is thought-by "good monks"-to be scandalous. A hateful distraction, withdrawing one's mind from Baby Jesus in the Crib. Strange to say, no one seems concerned at the fact that the crib is directly under the bomb.

Thomas Merton. The Courage for Truth: Letters to Writers, Christine M. Bochen, editor (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1993): 36.

Note: "Peace in the Post-Christian Era" was at last published by Orbis Books i
n 2005.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Unmasking the Truth: The Unspeakable

Jim Douglas’ book, JFK and the Unspeakable, is not so much about how President Kennedy was killed, but why he had to die.

According to a review in America by Fr. George Anderson, Douglas and others believe that dark forces emanating “from the C.I.A and the military-industrial complex - powers that could not bear to see the president turning more and more toward a vision of total nuclear disarmament” were behind the assassination.

And Douglas invokes Thomas Merton as his guide, first witness and chorus, on his pilgrimage to uncover the truth:

In 1962, Merton wrote to a friend expressing “little confidence” in Kennedy’s ability to escape the nuclear crisis in an ethically acceptable way:

“What is needed is really not shrewdness or craft, but what the politicians don’t have: depth, humanity and a certain totality of self-forgetfulness and compassion, not just for individuals but for man as a whole: a deeper kind of dedication. Maybe Kennedy will break through into that some day by miracle. But such people are before long marked out for assassination.”

Kennedy did turn toward peace, and had been secretly corresponding with Soviet leader, Nikita Khurschev, on a plan to stave off nuclear disaster. This was considered “traitorous” in the eyes of the U.S. powerbrokers, and thus marked Kennedy for death. Douglas shows how those who could have exposed the truth were pursued by the C.I.A and killed, one as late as 1995 (3 decades later!)

The “Unspeakable” is a phrase coined by Merton to suggest the systemic dark forces that would stop at nothing and were behind the death of JFK and other tragic events of the 1960s.

From the America article:

“The very concept of a government-directed conspiracy may come as a shock to those who have trouble believing their country could ever be involved in “the unspeakable.” Yet JFK and the Unspeakable is a compelling book, a thoroughly researched account of Kennedy’s turn toward peace, the consequent assassination and its aftermath. By capturing the essence of John F. Kennedy’s vision, it is also a reminder of the urgency of the struggle for peace in our world.”

There is an excellent YouTube interview with Jim Douglas about his book here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

in front of the television (Gerry Straub)

Photo by Gerry Straub

Gerrry Straub is a documentary filmmaker and writer who uses his talents to “celebrate the spirituality of St. Francis of Assisi and the Franciscan concern for the poor, social justice, peace, non-violence, prayer and the integrity of creation.”

His is one of the blogs that I subscribe to. Every day he offers a reflection or quote, each with a unique insight, that help me navigate my way through life. There is a Mertonesque quality to today’s:

In Front of the Television

"Spend one week watching TV, thoughtfully observing what is being presented, and you will see how we have evolved into a culture of violence, how we have sunk into a sea of hopelessness, how quick and easy gratification, no matter how fleeting its pleasure, has become acceptable, how gratuitous sex and explicit nudity has become commonplace, how infidelity is a strictly private affair, how any relationship is disposable, how politicians offer expedient solutions to difficult problems and how preachers of all faiths offer shallow answers to deep questions. One week in front of the television will illustrate how far our society has drifted from the innate dignity God endows to every human being."
- Gerry Straub

Sunday, July 19, 2009

"Christianity is precisely a liberation from every rigid legal and religious system."

My cyber-friend Marc has sent me an interesting quote from an article in a 1966 edition of “The Critic” that I would like to include in the louie collection.

First of all, try finding out about this magazine, “The Critic”. I can find absolutely nothing on the web. The Rev. Robert Hovda was a leader in the movement to revise the Roman Catholic liturgy during and after the Second Vatican Council

The section from "The Critic": Feb.-March, 1966 pg. 75 : the reviewer, Hovda, quotes Merton and writes [of Merton]:

"The true foundation of self-denial, he makes plain, is not to "liberate the soul," but to clarify God's will in our regard and unify our beings (body as well as soul) in his service. He points out how the struggle between Christ and the Law is a continuous and present struggle, not merely a historic phenomenon. "Christianity is precisely a liberation from every rigid legal and religious system."....

Monday, July 13, 2009

persons are only known through love

Persons are known not by the intellect alone, nor by principles alone, but only by love. It is when we love the other, the enemy, that we obtain from God the key to an understanding of who he is and who we are. It is only this realization that can open to us the real nature of our duty, and of right action.

To shut out the person and to refuse to consider him as a person, as another self, we resort to the impersonal "law" and "nature." That is to say we block off the reality of the other, we cut the intercommunication of our nature and his nature, and we consider only our own nature with its rights, its claims, its demands. In effect, however, we are considering our nature in the concrete and his nature in the abstract. And we justify the evil we do to our brother because he is no longer a brother, he is merely an adversary, an accused, an evil being.

To restore communication, to see our oneness of nature with him, and to respect his personal rights, integrity, his worthiness of love, we have to see ourselves as accused along with him, condemned to death along with him, sinking into the abyss with him, and needing, with him, the ineffable gift of grace and mercy to be saved.

– Thomas Merton
Letter to Dorothy Day, December 20, 1961
Hidden Ground of Love, pp 140-43.

Also in:
Cold War Letters (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2006), pp 30-31
Seeds of Destruction (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1961): pp

Once again, HT to Jim Forest

Thursday, July 2, 2009

the roots of dissent

Fr. Dan Berrigan, age 88, at his New York apartment 2009

The following is excerpted from an article in this week's America magazine, "Looking back in Gratitude - a conversation with Daniel Berrigan", by George M. Anderson:

In the 1960s, Dan Berrigan came to know Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk and writer at Gethsemane Abbey in Kentucky. On being asked how the initial meeting with Thomas Merton came about, Dan explained that it took place in the early 1960s. “I was teaching at LeMoyne College in New York State. Merton had written an article in The Catholic Worker newspaper about what he saw as the imminent likelihood of nuclear war. I was appalled by the article,” he said, “and I wrote to thank him for the piece but also to say it was hard to accept his version of what was taking place in regard to the nuclear threat. Merton wrote back and said, ‘Come down and we’ll talk about it.’”

“I did go down to the Trappist monastery in Kentucky, and was taken both by his temperament and by his spiritual view of the world. The chemistry was good and our friendship got underway. After that first visit, we had the idea of getting together with some friends there. He didn’t use the word resistance, which was not yet in the vocabulary of people who opposed the Vietnam War. He used a phrase like the roots of dissent. He invited 15 people from various denominations and backgrounds for a long weekend, which proved to be very fruitful. All the ones who attended ended up either in jail or dead.”

Merton, who was also writing about peace, persuaded James Fox, O.C.S.O., the abbot, to invite Berrigan to give an annual address to the community; Berrigan did so from 1960 until Merton’s death in 1968. ..."

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Saint Benedict Joseph Labre

"One of the first signs of a saint may well be the fact that other people do not know what to make of him. In fact, they are not sure whether or not he is crazy or only proud; but it must at least be pride to be haunted by some individual ideal which nobody but God really comprehends. And he has inescapable difficulties in applying all the abstract norms of' perfection' to his own life. He cannot seem to make his life fit in withthe books.

Sometimes his case is so bad that no monastary will keep him. He has to be dismissed, sent back to the world, like Benedict Joseph Labre, who wanted to be a Trappist and a Carthusian and succeeded in neither. He finally ended up as a tramp. He died in some street in Rome.

And yet the only canonized saint, venerated by the whole Church, who lived either as a Cisterican or a Carthusian since the Middle Ages is St. Benedict Joseph Labre."

-- Thomas Merton

New Seeds of Contemplationend of the "Integrity” chapter, p. 105 in the Shambala edition

More information about St. Benedict Joseph Labre is here.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

real contemplation

"Genuine contemplation involves no tension. There is no reason why it should affect anyone's nerves: on the contrary, it relaxes them. It leaves you rested and refreshed in your whole being. There is no strain in real contemplation, because when the gift is real, you do not depend on it, you are not enslaved by the "need" to experience anything. The contemplative does not seek reassurance in himself, in his virtue, in his state, in his "prayer". His trust is in God, not in himself. The peace and "rest" of contemplation is the fruit of a living faith in the action of divine grace. The contemplative is able to let go of himself and everything else, knowing that everything that matters in his life is in God's hands, and that he does not have to "take thought for the morrow." He fully realizes the meaning of the Gospel message of salvation by the grace of God and not by dependence on human ingenuity."

-- Thomas Merton
The Inner Experience: Notes on Contemplation
William H. Shannon, editor (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco,2003); p 113.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Jim Forest British Columbia talks

From Jim Forest, always a great source for Merton commentary and lore:

Here are links to the texts of several talks given during my two-week stay in British Columbia. All but the last -- on Erasmus -- have a Merton connection. (My host was the Thomas Merton Society of Canada.) There was one other talk given at Holy Nativity Orthodox Church, but it was given without a written text.

Thomas Merton: Peacemaker in a Time of War

An Army that Sheds No Blood: Thomas Merton’s Response to War

(The first of the two Merton peace-related essays, with its Indiana Jones beginning, was intended for an audience that would include many people not all that familiar with Merton.)

Thomas Merton: Peacemaker in a Divided Christendom:

We Will All Be Changed: Reflections on the Transfiguration

Give Peace a Chance: Peacemaking as common ground:

Does Erasmus have anything to teach us in the 21st century?

A photo journal kept while I was in Canada:

Thanks, Jim!

Friday, March 13, 2009

the power of life

If "freedom" means purely and simply an uncontrolled power to make money in every possible way, regardless of consequences, then freedom becomes synonymous with ruthless, mindless and absolute exploitation...

The psychological root of it is doubtless in the profound dehumanization and alienation of modern Western man, who has gradually come to mistake the artificial value of inert objects and abstractions (goods, money, property) for the power of life itself, and who is willing to place immediate profit above everything else. Money is more important, more alive than life, including the lfe and happiness of his closest and most intimate companions. This he can always justify by a legalistic ethic or a casuistical formula of some sort, but his formulas themselves betray him and eventually lose even the meaning which has been arbitrarily forced upon them.

~Thomas Merton, re-excerpted & edited from an article that appeared in the Catholic World, December 2008; excerpted originally in the CW, June 1968

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


In winter the stripped landscape of Nelson county looks terribly poor. The houses of our neighbors between here and Bardstown are pretty miserable. We [Trappists] are the ones who are supposed to be poor. Well, I am thinking of the people in a shanty next to the Brandeis plant, on Brook Street, Louisville. We had to wait there while Reverend Father was getting some tractor parts. The woman who lives in this place was standing out in front of it, shivering in some kind of rag, while a suspicious looking, anonymous truck unloaded some bootleg coal in her yard. I wondered if she had been warm yet this winter. ...The world is terrible, people are falling to pieces and starving to death and freezing and going to hell with despair, and here I sit with a silver spoon in my mouth and write books and everybody sends me fan mail telling me how wonderful I am for giving up so much. And what, I'd like to ask them, have I given up anyway except headaches and responsibilities?
-- Thomas Merton
Entering the Silence, Journals Volume 1
Jonathan Montaldo, editor
San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1997, p 264

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


Gravel road leading to Merton's hermitage. Photo by Harry L. Hinkle

"Man’s free the moment of his contact with God …
The law of freedom is an appropriate theme for today. When those worshippers knelt in homage on the floor of the humble stable with everything else put behind them – their homes, the wilderness, the guiding star, the agony of the city – when all these had lost their value and their impressiveness and the worshippers’ whole being was concentrated in the single act of adoration, the symbolic gesture of laying gifts before the manger signified the achievement of liberty. They were free. "
- Fr. Alfred Delp SJ

The “journey” is one of the great spiritual archetypes found in every major religion and culture. Even though Western monks are characterized by geographic stability, monastic life is still viewed as a journey, although essentially an interior one.

St. Benedict, the founder of most Western monastic orders, was skeptical of those who adopted a wandering lifestyle. He made a point to distinguish between authentic spiritual pilgrimage, and what he called “gyrovagism”.

“While the gyrovague is rootless, and therefore cannot really grow, the authentic pilgrim is someone solidly rooted. Either he has a “home” from which he comes and to which he will return at the end of his pilgrimage; or – if he has adopted the existence of a permanent pilgrim – he has found enough inner rootedness to go beyond the supportive environment of a geographical and cultural rootedness.

"The pilgrim is at home everywhere without trying to build a home anywhere. He has a sense of freedom that can easily become a threat to anyone who still finds his security in the fact of belonging to a specific place and group or to a solid system. He is not a good client for the merchants of foreign spiritual goods. The gyrovague, on the contrary, builds temporary homes everywhere he goes, buys all the last products on the market and becomes the naïve disciple of the last self-made master. "

Armand Veilleux, o.c.s.o., from an article that appeared in a special issue of Monastic Studies [n 16, Christmas 1985] “In Honour of Dom Jean Leclercq”

Monday, January 5, 2009

meme on hermits, mystics and eccentrics

[Note: This blog has been "tagged for a meme" to describe my first experience with a mystic, hermit or eccentric. I want to keep this blog exclusively centered around Thomas Merton and the contemplative life, so I have posted my response to the meme on my more eclectic blog, "Quotes and Musings".]

Thursday, January 1, 2009


Bell from the old Abbey Gatehouse,

This seems a very Merton way to ring in a new year:

"Bells are meant to remind us that God alone is good, that we belong to Him, that we are not living for this world.

"They break in upon our cares in order to remind us that all things pass away and that our preoccupations are not important.

"They speak to us of our freedom, which responsibilities and transient cares make us forget.

"They are the voice of our alliance with the God of heaven.

"They tell us that we are His true temple. They call us to peace with Him within ourselves."

- Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude, 67

The Good Shepherd’s commitments to us

Photo (by me) from the Basilica of Sts. Cosmos and Damian, Roma HT to John Predmore SJ for the following: I would like to talk about God’s ...