Tuesday, May 25, 2010

compassion as a meeting point

The Dalai Lama is one of the true spiritual teachers of our time.  This article, in today's NY Times, mentions the significance of his meeting with Merton in India in 1968.

More discussion of Merton's meetings with the Dalai Lama is here.


  1. He was in my dream this morning, or rather, I was with a group of people and we were doing a chant in his honor in some kind of tibetan sounding language. It had a nice feeling tone to it: when the alarm went off, I didn't want to return to the waking world. I used to have a lecture series by him but all I can remember is "mutual trust, mutual respect"

  2. Were you wearing black, red and gold robes in your dream, Dr. Bugenhagen? You may be a Tibetan monk.

    "Mutual trust, mutual respect" sounds a good chant.

  3. Actually, we were nude - my anima disrobed, and the others in the group. I told Lita about it and she said that made sense from a tantric point of view.

    I was reading a book by Mr. Stringfellow on the bus and he asks:
    "if the profound issue in the Gospel is the existential faithfulness of men to their humanity rather than an abstract faithfulness of men to God, can you think of any persons, living or dead, whose lives seem to exemplify this mark of the Christian?"

    i asked myself if this is one of the places where the rubber meets the road in the difference between protestants and catholics.

  4. The experience of Merton would seem to say it is possible to be an existential humanist and a Catholic, but I wonder, if he had lived longer, would he have remained in the Church?

  5. Badinov, I think you're right, Stringfellow's has his finger right on the pulse of Gospel, and indeed, I would agree that this is one of those issues separating protestants and catholics. In fact, I think that most of what parades around as religion these days (and all days, probably) is precisely that more abstract approach of faithfulness to God (whatever that could mean).

    The exemplary persons who first come to my mind are Benedict Joseph Labre (http://fatherlouie.blogspot.com/2009/06/saint-benedict-joseph-labre.html)

    and Herman Hannekamp (http://fatherlouie.blogspot.com/2008/02/burial-of-herman-hanekamp.html)

    ps. good dream.

  6. Dr. Bugenhagen - I tend to think that Merton was in the process of interiorly redefining what Church meant to him. The monks were like brothers and family to him, but he was also identifying himself more and more with friends on the outside of the monastery walls.

    Someone who knew Merton well, (Tommie O'Callahan) said that Merton liked to complain a lot about the abbot and monastery rules, but really he was always grateful that he had a valid reason to refuse all the invitations to speak and travel. Without the structure and discipline of the monastery, he would have spun totally out of control.

    I think that there is some truth to that, and Merton knew it. The monastery gave him the ground and freedom from which he could explore other religions and more off the beaten track ways. He could have never become who he was without the Church.

  7. I couldn't get your links to work, but managed to google into the piece on Herman Hannekamp. That made me feel better. This question about work I've been thinking of lately. When I suggested it to someone, that one's work(job) may be in no ways anything to do with God he balked.

    Yes, I see your point about Merton needing the Church, considering his pre-conversion life-style. What popped into my mind was Lawrence Ferlinghetti in the moive "Merton" talking about Merton leering at girls walking by
    "City Lights" when he came for a visit. I wanted Merton to get laid.

  8. Bugenhagen - I tend to thing that everything has to do with God, but I think I know what you mean about the work/job thing. Often (maybe usually) your real "work" in life is not related with what you're doing to get money so that you can go about your work.

    THe way I see it, Merton had a very free spirit that was profoundly affected by the early deaths of his mother and father. Whereas many of the rest of us don't enter existential angst until mid-life or later, Merton experienced it as a late teenager. His sense of spiritual need was ripe at a very early age, and much of his philandering was an attempt to fill the bottomless pit. The Church may not have been able to fill that emptinesss within him, but it was at least able to address it.

  9. About that comment from Ferlinghetti, it really is typical Merton. Merton wore no masks.

    It reminds me of when he was having the affair with the nurse, and John Eudes Bamberger was supposed to "counsel" him. Bamberger was, at that time, a younger monk, but also was a physician and psychiatrist. When later asked to comment about Merton's state at that time, Bamberger alluded to confidentiality, but did concede that his talks with Merton were "deeply edifying". Merton did not run from his humanity, or try to fix it, but rather, he trusted it to God.

  10. Last night I talked about your using Herman as an example in answer to the Stringfellow question with Lita: you surprised me and I liked your response but I wondered why you chose a "bum", and by association, Merton did.

    The work thing: I'm not sure what Stringfellow meant by that since on the surface it would appear his work would have been a prime example Christian work. I'm still learning.

  11. By the way, the "bottomless pit" - we were discussing that last night too. Lita calls it "the God hole".

  12. Burpentstein - If I remember correctly, the request was for examples of people who have lived the Catholic Faith, as defined by being faithful to humanity rather than to God.

    When I put the question like that, it seems to me that faithfulness to humanity IS faithfulness to God. There's not difference. Anyway, I digress.

    My answer is, I don't know. I don't know why I would choose a bum, a renegade, a pariah, or and outcast as one who is faithful to humanity, as opposed to a celebrated "saint", like, say, St. Therese of Lisieaux, or St Thomas Aquinas, or even St. Francis of Assisi.

    Maybe because I tend toward those who choose obscurity. God is obscure for me. I'm not so sure about things.


Christ in the Rubble

The Rev. Munther Isaac lighting a candle next to an improvised crèche this month in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. Credit... Samar Hazboun...