Saturday, December 31, 2011


Photo by JofIndia
"... the saint is an "icon" not merely in the sense that he "stands for" or "witnesses to" the divine order, but because he is truly the channel through which God's energies enter into the human world.  The saint's vision of the world is God's vision of the world, because the saint is transparent to God: in the person of the saint contemplating God, God contemplates the world."

-Rowan Williams, "A Silent Action, Engagements with Thomas Merton", Fons Vitae 2011, p. 34

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Discernment is being grasped in the Spirit's arms and led in the rhythms of an unknown dance.

"Spiritual discernment asks us to pay attention. We need to attend to both what goes on around us and within us. Ideally, this attentiveness goes on much of the time, a sort of low level, constant spiritual sifting of the data of our experience. But there are times when discernment becomes much more focused, when a crossroad is reached or a choice called for. At times like these the cumulative wisdom of tradition tells us to pay attention on many levels: to consult Scripture, to seek the advice of trusted advisors, to head the sensum fidelium (the collective sense of the faithful), to read widely and deeply the best ancient and contemporary thinking; to pray, to attend to the prick of conscience and to the yearnings and dreamings of our hearts, to watch, to wait, to listen.

"Discernment is about discriminating: sifting through and evaluating the evidence of our focused attention. It is not, however, identical to problem solving. It is not simply a question of lining up the pros and cons concerning a particular decision we must make and then judging which choice is feasible or determining which gains the most support or which will benefit us, or others, in the long run.

"Discernment is more like the turning of the sunflower to the sun, or the intuitive hunch of the scientist seeking new and creating solutions for unexplainable, contradictory observations, or the restless seeking of a heart longing to find its way home to an estranged lover, or the artistry of the musician, sculptor, or choreographer delineating in sound, stone, or the human body the emergent, self-propellant, rightful line that says, 'yes.''
"Discernment is about feeling texture, assessing weight, watching the plumb line, listening for overtones, searching for shards, feeling the quickening, surrendering to love. It is being grasped in the Spirit's arms and led in the rhythms of an unknown dance."

— Wendy M. Wright, "Passing Angels: The Arts of Spiritual Discernment," Weavings: A Journal of the Christian Spiritual Life, Vol. X, No. 6, Nov/Dec 1995

Thursday, December 22, 2011


Robert Lax, Photo by Hartmut Geerken 
This seems to be Lax's version of Merton's I don't know where I'm going prayer.  I just discovered it yesterday in Murray Bodo's book, "Mystics: Ten Who Show Us the Ways of God".
I am here for you.  I have no other person to be here for and no other reason to be here.  I am here at your disposal.  Your disposition.  I have no desire except to do what you'd have me do.  I have heard of other desires.  I haven't heard of any that mean as much to me as that.  Haven't heard of any that would mean as much to me as knowing I was doing what you wanted me to do.  Or even not knowing I was doing it.  Simply doing it.

Why would I wish so much to do what you'd want me to?  Only because I think I was made for that purpose.  To listen & do.  To get my mind clear enough to listen & do then do what I hear I should do.  How do I know that the voice I'd hear would be yours?  How can I know that the thing I should do is a good one?

I'd know because there is something I know about you.  I know that you love me.  I know that the things you tell me to do are from love.  You don't tell me to kill.  You don't tell me to die.  You tell me to love.  You tell me to do the things love does.  You show me the way.
- Robert Lax, Psalm,  (Zurich, Switzerland.  Pendo, 1991), pp 8, 10

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Lax Gravesite Photo

Photo by James Sedwick
I'm not sure if the angel is part of the gravesite or not.  When I was there last year I did not notice the angel, but I've seen other photos of Lax's final resting place which include it.  It seems like it serendipitously is supposed to be there.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Mary of the Sign (icon)

And far beneath the movement of this silent cataclysm Mary slept in the infinite tranquility of God, and God was a child curled up who slept in her and her veins were flooded with His wisdom which is night, which is starlight, which is silence.  And her whole being was embraced in Him whom she embraced and they became tremendous silence. 
-Thomas Merton
Mary of the Sign, one of the oldest images of Mary with Christ standing in an orb, pressed to her interior.  She experiences Christ in His Essence, in her being; they are inseparable.

Mary stands square to the viewer, her poised stillness or silent constant prayer is noted in the hands, palms extended outward in total surrender to what has been given. Mary clutches and yearns for nothing. In early icons Mary was portrayed as the Burning Bush and Christ the fire that burns within. She is represented as the divine vessel of burning love. She knows and loves Him even before His birth.

The orb containing this revelation rests within her being, Christ surrounded in gold, symbolizing the totality of god without image. Christ is holding a tiny scroll, a symbol of the Scripture being fulfilled in Him and later to be filled in each and every one of us. Christ is our interior teacher, guide master, and rabbi. The icon’s theology is the link between the Jewish tradition and the new understanding of Christ.

“The Lord Himself will give you a sign, behold a young woman shall conceive and bear a child and his name will be emmanuel.” - ISaIaH 7:14.

excerpt taken from The Mary Collection 2008 by Mary Jane Miller. To see more work done by Mary Jane Miller, go to:

Saturday, November 5, 2011

the nothing

Lax Drawing, from a photo by Jim Forest (self portrait?)


by no means mention
what's really
on your mind

nothing is
on my mind

don't mention
whatever you have
to say
will get itself

don't worry

who worries?

that's all i'm
you go out
to the edge
of the universe,

it'll still be
on your


it'll still
be there
you don't have to
try to remember

the fact is, you
can't forget

forget what?

the nothing.
whatever it

-Robert Lax, from the journal A, p. 36

Thursday, November 3, 2011

nothing is on my mind (contemplative art)

Photo by Jim Forest
Not that I could ever afford it, but being captivated by all things Lax, I find this book fascinating.  It seems more like a work of art than a book.   The title intrigues me.  I practice Centering Prayer and one of the things that happens in this prayer is a movement away from "thinking".  Having nothing on your mind.  When thinking happens, you "ever so gently" (as Fr. Thomas Keating says) let go of it.

The book contains extracts from the Lax journals A, B and D.  Only 25 books were made by the German press, Edition Schwarse Seite.  63 hand bound pages on hand made paper.  $1500 each.  If I had money, I might buy one.  The one photographed here is at St. Bonaventure University in Olean NY, home of the Lax Archives.
Photo by Jim Forest
I've always suspected that Lax was a natural contemplative, and his writing, like the artworks of Ad Reinhardt leads one toward this contemplative kind of non-thinking awareness. Lax blurs the line between visual and literary art (and a lot of other things), but ends up with utterly simple utterings.

Prospectus: "Infinity's a pretzel curve. Notes from journals, one of a complete day, wandering, moving in circles, like talking on different levels. Selected parts from notes on other days are concentrated, calm and meditative, with delicate humor. Lax's kind of writing demands a slow reading, the reader has to put syllables together to words. Graphics and texts try the impossibility of capturing in paint or words in song or by any other art or in any other medium the actuality of the object."
Interestingly, during his last year Steve Jobs was interested the art of Mark Rothko.  Rothko's work is considered "spiritual".   He created Rothko Chapel in Houston, a place for non-denominational contemplation.  Jobs was looking for art that could inspire people working at Apple.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Seven Story Mountain Book Covers UPDATE

UPDATE: Brian sent a photo of his 50th anniversary (1998) issue of Seven Story Mountain (see below).  Too bad it doesn't have the price on the cover to compare to the 75 cents and 50 cents copies!  I still have the First Edition hardcover that belonged to my parents, but alas, the jacket is long gone.

I am fascinated with the stuff that Jim Forest saw on his recent visit to St. Bonaventure University.  Jim is an excellent photographer and I would like to add some of his photos to the eclectic collection of the louie blog.  (All of Jim's photos from this trip are on his Flickr site HERE.)
 Photo by Jim Forest
Photo by Jim Forest
Photo by Brian Murphy(1998 50th Anniversary edition)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, and Jim Forest

Jim Forest speaking at the Nazareth Retreat Center in Pittsburgh, October 15, 2011. (The guy next to me had a "Smartpen" - see!  I had never seen one in action before.)
Over the weekend I went to a "day retreat" on Dorothy Day, led by Jim Forest, in North Pittsburgh.  I have corresponded for awhile with Jim about Thomas Merton, and was honored to be able to meet him in person.

His person carries a profound presence and sincerity that I could only glimpse from his internet persona.  I was quite blown away.  I can see why both Merton and Dorothy Day were drawn to him as a young man, and trusted and believed in him.  He is, as far as I can tell, one of the most reliable writers alive to carry on their legacies.  Jim speaks simply and in that simplicity is much truth and power.

I met several people at the event that know people that I know from my Florida peace and justice connections.  It was held at a Nazareth Retreat Center that felt very familiar to my own Kentucky roots.

Here is a link to a US Catholic interview with Jim about the friendship between Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. (Thanks, Bryan!)

This is the Nazareth Center, which looks very much like the Nazareth in KY.
Dorothy Day attended silent retreats here which were led by a Pittsburgh priest, Fr. John Hugo. Fr. Hugo was a spiritual guide to Dorothy.  

This is the chapel where Dorothy prayed.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Day of a Stranger, Part 1

Photo by Bryan Sherwood

Merton was asked by his friend Miguel Grinberg in Buenos Aires for some journal passages that would describe a "typical day" in his life that could be published in the periodical he edited, Eco Contemporaneo.  Merton responded by writing a "journal-like" essay, which he called "Day of a Stranger."  The following are excerpts from the first draft of that work, which was later revised.
"I live in the woods out of necessity.  I get our of bed in the middle of the night because it is imperative that I hear the silence of the night, alone, and, with my face on the floor, say psalms, alone, in the silence of the night.

"It is necessary for me to live here alone without a woman, for the silence of the forest is my bride and the sweet dark warmth of the whole world is my love, and out of the heart of that dark warmth comes the secret that is heard only in silence, but it is the root of all the secrets that are whispered by all the lovers in their beds all over the world.  I have an obligation to preserve the stillness, the silence, the poverty, the virginal point of pure nothingness which is at the center of all other loves.  I cultivate this plant silently in the middle of the night and water it with psalms and prophecies in silence.  It becomes the most beautiful of all the trees in the garden, at once the primordial paradise tree, the axis mundi, the cosmic axle, and the Cross.  Nulla silva talem profert [No tree brings forth such].

"It is necessary for me to see the first point of light which begins to be dawn.  It is necessary to be present alone at the resurrection of Day, in the solemn silence at which the sun appears, for at this moment all the affairs of cities, of governments, of war departments, are seen to be the bickerings of mice.  I receive from the Eastern woods, the tall oaks, the one word DAY, which is never the same.  It is always in a totally new language. "

(to be continued)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

"I have to be a person that nobody knows" - Merton

“Truth can only be spoken by a man nobody knows,” - Rowan Williams

From Jim Forest's review of a new book about Merton by Rowan Williams, "A Silent Action: Engagements with Thomas Merton".   I may have to get this book.  I was the same age as Williams (18) when Merton died, so most of my exploration and friendship with him occurred after his death as well.

" ... Not the least of the many meeting points for Merton and Rowan is their Orwell-like awareness of the abuse of language, so easily used for magical (that is to say, manipulative) ends. Thus war is described and justified in words that mask its actual purposes, dehumanize the adversary, and cloak its actual cost in human agony. The problem extends to religious words as well — ways of speaking about God that flatten rather than unveil. “Words of faith,” Rowan observes, “are too-well known to believers for their meaning to be knowable.” Indeed, “almost any words in the modern cultural setting will be worn and shabby or illusory and self-serving.” Rowan sees in Merton’s writings how, with ascetic effort, language can be restored to the transparent state of plain speech, a revealer of truth, a preserver of freedom, but this involves a day-by-day, word-by-word, sentence-by-sentence struggle.

"We see in these several essays that Rowan, no less than Merton, regards Christian life without a contemplative dimension as incomplete and also recognizes that the contemplative life is accessible not only to those living in monasteries but to anyone who seeks an “interiorized” monasticism, for “contemplative prayer is the vocation of every believer.” One of the major tasks of contemplative life is the ongoing search for the actual self, the unmasked self, a self that is not merely the stage clothes and scripted sentences that we assemble and dutifully exhibit each day in the attempt to appear to be someone, but the self that exists purely because it exists in God. Rowan notes how often Merton is drawn to a “delusory self image” but then quickly abandons each self-image as a ridiculous deception.

"Merton’s pilgrimage, from his initial attraction to the Trappists until the day of his death, was to disappear — that is not to be the brand name “Thomas Merton” or a Thomas Merton who has become mainly the bearer of various labels: monk, writer, contemplative, mystic, etc. Twice in this book Rowan cites a passage from The Sign of Jonas that he first read when he was eighteen: “I have to be a person that nobody knows. They can have Thomas Merton. He’s dead. Father Louis — he’s half-dead too.” In fact, for all Merton’s grumbling about his famous adversary, Thomas Merton, he remained Thomas Merton, fully alive and always writing in a voice that was intensely and recognizably his own — but a Merton who was unwilling to make himself the prisoner of his readers’ expectations and illusions. (No doubt the struggle not to be defined purely by an ecclesiastical role is every bit as pressing to Rowan as it was to Merton.) “Truth can only be spoken by a man nobody knows,” Rowan writes, “because only in the unknown person is there no obstruction to reality: the ego of self-oriented desire and manifold qualities, seeking to dominate and organize the world, is absent.” ..."

Monday, September 5, 2011

How can one reject the effect if he continues to embrace the cause?

Photograph by Thomas Merton
Some extracts from the 1963 introduction to the Japanese translation of Seven Story Mountain.
"I have learned to look back into the world with greater compassion, seeing those in it not as alien to myself, not as peculiar and deluded strangers, but as identified with myself. In freeing myself from their delusions and preoccupations, I have identified myself, nonetheless, with their struggles and their blind, desperate hope of happiness.

"But precisely because I am identified with them, I must refuse all the more definitely to make their delusions my own. I must refuse their ideology of matter, power, quantity, movement, activism and force. I reject this because I see it to be the source and expression of the spiritual hell which man has made of his world: the hell which has burst into flame in two total wars of incredible horror the hell of spiritual emptiness and sub-human fury which has resulted in crimes like Auschwitz or Hiroshima. This I can and must reject with all the power of my being. This all sane men seek to reject. But the question is: how can one sincerely reject the effect if he continues to embrace the cause? ...

"The monastery is not an "escape from the world." On the contrary by being in the monastery I take my true part in all the struggles and sufferings of the world. To adopt a life that is essentially non-assertive, a nonviolent life of humility and peace, is in itself a statement of one's position. But each one in such a life can, by the personal modality of his decision, give his whole life a special orientation. It is my intention to make my entire life a rejection of, a protest against the crimes and injustices of war and political tyranny which threaten to destroy the whole race of man and the world with him....

"By my monastic life and vows I am saying no to all the concentration camps, the aerial bombardments, the staged political trials, the judicial murders, the racial injustices, the economic tyrannies, and the whole socio-economic apparatus which seems geared for nothing but global destruction in spite of all its fair words in favor of peace. I make monastic silence a protest against the lies of politicians, propagandists and agitators, and when I speak it is to deny that my faith and my Church can ever seriously be aligned with these forces of injustice and destruction.

"My life, then, must be a protest against [those who invoke their faith in support of war, racial injustice and tyranny] also, and perhaps against these most of all....

"The time has come for judgement to be passed on this history. I can rejoice in this fact, believing that the judgement will be a liberation of Christian faith from servitude to and involvement in the structures of the secular world. And that is why I think certain forms of Christian "optimism" are to be taken with reservation, in so far as they lack the genuine eschatological consciousness of the Christian vision, and concentrate upon the naive hope of merely temporal achievements — churches on the moon!

"If I say no to all these secular forces, I also say yes to all that is good in the world and in man. I say yes to all that is beautiful in nature, and in order that this may be the yes of a freedom and not of subjection, I must refuse to possess anything in the world purely as my own. I say yes to all the men and women who are my brothers and sisters in the world, but for the yes to be an assent of freedom and not of subjection, I must live so that no one of them may seem to belong to me, and that I may not belong to any of them. It is because I want to be more to them than a friend that I become, to all of them, a stranger. "

HT: Jim Forest

Monday, August 29, 2011

Don't be conformed to this age. Don't fall in step. March to a different drummer.

UPDATE: the complete homily from which this was taken is posted on Tom's website here:

I'm struck by Jeremiah's image of the hot burning coal in the chest and the Zen concept of MU:

"What is Mu? ...  Do not believe it is the common negative symbol meaning nothing.  It is not nothingness, the opposite of existence.  If you really want to pass this barrier, you should feel like drinking a hot iron ball that you can neither swallow nor spit out."

From yesterday's homily by Tom Cornell, a deacon serving at St. Mary's parish in Marlboro NY:

In our first reading today we hear, “You duped me, Lord….” Another translation, the Jerusalem Bible has, “You seduced me Lord, and I let myself be seduced.” I was a grown man, 31 years old before I heard these words from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah, in October 1965. Thomas Merton read them to a small group he had called to his monastery, the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemane in Kentucky. Merton was then and remains now, 43 years after his death, the most widely read spiritual writer in the English language. He gathered leaders of the growing peace movement (A.J. Muste, Dan Berrigan, Jim Forest, John Howard Yoder, W.H Ferry and three or four others. Phil Berrigan showed up on the last day, with a case of beer.) The war in Viet Nam was just heating up. The public still supported the war but some of us felt very differently.

Merton called us to answer this question: By what right can we raise our voices against this war? Merton answered the question himself through the words of Jeremiah we just heard. To paraphrase: “You tricked me, Lord. I didn’t know what I was getting into speaking your word. I don’t want to do it anymore Lord. You’ve made me a laughing-stock. I make up my mind that I will speak for you no longer. But then it’s like a coal burning in my chest and I have to speak, to let it out.”

We did it because we had to. It was uncomfortable, even dangerous, given the temper of the times. A young friend of mine, a nineteen year old boy, had just been beaten to death on a street in Rochester for wearing the peace symbol, that’s all, the same symbol that you see everywhere now. (Graham Carey carved Ivan Johnson’s headstone on a hill in Truro, on Cape Cod, overlooking the spot where his ancestors first made landfall on the Mayflower, in 1620.) Soldiers in Viet Nam would be painting it on their helmets just three years later, when they and public opinion changed. But then, in 1965, it was another story.

We took comfort in Saint Paul’s advice we also just heard. “Do not be conformed to this age.” Don’t fall in step. March to a different drummer. “Be transformed by the renewal of your understanding so that you may judge what is God’s will, what is good, pleasing and perfect.
 HT: Jim Forest

Sunday, August 28, 2011

the contemplative mind

Photo by Thomas Merton
"I think the contemplative mind is the most absolute assault on the secular or rational worldview, because it really is a different mind—a different point of view.

"The mind that I call the "small self” or the "false self” reads everything in terms of personal advantage, short-term effort, “What's in it for me?”—and “How will I look?”, “How will I look good?” As long as you read reality from the reference point of the small self of “how I personally feel” or “what I need or want,” you cannot get very far. The lens never opens up.

"Thus the great religions have taught that we need to change the seer much more than just telling people what to see—that is contemplation."  - Fr. Richard Rohr OFM
I don't know how you change (transform) the mind other than by meditation / contemplative prayer or profound suffering.  Fr. Thomas Keating says that with contemplative prayer one can find in a short time what can take 20 years in a monastery. 

This is what Gerry Straub had to say this week:
"Faith, hope and love, the triptych of the spiritual life, are nurtured stillness. The art of contemplating divine truths grows out of the art of remaining still. The soul that waits on God, patiently and unhurriedly, will eventually be filled with the realization he or she is infinitely loved." - Gerry Straub

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Assumption

A detail from The Assumption of the Virgin by Antonia da Corregio 1530
UPDATE: I had some qualms about posting this particular Merton quote. It's veering a little more into the dogmatic and pious (cataphatic) than I am comfortable with on louie.  But there was something of the incarnational about this particular quote that included Mary (and women).  That seemed important to include.

Women (and Mary) figure predominately in Merton's inner workings.

That God should assume Mary into heaven is not just a glorification of a "Mother Goddess." Quite the contrary, it is the expression of the divine love for humanity, and a very special manifestation of God's respect for God's creatures, God's desire to do honor to the beings made in God's own image, and most particularly God's respect for the body which was destined to be the temple of God's glory. If Mary is believed to be assumed into heaven, it is because we too are one day, by the grace of God, to dwell where she is. If human nature is glorified in her, it is because God desires it to be glorified in us too, and it is for this reason that the Son, taking flesh, came into the world.

In all the great mystery of Mary, then, one thing remains most clear: that of herself she is nothing, and that God has for our sakes delighted to manifest God's glory and God's love in her.
- from New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton

HT: barefoot toward the light

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

the bomb

The Catholic Worker, September 1945
We Go on Record
By Dorothy Day

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. We have created. We have created destruction. We have created a new element, called Pluto. Nature had nothing to do with it.

"A cavern below Columbia was the bomb's cradle," born not that men might live, but that men might be killed. Brought into being in a cavern, and then tried in a desert place, in the midst of tempest and lightning, tried out, and then again on the eve of the Feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ, on a far off island in the eastern hemisphere, tried out again, this "new weapon which conceivably might wipe out mankind, and perhaps the planet itself."

"Dropped on a town, one bomb would be equivalent to a severe earthquake and would utterly destroy the place. A scientific brain trust has solved the problem of how to confine and release almost unlimited energy. It is impossible yet to measure its effects."

"We have spent two billion on the greatest scientific gamble in history and won," said President Truman jubilantly.

The papers list the scientists (the murderers) who are credited with perfecting this new weapon. One outstanding authority "who earlier had developed a powerful electrical bombardment machine called the cyclotron, was Professor O. E. Lawrence, a Nobel prize winner of the University of California. In the heat of the race to unlock the atom, he built the world's most powerful atom smashing gun, a machine whose electrical projectiles carried charges equivalent to 25,000,000 volts. But such machines were found in the end to be unnecessary. The atom of Uranium-235 was smashed with surprising ease. Science discovered that not sledgehammer blows, but subtle taps from slow traveling neutrons managed more on a tuning technique were all that were needed to disintegrate the Uranium-235 atom."

(Remember the tales we used to hear, that one note of a violin, if that note could be discovered, could collapse the Empire State Building. Remember too, that God's voice was heard not in the great and strong wind, not in the earthquake, not in the fire, but "in the whistling of a gentle air.")

Scientists, army officers, great universities (Notre Dame included), and captains of industry -- all are given credit lines in the press for their work of preparing the bomb -- and other bombs, the President assures us, are in production now.

Great Britain controls the supply of uranium ore, in Canada and Rhodesia. We are making the bombs. This new great force will be used for good, the scientists assured us. And then they wiped out a city of 318,000. This was good. The President was jubilant.

Today's paper with its columns of description of the new era, the atomic era, which this colossal slaughter of the innocents has ushered in, is filled with stories covering every conceivable phase of the new discovery. Pictures of the towns and the industrial plants where the parts are made are spread across the pages. In the forefront of the town of Oak Ridge, Tennessee is a chapel, a large comfortable-looking chapel benignly settled beside the plant. And the scientists making the first tests in the desert prayed, one newspaper account said.

Yes, God is still in the picture. God is not mocked. Today, the day of this so great news, God made a madman dance and talk, who had not spoken for twenty years. God sent a typhoon to damage the carrier Hornet. God permitted a fog to obscure vision and a bomber crashed into the Empire State Building. God permits these things. We have to remember it. We are held in God's hands, all of us, and President Truman too, and these scientists who have created death, but will use it for good. He, God, holds our life and our happiness, our sanity and our health; our lives are in His hands. He is our Creator. Creator.

And as I write, Pigsie, who works in Secaucus, New Jersey, feeding hogs, and cleaning out the excrement of the hogs, who comes in once a month to find beauty and surcease and glamour and glory in the drink of the Bowery, trying to drive the hell and the smell out of his nostrils and his life, sleeps on our doorstep, in this best and most advanced and progressive of all possible worlds. And as I write, our cat, Rainbow, slinks by with a shrill rat in her jaws, out of the kitchen closet here at Mott Street. Here in this greatest of cities which covered the cavern where this stupendous discovery was made, which institutes an era of unbelievable richness and power and glory for man ….

Everyone says, "I wonder what the Pope thinks of it?" How everyone turns to the Vatican for judgement, even though they do not seem to listen to the voice there! But our Lord Himself has already pronounced judgement on the atomic bomb. When James and John (John the beloved) wished to call down fire from heaven on their enemies, Jesus said:

"You know not of what spirit you are. The Son of Man came not to destroy souls but to save." He said also, "What you do unto the least of these my brethren, you do unto me."
Note: louie louie previously marked the U. S. bombings of the Hiroshima (August 6) and Nagasaki (August 9) HERE.  Thomas Merton's poem, Original Child Bomb is HERE.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Communication is not the noise of slogans

Photo by Thomas Merton
"Everything healthy, everything certain, everything holy, if we can find such things, they all need to be emphasized and articulated. For this it is necessary that there be communication between the hearts and minds of men, communication and not the noise of slogans or the repetition of cliches. Communication is becoming more and more difficult, and ... speech is in danger of perishing or being perverted in the amplified noise of beasts.... There is, it seems to me, every reason why we should attempt to cry out to one another and comfort one another, in so far as this may be possible, with the truth of Christ and also with the truth of humanism and reason. For faith cannot not be preserved if ... man is destroyed: that is to say if his humanity is utterly debased and mechanized, while he himself remains on earth as the instrument of enormous and unidentified forces like those which press us inexorably to the brink of cataclysm..."

- Thomas Merton
from a letter to Paulo Alceu Amorosa Lima in Rio de Janiero
Cold War Letters, Orbis Books, p 12

HT: Jim Forest

The Curé of Ars - St. John Vianney

"After each trip to places of crushing suffering, such as Uganda and Haiti, coming home is always a difficult transition for me to make. Going from extreme need to stunning abundance is jarring. In a land of plenty we hunger for more. We have turned greed into a virtue. Our lives are fragmented and disconnected.  Television and the internet have turned our interior dwellings into shanty towns. Instead of looking in, they prompt us to look outward, and we become what we gaze upon. When praying, we turn away from ourselves and turn toward God."
- Gerry Straub (from his blog today, the Feast of the Curé of Ars)

Today is the Feast of the Curé of Ars, the parish priest assigned to a forgotten farmers' village.  The simplicity of his life and acceptance of his limited natural knowledge, drew people from all over France to his confessional.  He spent 17 hours a day hearing confessions.  It is said that he could read peoples' souls.  He was a guide for the down-trodden and broken people of the world.

His body remains incorrupt. 

More on St. John Vianney is HERE.

Note: I do not usually write about saints in this blog.  I think that St. Benedict Joseph Labre, the patron saint of tramps, is the only other one.  Interestingly, the Vianney's were a family who gave hospitality to the poor and Benedict Joseph Labre as he passed through their French town.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

portraits of a moment

Robert Lax, Photo by Hartmut Geerken
"For many years Robert Lax has refused the challenge of acceleration posed by our hectic world.  Long before Virilio's critique of speed, he pitted his *slow down* against the tempo and bustle of the modern city, determined not to keep up with its frantic pace.  He resisted quite consciously, if in quite private way, acting as a spanner in the works.  Throughout his life he has literally trained himself to do everything as slowly as possible.
Thanks to this deliberate slowness, the poet has been able to capture countless precious moments in his laconic poems, episodes, fables and diary entries.  These are moments outside of time, outside of our time, scintillating particles of a cycle that stretches out across our time, and that can be summoned at any moment by one and all -- which is what makes them so overwhelming for the reader and listener."
-Sigrid Hauff, "A Line in Three Circles - The Inner Biography of Robert Lax",  p. 58, 2007, Bayerischer Rundfunk, Munich/Germany

Saturday, June 25, 2011

longing and belonging

Photo by Thomas Merton
“Each of us has to look into our dark world, recognize the forces that bind us, the blind instincts, the compulsions which, though they give the illusion of power, freedom, adulthood, ensnare us. We have to fight our way free; renounce the Dark Powers, learn to judge and act from our centre. Only then are we human and personal. This work of self-knowledge is absolutely essential.”
-Ruth Burrows
Guidelines for Mystical Prayer
This is the quote Gerry Straub uses to introduce his blog post today.  He goes on to talk about his struggle to find his real self.  It is profoundly honest and true.  In my opinion, he's getting very close to the central insight of Contemplative Prayer.  Gerry writes:

"... This stuff doesn’t come quickly or easily, which is why we don’t bother with it. I devoted a few pages of The Sun and Moon Over Assisi to explaining Merton’s ideas on the true and false self stuff. Mostly I quoted sources who understood. I had deceived myself into thinking I understood. In truth, my mind kinda got it – but it was just another theory neatly tucked away in a dingy corner of my brain. Slowly, I am beginning to “see” it with different eyes.
Thomas Merton wrote so clearly about deep spiritual things that we think we get it. The fact is his understanding was hidden in his words, which only point the way, showing us the right direction. But we must walk alone. Only God can teach me how to find God. And that reality is why so many true contemplatives are so reluctant to talk about their inner life. They cannot teach us anything – aside from a few techniques to help us get started..."
(Read all of it HERE)

I've written about Gerry Straub - a documentary filmmaker and award winning author - before on this blog  (HERE and HERE).  One day last fall, out of the blue, Gerry called me on the phone and we had a long talk about our similar interests and quests.  Such things can happen when you mention someone on your blog.  Gerry told me that if I never needed anything, I should call him.  I haven't called him yet, but knowing he is here among us gives me great comfort.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

the courage to be simple

It takes more courage than we imagine to be perfectly simple with other men. Our frankness is often spoiled by a hidden barbarity, born of fear.

False sincerity has much to say, because it is afraid. True candor can afford to be silent. It does not need to face an anticipated attack. Anything it may have to defend can be defended with perfect simplicity.

-- Thomas Merton.
No Man is an Island (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1955) pages 194-5
also in A Merton Reader, ed. by Thomas P. McDonnell, (New York: Image Books, 1989) page 123

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Of Gods and Men - Facing a Goodbye

The French Film, "Of Gods and Men" is a portrait of the Trappist monks living at Tibhirine, a remote monastery in the Atlas Mountains of Algeria, who were kidnapped and murdered in 1996. The story is told very simply by actors who completely disappear into their roles.

Below is the text of a letter written by the abbot shortly before the kidnapping.

Testament of Dom Christian de Chergé

(opened on Pentecost Sunday, May 26, 1996)

Facing a GOODBYE....

If it should happen one day - and it could be today -
that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems ready to engulf
all the foreigners living in Algeria,
I would like my community, my Church and my family
to remember that my life was GIVEN to God and to this country.
I ask them to accept the fact that the One Master of all life
was not a stranger to this brutal departure.
I would ask them to pray for me:
for how could I be found worthy of such an offering?
I ask them to associate this death with so many other equally violent ones
which are forgotten through indifference or anonymity.
My life has no more value than any other.
Nor any less value.
In any case, it has not the innocence of childhood.
I have lived long enough to know that I am an accomplice in the evil
which seems to prevail so terribly in the world,
even in the evil which might blindly strike me down.
I should like, when the time comes, to have a moment of spiritual clarity
which would allow me to beg forgiveness of God
and of my fellow human beings,
and at the same time forgive with all my heart the one who would strike me down.
I could not desire such a death.
It seems to me important to state this.
I do not see, in fact, how I could rejoice
if the people I love were indiscriminately accused of my murder.
It would be too high a price to pay
for what will perhaps be called, the "grace of martyrdom"
to owe it to an Algerian, whoever he might be,
especially if he says he is acting in fidelity to what he believes to be Islam.
I am aware of the scorn which can be heaped on the Algerians indiscriminately.
I am also aware of the caricatures of Islam which a certain Islamism fosters.
It is too easy to soothe one's conscience
by identifying this religious way with the fundamentalist ideology of its extremists.
For me, Algeria and Islam are something different: it is a body and a soul.
I have proclaimed this often enough, I think, in the light of what I have received from it.
I so often find there that true strand of the Gospel
which I learned at my mother's knee, my very first Church,
precisely in Algeria, and already inspired with respect for Muslim believers.
Obviously, my death will appear to confirm
those who hastily judged me naïve or idealistic:
"Let him tell us now what he thinks of his ideals!"
But these persons should know that finally my most avid curiosity will be set free.
This is what I shall be able to do, God willing:
immerse my gaze in that of the Father
to contemplate with him His children of Islam
just as He sees them, all shining with the glory of Christ,
the fruit of His Passion, filled with the Gift of the Spirit
whose secret joy will always be to establish communion
and restore the likeness, playing with the differences.
For this life lost, totally mine and totally theirs,
I thank God, who seems to have willed it entirely
for the sake of that JOY in everything and in spite of everything.
In this THANK YOU, which is said for everything in my life from now on,
I certainly include you, friends of yesterday and today,
and you, my friends of this place,
along with my mother and father, my sisters and brothers and their families,
You are the hundredfold granted as was promised!
And also you, my last-minute friend, who will not have known what you were doing:
Yes, I want this THANK YOU and this GOODBYE to be a "GOD-BLESS" for you, too,
because in God's face I see yours.
May we meet again as happy thieves in Paradise, if it please God, the Father of us both.

Algiers, 1st December 1993

Tibhirine, 1st January 1994 

Christian +

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

contemplation is an abiding silence

"Well, I think the purpose of the monastic life in the modern world is to show that we don’t need a purpose. The purpose of life is life, and you are to be just to be. Everybody measures their importance by how useful they are, so you need to shatter that. You know, somebody has to come along now and then just say listen, you know, that’s not it. That’s not what life is." - Brother Paul

JUDY VALENTE, correspondent: The lumber shed at the Abbey of Gethsemani in northern Kentucky. It’s late February. Each night at 8:00 Brother Paul Quenon walks to the shed, as he has every night for 20 years. He goes around back, where he finds his mattress. This is where he will sleep—outdoors, no matter the weather.

BROTHER PAUL QUENON (The Abbey of Gethsemani): I can’t be a full-time hermit, but I can be a night-time hermit, and there’s something about waking up in the middle of the night, and there’s nobody around. There’s a kind of an edge of solitude that you cannot experience in any other way.

VALENTE: Here, a monk seeks to live every moment in the presence of God, in unity with God. Brother Paul came to Gethsemani 52 years ago. He was 17, inspired by reading the autobiography of the famous Trappist monk Thomas Merton, who introduced many Americans to the contemplative life. Merton would eventually become his spiritual director and would encourage Brother Paul to write. Thomas Merton said monks and poets are people who live on the margins of society. Brother Paul decided to become both. He says monks and poets remind us to pay attention to the world around us, to focus on what’s essential.

Read the rest HERE ...

From Religion & Ethics Newsweekly

Thursday, April 14, 2011

does art have anything to do with life? (Robert Lax on Ad Reinhardt)

Robert Lax, Photo by Hartmut Geerken

During the early 1950s there was a big debate going on about whether or not art had anything to do with life.  Ad Reinhardt, artist and friend of Merton and Lax, claimed that "art is art is art", and that if people wanted nature, they should take a walk.

Lax admired Reinhardt and the clarity and purity that Rienhardt tried to achieve in his art.  He considered Ad's paintings as objects for meditation.  But he had his doubts about the idea that art should have nothing to do with life.

I'm beginning to think
r[einhardt] was wrong
not r[einhardt], but an idea i had
of him that i practically

that said life was the
opposite of art

& art was the opposite
of life

& proud of it

but i think life
has something 
to do with art

& it's just a matter
of finding

the special point

at which the two of them
get together.

- Robert Lax, Timeless Painting, Ad Reinhardt (Stuttgart: Staatsgalerie) 1985, p.85

See also Ad Reinhardt (1913-1967) - "Art is art. Everything else is everything else."

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Lax motto

Robert Lax, Photo by Hartmut Geerken 
A Lax motto that is perfectly out of keeping with our times ...

sit still

it will go away

- Robert Lax

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

"words stand between silence and silence"

The solitary life, being silent, clears away the smoke-screen of words that man has laid 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 related to 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.

When we have lived long enough alone with the reality around us, our veneration will learn how to bring forth a few good words about it from the silence which is the mother of Truth.

Words stand between silence and silence: between the silence of things and the silence of our own being. Between the silence of the world and the silence of God. When we have really met and known the world in silence, words do not separate us from the world nor from other men, nor from God, nor from ourselves because we no longer trust entirely in language to contain reality.

-- Thomas Merton
Thoughts in Solitude
first published in 1958 by Farrar, Strauss, Giroux
in early editions, pages 85-6, in more recent editions pages 82-3

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

mental and emotional rubbish

The greatest need of our time is to clean out the enormous mass of mental and emotional rubbish that clutters our minds and makes of all political and social life a mass illness. Without this housecleaning we cannot begin to see. Unless we see, we cannot think.

-- Thomas Merton
Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (New York: Image) p 77

This quote really hitting home today.  HT to Jim Forest for passing it on to me.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Catherine de Hueck Doherty

Photo of Catherine de Hueck Doherty by Merton, 1941
Merton first met Catherine de Hueck Doherty when she spoke at St. Bonaventure University in Olean, N.Y., in 1941. He had heard about her work in Friendship House (FH) when he lived in New York City, but he had never met her. On that very evening after hearing her talk, he was inspired to ask if he could come to Harlem. Catherine said yes. (How many others had said they wanted to come and never did!) He spent “[two] weeks of evenings,” as he put it, at Friendship House in Harlem. He met Catherine again later that same year at St. Bonaventure when she came for another talk.

The following passage is from Seven Story Mountain, where Merton is reflecting on his first encounter with Catherine:

“The Baroness was born a Russian. She had been a young girl at the time of the October Revolution. She had seen half of her family shot, she had seen priests fall under the bullets of the Reds, and she had escaped from Russia the way it is done in the movies, but with all the misery and hardship which the movies do not show, and none of the glamour which is their specialty.

“The experiences she had gone through, instead of destroying her faith, intensified and deepened it until the Holy Ghost planted fortitude in the midst of her soul like an unshakable rock. I never saw anyone so calm, so certain, so peaceful in her absolute confidence in God.

“Catherine de Hueck is a person in every way big: and the bigness is not merely physical: it comes from the Holy Ghost dwelling constantly within her, and moving her in all that she does." - Seven Story Mountain, pp. 342-343

the ferlinghetti connection, part 2

Into the Interior

by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

I am your whispered voice
your inside voice
your interior voice
your unheard voice
your unspoken voice
your unvoiced voice
your unspeakable voice
I am your heart's voice and your heartless voice
your deepest voice
under layers of living & speaking
the voice of your buried life
your invisible life
your silent life
your unknown life
your unopened life
your unrealized life
the undiscovered life that no one sees
not even your lover
not even yourself

If you will listen to me
if you will lend me the ear
of your mind
and of your bent heart
if you will heed my whisperings...
heed my whisperings...
heed my whisperings...
heed my whisperings...

* * *
-- Lawrence Ferlinghetti
How to Paint Sunlight: Lyric Poems & Others (1997-2000)   
New York: New Directions

See the ferlinghetti connection (part 1)

Sunday, March 6, 2011

a monk as a bird is a bird - Mahanambrata Brahmachari - a messenger from another world

Mahanambrata Brahmachari was a soft-spoken Hindu scholar who offered early and important intellectual encouragement to both Merton and Lax.

Robert Lax never tried to be like others.  Did he have any models?  He had the ability to learn from others.  Open, unbiased, he appears to have always discovered in others whatever it was he needed in his search for self.

Important for him was his meeting with Brahmachari, the young Hindu monk who set out on foot from Calcutta to the Ecumenical World Congress in the USA, and arrived two years late in 1938.

"A monk as a bird is a bird," Lax described him.

In complete disregard of the regulations of their hall of residence, Lax and his friend Thomas Merton put him up for several months in their rooms at Columbia University.

Brahmachari  observed American society with the eyes of a stranger, and thus unwittingly altered the way the two students saw things.  They began to question much that they had previously taken for granted.  Brahmachari's remarks were free of any sarcasm or irony; he did not evaluate, but simply noted and burst out laughing - which was simply an expression of his utter astonishment at the way he saw people living their lives there.  Dressed in a white robe, a pea-yellow shawl, a yellow turban embroidered in red with prayers, and his blue sneakers, he was a messenger from another world. The fact that Brahmachari hadn't a cent to his name and despite this didn't feel the slightest worry or care, but instead radiated a phenomenal calm, made a deep impression the the two friends Lax and Merton.  He had such a deep inner repose and acted so confidently that it seemed he had a direct link with heaven and the world lay at his feet.  His sincerity and warmth were like signs from the higher sphere.  Brahmachari was not the slightest bit bothered about politics.  Lax had the feeling, as he says, that Brahmachari was in touch with something like a timeless world in which we all exist and in which, if we were to do nothing but live a life of quietude, rectitude, and goodness, everything else would come of its own accord.  For Brahmachari, the life of the spirit was the only possible choice.  He lived in the moment, in the present moment.  Love and devotion - Brahmachari exemplified his message.  He was, as Robert Lax says, a wonderfully gentle person.  There can be no doubt that Brahmachari had a lasting influence or Robert Lax's [and Merton's] human dealings.

- Sigrid Hauff, A Line in Three Circles - The Inner Life of Robert Lax, 2007
During Brahmachari's years in the US he kept a diary, much of which has been lost.  However here is an entry he made when he first met Merton (Mr. Tom Martin) and Lax.  The rest of the diary entries can be found HERE.
New York-Wednesday, May 25. Taxi to 135 madison Avenue-the factory of Seymour's father. Leave one passage of (Shree Murti). Take bus to Columbia. Meet Seymour's roommate, Mr. Robert Lx. To Philosophy library reading Karl Marx. Meet Mr. Tom Martin. Three of us go out for lunch after waiting an hour for Seymour hoping he would come. After lunch they take me to one of their girl student friend, Dunny Eilin-her home in Panama. happy visit with her. ...
When he was in Asia, Merton made attempts to locate Brahmachari.  Brahmachari died in 1999 in Calcutta at the age of 95.  The NY Times obituary is here.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

am i supposed to wish for something?

Robert Lax, Photo by Hartmut Geerken

Lax never paid much attention to having his writings published.  During his earlier years he wondered what exactly he was supposed to do, working as a tutor, on the radio, and writing film scripts in Hollywood.  But eventually he settled into doing just what was in front of him.

what do you most 
wish for
in all this world? 

am i supposed
to wish
for something?

- Lax, episodes Pendo/Verlag 1983, p. 69

whatever you have 
to say
will get itself

don't worry

who worries?

that's all i'm

-Lax, journal A, Pendo/Verlag, 1986 p. 36

Thursday, March 3, 2011

we are wanderers

(Robert Lax hands) Photo by Hartmut Geerken

For we are all wanderers in the
earth, and pilgrims.  We have no
permanent habitat here.  The migration
of people for foraging & exploiting can
become, with grace, in (latter days)
a traveling circus.  Our tabernacle must
in its nature be a temporary tabernacle.

We are wanderers in the earth, but
only a few of us in each generation
have discovered the life of charity, the
living from day to day, receiving
our gifts gratefully through grace,
and rendering them, multiplied
through grace, to the giver.

-- Robert Lax, mogador's book 1992 68/70


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