Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A homeless God, lost in the night (The Advent Project)

Thank you to all readers who encouraged and accompanied me on the louie Advent project, pairing Merton's words (mostly from his poetry collection) with NASA photos from outer space.

As one reader noted, Merton was a "writing machine", and the photos evoked sentiments that Merton seemed to capture repeatedly.  One of my biggest problems was choosing just one poem from many that seemed appropriate.  I didn't go about this in any organized way, and many times I couldn't find again a writing that I found while perusing the huge collection of poetry.  That was frustrating

I may re-visit these photos and Merton writings, so I'm thinking of this project as a kind of "first draft".

I usually looked at the photo first, then explored Merton's poetry to find words that somehow "fit" the photo.  However, there was poem that I came upon repeatedly, but no photo ever appeared that captured the essence of the words:

The shadows fall.  The stars appear.  The birds begin,
     to sleep.
Night embraces the silent half of the earth.
A vagrant, a destitute wanderer with dusty feet, finds his
     way down a new road.
A homeless God, lost in the night, without papers,
     without identification,
without even a number, a frail expendable exile
lies down in desolation under the sweet stars of the world
and entrusts Himself to sleep.

-Thomas Merton,  "Hagia Sophia" IV Sunset, The Hour of Compline, Salve Regina, Collected Poems, p. 369
I may have to peruse the NASA photos and see if there is one that finds this homeless and lost God.

Merry Christmas to everyone.  Thank you.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Him, Whose small heart bleeds with infinite fire

From the NASA Space Advent Calendar which is HERE.

 The Sombrero galaxy, Messier 104 (M104). The galaxy's hallmark is a brilliant white, bulbous core encircled by the thick dust lanes comprising the spiral structure of the galaxy. As seen from Earth, the galaxy is tilted nearly edge-on. We view it from just six degrees north of its equatorial plane. This brilliant galaxy was named the Sombrero because of its resemblance to the broad rim and high-topped Mexican hat. At a relatively bright magnitude of +8, M104 is just beyond the limit of naked-eye visibility and is easily seen through small telescopes. The Sombrero lies at the southern edge of the rich Virgo cluster of galaxies and is one of the most massive objects in that group, equivalent to 800 billion suns. The galaxy is 50,000 light-years across and is located 28 million light-years from Earth.
(NASA/ESA and The Hubble Heritage Team STScI/AURA)

I wish you all a Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad, Joyeux Noël, and Fröhliche Weihnachten, and a wish for Peace on Earth in the New Year. 

When the white stars talk together like sisters
And when the winter hills
Raise their grand semblance in the freezing night,
Somewhere one window
Bleeds like the brown eye of an open forge.

Hills, stars,
White stars that stand above the eastern stable,
Look down and offer Him
The dim adoring light of your belief,
Whose small Heart bleeds with infinite fire.

Shall not this Child
(When we shall hear the bells of His amazing voice)
Conquer the winter of our hateful century?

And when His lady Mother leans upon the crib,
Lo, with what rapiers
Those two loves fence and flame their brilliancy!

Here in this straw lie planned the fires
That will melt all of our sufferings:
He is our Lamb, our holocaust!

And one by one the shepherds, with their snowy feet,
Stamp and shake out their hats upon the stable dirt,
And one by one kneel down to look upon their Life.

-Thomas Merton, "A Christmas Card", Figures for and Apocalypse, p. 79

I send Love's name into the world with wings

From the NASA Space Advent Calendar which is HERE.

 A pair of one-half light-year long interstellar 'twisters' -- eerie funnels and twisted-rope structures - in the heart of the Lagoon Nebula (M8) which lies 5,000 light-years away in the direction of the constellation Sagittarius.
(A. Caulet ST-ECF, ESA, and NASA)

 [I have to admit that I am stumped by this one.  The colors of the photo are most obvious to me,  
joyous and celebratory like Xmas lights.  
After mulling over it all day, this is the Merton poem I settled on.  
But I'm still not sure if it's the right one ... ] 

When psalms surprise me with their music 
And antiphons turn to rum 
The Spirit sings: the bottom drops out of my soul

And from the center of my cellar, Love, 
     louder than thunder  
Opens a heaven of naked air.  

I send Love's name into the world with wings
And songs grow up around me like a jungle.

Choirs of all creatures sing the tunes 
Your Spirit played in Eden.  

Zebras and antelopes and birds of paradise 
Shine on the face of the abyss 
And I am drunk with the great wilderness Of the sixth day in Genesis.  
 - Thomas Merton, "Psalm", Collected Poems, pp. 220-221
Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 24, 2012

gravitation which is the life and spirit of God

From the NASA Space Advent Calendar which is HERE.

 Thanks to the presence of a natural "zoom lens" in space, this is a close-up look at one of the brightest distant "magnified" galaxies in the universe known to date. It is one of the most striking examples of gravitational lensing, where the gravitational field of a foreground galaxy bends and amplifies the light of a more distant background galaxy. In this image the light from a distant galaxy, nearly 10 billion light-years away, has been warped into a nearly 90-degree arc of light in the galaxy cluster RCS2 032727-132623. The galaxy cluster lies 5 billion light-years away. The background galaxy's image is not only stretched by the lensing, but split into multiple apparent images, across the upper left and at lower right.
(NASA, ESA, J. Rigby, and K. Sharon, M. Gladders, and E. Wuyts, University of Chicago)

I entered into the everlasting movement
of that gravitation
which is the very life and spirit of God:
God's own gravitation toward the depths
of his own infinite nature,
his goodness without end.

And God,
that center who is everywhere
and whose circumference is nowhere,
finding me,
through incorporation with Christ,
incorporated into this immense
and tremendous gravitational movement
which is love
which is the Holy Spirit,
loved me.

And he called out to me
from his own immense depths.

-Thomas Merton, Seven Story Mountain, p. 274 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

He shines not on them but from within them

From the NASA Space Advent Calendar which is HERE.

 First prize winner of the 2012 Hubble Hidden Treasures competition, image processing category. Josh Lake (USA) submitted this stunning image of NGC 1763, part of the N11 star-forming region in the Large Magellanic Cloud. ESA/Hubble had previously published an image of an area just adjacent to this, based on observations by the same team. Josh took a different approach, producing a bold two-color image which contrasts the light from glowing hydrogen and nitrogen. The image is not in natural colors -- hydrogen and nitrogen produce almost indistinguishable shades of red light that our eyes would struggle to tell apart -- but Josh's processing separates them out into blue and red, dramatically highlighting the structure of the region. As well as narrowly topping the jury's vote, Josh Lake also won the public vote. 
(NASA/ESA/Josh Lake)

The Sun burns in the sky like the Face of God, but we do not know his countenance as terrible.  His light is diffused in the air and the light of God is diffused by Hagia Sophia.

We do not see the Blinding One in the black emptiness.
He speaks to us gently in ten thousand things,
in which His light is one fullness and one Wisdom.

Thus He shines not on them but from within them.
Such is the loving-kindness of Wisdom.

All the perfections of created things are also in God;
and therefore He is at once Father and Mother.
As Father He stands in solitary might surrounded by darkness.
As Mother His shining is diffused, embracing all His creatures
with merciful tenderness and light.

-Thomas Merton, "Hagia Sophie" III. High Morning. The Hour of Tierce, Collected Poems pp. 366-367 

Saturday, December 22, 2012

like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven

From the NASA Space Advent Calendar which is HERE.

 This peculiar galaxy pair is called Arp 116. Arp 116 is composed of a giant elliptical galaxy known as Messier 60 (or M60) and a much smaller spiral galaxy, NGC 4647. M60 is the third brightest galaxy in the Virgo cluster of galaxies, a collection of more than 1,300 galaxies. M60 has a diameter of 120,000 light-years, and a mass of about one trillion times that of the Sun. A huge black hole of 4.5 billion solar masses lies at its center, one of the most massive black holes ever found. The faint bluish spiral galaxy NGC 4647 is about two-thirds of M60 in size and much lower in mass -- roughly the size of our galaxy, the Milky Way. Astronomers have long tried to determine whether these two galaxies are actually interacting. Although looking at them from Earth they overlap, there is no evidence of new star formation, which would be one of the clearest signs that the two galaxies are indeed interacting. However, recent studies of very detailed Hubble images suggest the onset of some tidal interaction between the two. M60 lies roughly 54 million light-years away from Earth; NGC 4647 is about 63 million light-years away. (NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage.
(STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration)

In the center of our being is a point of nothingness
which is untouched by sin and by illusion,

a point of pure truth,
a point or spark which belongs entirely to God,
which is never at our disposal,
from which God disposes of our lives,
which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind
or the brutalities of our own will.

This little point of nothingness and absolute poverty
is the pure glory of God in us.

It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of
It is in everybody, and if we could see it
we would see these billions of points of light
coming together in the face and blaze of a sun
that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish

I have no program for this seeing.
It is only given.

But the gate of heaven is everywhere.

-Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, p. 158

Friday, December 21, 2012

The world and time are the dance of the Lord in emptiness

From the NASA Space Advent Calendar which is HERE.
 Galaxies, galaxies everywhere - as far as the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope can see. This view of thousands of galaxies is the deepest visible-light image of the cosmos. part of what is called the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, this galaxy-studded view represents a "deep" core sample of the universe, cutting across billions of light-years. The snapshot includes galaxies of various ages, sizes, shapes, and colors. The smallest, reddest galaxies, about 100, may be among the most distant known, existing when the universe was just 800 million years old. The nearest galaxies - the larger, brighter, well-defined spirals and ellipticals - thrived about 1 billion years ago, when the cosmos was 13 billion years old. In vibrant contrast to the rich harvest of classic spiral and elliptical galaxies, there is a zoo of oddball galaxies littering the field. Some look like toothpicks; others like links on a bracelet. A few appear to be interacting. These oddball galaxies chronicle a period when the universe was younger and more chaotic. Order and structure were just beginning to emerge. The Ultra Deep Field observations, taken by the Advanced Camera for Surveys, represent a narrow, deep view of the cosmos. In ground-based photographs, the patch of sky in which the galaxies reside (just one-tenth the diameter of the full Moon) is largely empty. Located in the constellation Fornax, the region is so empty that only a handful of stars within the Milky Way galaxy can be seen in the image. The image required 800 exposures taken over the course of 400 Hubble orbits around Earth. The total amount of exposure time was 11.3 days, taken between Sept. 24, 2003 and Jan. 16, 2004.
(NASA, ESA, and S. Beckwith (STScI) and the HUDF Team)

 The Lord plays and diverts Himself in the garden
     of His creation,
and if we could let go of our own obsession
with what we think is the meaning of it all,
we might be able to hear His call
and follow Him in His mysterious, cosmic dance.

For the world and time are the dance of the Lord
     in emptiness.
The silence of the spheres is the music of a wedding feast.

The more we persist in misunderstanding
     the phenomena of life,
the more we analyze them out into strange finalities
and complex purposes of our own,
the more we involve ourselves in sadness, absurdity
     and despair.

But it does not matter much,
because no despair of ours can alter the reality of things,
or stain the joy of the cosmic dance which is always there.

Indeed we are in the midst of it, and it is in the midst of us,
for it beats in our very blood, whether we want it to or not.

Yet the fact remains that we are invited to forget ourselves
     on purpose,
cast our awful solemnity to the winds and join in
     the general dance.

-Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, pp. 296-297  

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Series of 6 short films on Dorothy Day

A series of six short films on Dorothy Day

Part I
Sainthood cause for Dorothy Day (4 min)

Part II
Who is Dorothy Day? (5 min)

Part III
Dorothy Day's unpopular stance  (5 min)

Part IV
A high regard for saints

Part V
The movement flourishes after Dorothy Day's death

Part VI
A desire to keep the saint real

God enters into His creation

From the NASA Space Advent Calendar which is HERE.

Herbig-Haro 110 is a geyser of hot gas from a newborn star that splashes up against and ricochets from the dense core of a cloud of molecular hydrogen. This image was taken with Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys in 2004 and 2005 and the Wide Field Camera 3 in April 2011.
(NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team, STScI/AURA)

God enters into His creation,
Through her wise answer, through her obedient 
through the sweet yielding consent of Sophia,
God enters without publicity into the city 
     of rapacious men.

She crowns Him not with what is glorious,
but with what is greater than glory:
the one thing greater than glory is weakness, nothingness,

She sends the infinitely Rich and Powerful One forth
as poor and helpless,
in His mission of inexpressible mercy,
to die for us on the Cross.

-Thomas Merton,  "To the Immaculate Virgin on a Winter Night", Collected Poems, pp. 218-219

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Blessed Virgin Mary Compared to a Window

From the NASA Space Advent Calendar which is HERE.

 NGC 3132 is a striking example of a planetary nebula. This expanding cloud of gas, surrounding a dying star, is known to amateur astronomers in the southern hemisphere as the "Eight-Burst" or the "Southern Ring" Nebula. 
(Hubble Heritage Team, STScI/AURA/NASA/ESA)

Because my will's simple as a window
And knows no pride of original earth,
It is my life to die, like glass, by light:
Slain in the strong rays of the bridegroom sun.

Because my love is simple as a window
And knows no shame of original dust,

I longed all night, (when I was visible) for dawn my death:
When I would marry day, my Holy Spirit:
And die by transubstantiation into light.

For light, my lover, steals my life in secret.
I vanish into day, and leave no shadow
But the geometry of my cross,
Whose frame and structure are the strength
By which I die, but only to the earth,
And am uplifted to the sky my life.
When I become the substance of my lover,
(Being obedient, sinless glass)
I love all things that need my lover's life,
And live to give my newborn Morning to your quiet

Your rooms, that would be tombs,
Or vaults of night, and death, and terror, 
Fill with the clarity of living Heaven,
Shine with the rays of God's Jerusalem:
O shine, bright Sions!

Because I die by brightness and the Holy Spirit,
the sun rejoices in your jail, my kneeling Christian,
(Where even now you weep and grin
To learn, from my simplicity, the strength of faith.)

Therefore do not be troubled at the judgements
     of the thunder.
Stay still and pray, still stay, my other son,
And do not fear the armies and black ramparts
Of the advancing and retreating rains:
I'll let no lightning kill your room's white order.

Although it is the day's last hour,
Look with no fear:
For the torn storm lets in, at the world's rim,
Three streaming rays as straight as Jacob's ladder:

And you shall see the sun, my Son, my Substance,
Come to convince the world of the day's end,
    and of the night,
Smile to the lovers of the day in smiles of blood:
For through my love, He'll be their Brother,
My light - the Lamb of their Apocalypse.

-Thomas Merton, "The Blessed Virgin Mary Compared to a Window", Collected Poems,  pp. 46-47

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

she is the candor of God's light, the expression of His simplicity

From the NASA Space Advent Calendar which is HERE.

 The barred spiral galaxy NGC 1073, found in the constellation of Cetus (The Sea Monster). Our own galaxy, the Milky Way, is thought to be a similar barred spiral, and the study of galaxies such as NGC 1073 can help astronomers learn more about our celestial home.

O blessed, silent one, who speaks everywhere!

We do not hear the soft voice, the gentle voice, the merciful
     and feminine.
We do not hear mercy, or yielding love, or non-resistance,
     or non-reprisal.
In her there are no reasons and no answers.
Yet she is the candor of God's light, the expression of His

We do not hear the uncomplaining pardon that bows down
the innocent visages of flowers to the dewy earth.
We do not see the Child who is prisoner in all the people,
and who says nothing.

She smiles, for though they have bound her,
she cannot be a prisoner.
Not that she is strong, or clever,
but simply that she does not understand imprisonment.

The helpless one, abandoned to sweet sleep, the gentle one
     will awake: Sophia.

All that is sweet in her tenderness will speak to him on all
     sides in everything, without ceasing,
and he will never be the same again.
He will have awakened not to conquest and dark pleasure
but to the impeccable pure simplicity of One
in all and through all:
one Wisdom, one Child, one Meaning, one Sister.

-Thomas Merton,  "Hagia Sophia' II. Early Morning. The Hour of Prime.  Collected Poems pp. 365-366 

Monday, December 17, 2012

those men of war, with big cigars and cars

From the NASA Space Advent Calendar which is HERE.

 Resembling a nightmarish beast rearing its head from a crimson sea, this celestial object is actually just a pillar of gas and dust. Called the Cone Nebula (in NGC 2264) -- so named because in ground-based images it has a conical shape - this monstrous pillar resides in a turbulent star-forming region. This picture shows the upper 2.5 light-years of the Cone. The entire pillar is seven light-years long. 
(NASA, Holland Ford (JHU), the ACS Science Team and ESA)

O the Lord is good
To the steady man
He is good
To the man of peace.

But I stumbled, I stumbled in my mind
Over those men
I did not understand
Rich and fat
With big cigars and cars
They seem to have no trouble
Know no pain
I do not understand those men of war
Strong and proud
Rich and fat
The more they have
The more they hate
And hate rolls down their skin
Like drops of sweat.

I stumbled, I stumbled in my mind
Over those men of war

Full of power
Rich and fat
The more they have, the more they hate
And they jeered
At my people
Showed their power
Rolled their pile of fat
And my people
Listened to their threat
My people was afraid

Of those men of war
When hate rolled down their skin
Like drops of sweat.

My heart was sore
Seeing their success
"Does God care?
Has He forgotten us?"
Lord, I nearly fell
Stumbling in my mind
About those men of war
It was hard to see
Till you showed me
How like a dream
Those phantoms pass away.

-Thomas Merton, "The Lord is Good", (Psalm 71) Collected Poems, pp 775-776 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

O night of deepest praise

From the NASA Space Advent Calendar which is HERE.

 The giant elliptical galaxy in the center of this image is the most massive and brightest member of the galaxy cluster Abell 2261. Spanning a little more than one million light-years, the galaxy is about 10 times the diameter of our Milky Way galaxy. The bloated galaxy is a member of an unusual class of galaxies with a diffuse core filled with a fog of starlight. Normally, astronomers would expect to see a concentrated peak of light around a central black hole. The Hubble observations revealed that the galaxy's puffy core, measuring about 10,000 light-years, is the largest yet seen. The observations present a mystery, and studies of this galaxy may provide insight into how black hole behavior may shape the cores of galaxies. The immense gravity of the galaxy warps the light passing by, smearing out the images of background galaxies, as seen by Hubble.
(NASA, ESA, M. Postman (STScI), T. Lauer (NOAO), and the CLASH team)

O night of admiration, full of choirs,
O night of deepest praise,
And darkness full of sweet delight! 
What secret and intrepid Visitor 
Has come to raise us from the dead?
He softly springs the locks of time, our sepulchre,
In the foretold encounter.

-Thomas Merton, "The Dark Encounter", Collected Poems, p. 113'

There is no where in you a paradise that is no place
     and there
You do not enter except without a story.
To enter there is to become unnameable.

Whoever is there is homeless for he has no door
     and no identity
with which to go out and to come in. 

Whoever is nowhere is nobody, and therefore cannot exist
     except as unborn:
No disguise will avail him anything

Such a one is neither lost nor found.

But he who has an address is lost.

They fall, they fall into apartments and are
     securely established!

They find themselves in streets.  They are licensed
To proceed from place to place
They now know their own names
They can name several friends and know
Their own telephones must some time ring.

If all telephones ring at once, if all names are shouted at
     once and
all cars crash at one crossing:
If all cities explode and fly away in dust
Yet identities refuse to be lost.  There is a name and number
     for everyone.

There is a definite place for bodies, there are pigeon holes
     for ashes:
Such security can business buy!

Who would dare to go nameless in so secure a universe?
Yet, to tell the truth, only the nameless are at home in it.

They bear with them in the center of nowhere the unborn
     flower of nothing:
This is the paradise tree.  It must remain unseen until words
     end and arguments are silent.

-Thomas Merton, "The Fall",  In the Dark Before Dawn, pp. 184-185  

Saturday, December 15, 2012

the knowing night

From the NASA Space Advent Calendar which is HERE.

 A planetary nebula in the making of a proto-planetary nebula. A dying star (hidden behind dust and gas in the center of the nebula) has ejected massive amounts of gas. Parts of the gas have reached tremendous velocities of up to one-and-a-half million kilometers per hour. Shown in blue is light from hydrogen and ionised nitrogen arising from supersonic shocks where the gas stream rams into the surrounding material.
(ESA & Valentin Bujarrabal, Observatorio Astronomico Nacional, Spain)

In my ending is my meaning
Says the season.

No clock:
Only the heart's blood
Only the word.

O lamp
Weak friend
In the knowing night!

O tongue of flame
Under the heart
Speak softly:
For love is black
Says the season.

Kissed with flame!
See! See!
My love is darkness!

Only in the Void
Are all ways one:

Only in the night
Are all the lost

In my ending is my meaning.
 - Thomas Merton, "The Night of Destiny", Collected Poems, pp. 634-635

Friday, December 14, 2012

How long we wait, with minds as quiet as time

From the NASA Space Advent Calendar which is HERE.
 A team of astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope reported the discovery of a fifth moon orbiting the icy dwarf planet Pluto on July 11, 2012. The moon is estimated to be irregular in shape and 6 to 15 miles across. It is in a 58,000-mile-diameter circular orbit around Pluto that is assumed to be co-planar with the other satellites in the system. Provisionally designated S/2012 (134340) 1, or P5, the latest moon was detected in nine separate sets of images taken by Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 on June 26, 27, and 29, 2012 and July 7 and 9, 2012. This discovery increases the number of known moons orbiting Pluto to five. Pluto is at center, and, counterclockwise, from top left, are its moons Nix, P5 (very small), Hydra, Charon, and P4.
(NASA, ESA, and M. Showalter, SETI Institute)
How long we wait, with minds as quiet as time,
Like sentries on a tower.
How long we watch, by night, like the astronomers.
Heaven, when will we hear you sing,
Arising from our grassy hills,
And say: "The dark is done, and Day
Laughs like a Bridegroom in His tent, the lovely sun,
His tent the sun, His tent the smiling sky!"
How long we wait with minds as dim as ponds
While stars swim slowly homeward in the water of our west!
Heaven, When will we hear you sing? 
How long we listened to the silence of our vineyards
And heard no bird stir in the rising barley.
The stars go home behind the shaggy trees.
Our minds are grey as rivers.
O earth, when will you wake in the green wheat,
And all our cedars sing:
"Bright land, lift up your leafy gates!
You abbey steeple sing with bells!
For look, our Sun rejoices like a dancer
On the rim of our hills."
In the blue west the moon is uttered like the word:
-Thomas Merton, Collected Poems, pp.89-90 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

silence that is a fount of action and joy

From the NASA Space Advent Calendar which is HERE.

 A nearly perfect ring of hot, blue stars pinwheels about the yellow nucleus of an unusual galaxy known as Hoag's Object. This image captures a face-on view of the galaxy's ring of stars, revealing more detail than any existing photo of this object. The entire galaxy is about 120,000 light-years wide, which is slightly larger than our Milky Way Galaxy. The blue ring, which is dominated by clusters of young, massive stars, contrasts sharply with the yellow nucleus of mostly older stars. What appears to be a "gap" separating the two stellar populations may actually contain some star clusters that are almost too faint to see. Curiously, an object that bears an uncanny resemblance to Hoag's Object can be seen in the gap at the one o'clock position. The object is probably a background ring galaxy. 
(NASA and The Hubble Heritage Team, STScI/AURA)

There is in all visible things an invisible fecundity,
a dimmed light,
a meek namelessness, a hidden wholeness.
This mysterious Unity and Integrity is
Wisdom, the Mother of all,  Natura naturans.

There is in all things an inexhaustible sweetness and purity,
a silence that is a fount of action and joy,
It rises up in wordless gentleness and flows out to me
from the unseen roots of all created being,
welcoming me tenderly,
saluting me with indescribable humility.

This is at once my own being, my own nature,
and the Gift of my Creator's Thought and Art within me,
speaking as Hagia Sophia,
speaking as my sister, Wisdom. 

- Thomas Merton, Hagia Sophia, Dawn. The Hour of Lauds, Collected Poems, p. 361

I also want to add this Lax poem from "Circus of the Sun" here:

In the beginning (in the beginning of time to say
the least) there were the compasses: whirling
in void their feet traced out beginnings and endings,
beginning and end in a single line.  Wisdom danced
also in circles for these were her kingdom: the sun
spun, worlds whirled, the seasons came round, and
all things went their rounds: but in the beginning,
beginning and end were in one.

And in the beginning was love.  Love made a sphere:
all things grew within it; the sphere then encompassed
beginnings and endings, beginning and end.  Love
had a compass whose whirling dance traced out a
sphere of love in the void: in the center thereof
rose a fountain.

- Robert Lax, "The Circus of the Sun - morning" 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

a new world is born

From the NASA Space Advent Calendar which is HERE.

 A composite color infrared image of the center of our Milky Way galaxy reveals a new population of massive stars and new details in complex structures in the hot ionized gas swirling around the central 300 light-years. This sweeping panorama is the sharpest infrared picture ever made of the Galactic core. It offers a nearby laboratory for how massive stars form and influence their environment in the often violent nuclear regions of other galaxies.
(NASA, ESA and Q.D. Wang UMASS, Amherst)

Go tell the earth to shake
And tell the thunder
To wake the sky

And tear the clouds apart
Tell my people to come out
And wonder 

Where the old world is gone
For a new world is born
And all my people
Shall be one.

So tell the earth to shake
With marching feet

Of messengers of peace
Proclaim my law of love
To every nation
Every race.

For the old wrongs are over
The old days are gone
A new world is rising
Where my people shall be one.

So tell the earth to shake
With marching feet
Of messengers of peace
Proclaim my law of love
To every nation 
Every race.

And say
The old wrongs are over
The old ways are done
There shall be no more hate
And no more war
My people shall be one.

So tell the earth to shake
With marching feet
Of messengers of peace
Proclaim my law of love
To every nation
Every race.

For the old world is ended
The old sky is torn Apart.
A new day is born
They hate no more.

They do not go to war
My people shall be one.

So tell the earth to shake
With marching feet
Of messengers of peace
Proclaim my law of love
To every nation
Every race.

There shall be no more hate
And no more oppression
The old wrongs are done
My people shall be one.

-Thomas Merton, "Earthquake", (Isaiah 52), Collected Poems, pp. 701-703

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

O great God, Father of all things

From the NASA Space Advent Calendar which is HERE.

 A Multi-Wavelength View of Radio Galaxy Hercules A. Spectacular jets powered by the gravitational energy of a supermassive black hole in the core of the elliptical galaxy Hercules A illustrate the combined imaging power of two of astronomy's cutting-edge tools, the Hubble Space Telescope's Wide Field Camera 3, and the recently upgraded Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) radio telescope in New Mexico. Some two billion light-years away, the yellowish elliptical galaxy in the center of the image appears quite ordinary as seen by Hubble in visible wavelengths of light. The galaxy is roughly 1,000 times more massive than the Milky Way and harbors a 2.5-billion-solar-mass central black hole that is 1,000 times more massive than the black hole in the Milky Way. But the innocuous-looking galaxy, also known as 3C 348, has long been known as the brightest radio-emitting object in the constellation Hercules. Emitting nearly a billion times more power in radio wavelengths than our Sun, the galaxy is one of the brightest extragalactic radio sources in the entire sky. The VLA radio data reveal enormous, optically invisible jets that, at one-and-a-half million light-years wide, dwarf the visible galaxy from which they emerge. The jets are very-high-energy plasma beams, subatomic particles and magnetic fields shot at nearly the speed of light from the vicinity of the black hole. The outer portions of both jets show unusual ring-like structures suggesting a history of multiple outbursts from the supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy. The innermost parts of the jets are not visible because of the extreme velocity of the material, which causes relativistic effects that beam the light away from us. Far from the galaxy, the jets become unstable and break up into the rings and wisps. (NASA, ESA, S. Baum and C. O'Dea (RIT), R. Perley and W. Cotton (NRAO/AUI/NSF), and the 
Hubble Heritage Team, STScI/AURA)

O great God, Father of all things, Whose infinite light is 
darkness to me, Whose immensity is to me as the void. 
You have called me forth out of Yourself because You love
me in Yourself, and I am a transient expression of Your
inexhaustible and eternal reality.

If I could not know You, I would be lost in this darkness,
I would fall away from You into this void, if You
did not hold me to Yourself in the Heart of Your only
begotten Son.

-Thomas Merton,  Thoughts in Solitude, p. 71

Monday, December 10, 2012

Merton's last words

Mary Luke Tobin, SL, and Thomas Merton, OCSO, probably early 1960s at Loretto Motherhouse.
Sister Mary Luke Tobin "got" Merton.

As Mother Superior of the Sisters of Loretto, whose motherhouse was just a few miles from Gethsemani, "Luke" and Merton first met in October of 1960.   Merton had brought his friend, Dan Walsh, over to Loretto to arrange a series of classes by Dan for the sisters.  Merton and Sr. Luke connected with each other immediately.  Merton considered Sr. Luke his intellectual equal, a woman who was spiritually in sympathy with his vocation, and a fellow worker for peace and social justice.

Merton and Luke met with each other several times, both privately and during conferences, over the next few years.  After his death, Sr. Luke fostered Merton's legacy at her Merton Center in Denver.

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.

This year I would like to share Sr. Luke's telling of Merton's last words.  The passage is transcribed from a talk that she gave.  I believe that it gives a great deal of insight into the person of Merton from someone who knew and understood him.
I want to conclude by telling you about Merton's last words.  Merton gave a talk in Bangkok, a final contribution, and he talked quite a bit about alienation, the separation of ourselves, tearing ourselves into parts: that which somebody else tells us we are, and that which we know ourselves to be as a center where God is present.  Now if we choose from that center, as Merton continually instructed his novices, then we are choosing according to a unified sense of self.  If we choose from what other people tell us we are or tell us we should do, or tell us anything else that we should do, or have or whatever, we have broken ourselves into two.  That's alienation.  And that's what Merton talked bout so much in his last days, that alienated self, brought all the way over to what others say we should be rather than choosing from one's center.  That is what I think was the great message of prayer and everything else that Merton taught.  At the end of it he asked for the blessing of God for himself and for all these others that are there.
 In the very last of his life, he gave this final talk in Bangkok.  I went to the place in Bangkok, and I visited the room where he gave the final talk, and I visited the little bungalow where he died.  I remember then what I heard about his last words.  Merton, as you know, gave his talk, and then sat down and said. "We are going to have the questions tonight.  Now I will disappear."  Many people repeat that as a prophecy.  I think Merton meant he'd leave.  And we'll have the questions tonight.
 So then he went from there to the lunchroom and had the lunch they had prepared, and then he walked over to his room accompanied by a French monk who talked to him as they walked along to Merton's room and said to him, "Well, thank you for the talk you gave this morning.  Everybody didn't exactly appreciate it, though.  We had some question."  And I thought to myself, "Yes, this is the way it always is.  Yes, I know they said some good things BUT."  There's always that little part, and Merton was experiencing that there.  Actually, it was a nun that said that, but usually I don't say that because we have a bad enough press as it is, so I don't usually set up the nun as the one who said that.  Anyone could have.  She happened to say it, and what she said was repeated to Merton: "I thought he would talk more about converting people to Christianity.  I thought that's what he was going to be talking about."  She enlarged on that.  This is a pagan area where we are working, and we're missionaries, and it's a pagan area, and here he's talking about something else and alienation, whatever.  But I thought he'd talk about bringing people to Christ.
 Merton, when he heard that, instead of getting upset the way many of us would get upset, said simply, "Well, I don't think that is what we are asked to do today.  All the preaching we get on television telling us who God is -- honestly, you wonder what the word 'God' is to mean in all of that."  Merton has it better.  "today I don't think it is what we are asked to do.  I think today it's more important for us to so let God live in us that others may feel God and come to believe in God because they feel how God lives in us."  These were Merton's last words that we know anything about and were said right before Francois de Grunne took him to his room where he tragically died, tragically for us, in any case.  Certainly he had completed what was his journey.  In other words, so let God live in us, so allow God to be the center where we make our decisions, where we live our lives, so let God live in us that others may find God by seeing how God lives in us, by somehow grasping how God lives in us.  Better than any long television explanation of who God is.  A beautiful last message, and I'd like to leave that with you as we conclude the talk on prayer because prayer, that presence of God, that reality of God, which each of us possesses, is our good fortune, "All love's luck."  We have achieved it.  Thank you very much.  -- Sr. Mary Luke Tobin SL
Thomas Merton, Dan Walsh, Luke, and Rose Alma Schuler, SL, probably spring 1968.
Below are some posts where Merton's death is discussed in this blog. It is an eclectic collection, as is this entire blog.

December 10th (December 10, 2009)

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) 

Out of the silence Light is spoken

From the NASA Space Advent Calendar which is HERE.

 NGC 1999, a dust filled bright nebula surrounding a vast hole of empty space in the constellation Orion. Hubble Heritage astronomers, in collaboration with scientists in Texas and Ireland, used Hubble's Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 to obtain this color image. (NASA/ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team STScI)

We do not see the Blinding One in black emptiness.
He speaks to us gently in ten thousand things, in 
which His light is one fulness and one Wisdom. 

Perhaps in a certain very primitive aspect Sophia is 
the unknown, the dark, the nameless Ousia.  Perhaps 
she is even the Divine Nature, One in Father, Son 
and Holy Ghost.  And perhaps she is in infinite light 
unmanifest, not even wanting to be known as Light.

This I do not know.  Out of the silence Light is 
spoken.  We do not have it or see it until it is spoken.

-Thomas Merton, "Hagia Sophia", Collected Poems, p. 366-367

Sunday, December 9, 2012

these are worlds of themselves, their names do not identify them

From the NASA Space Advent Calendar which is HERE.

 The newest candidate for Most Distant Galaxy Yet Known. This newly discovered galaxy, named MACS0647-JD, is very young and only a tiny fraction of the size of our Milky Way. The object is observed 420 million years after the big bang, when the universe was 3 percent of its present age of 13.7 billion years. The inset shows a close-up of the young dwarf galaxy. This is the latest discovery from a large program that uses massive clusters of galaxies as natural zoom lenses to reveal distant galaxies in the early universe. Called the Cluster Lensing And Supernova survey with Hubble (CLASH), the program allows astronomers to use the gravity of massive galaxy clusters to magnify distant galaxies behind them, an effect called gravitational lensing. In this Hubble observation, astronomers used the massive galaxy cluster MACS J0647+7015 as the giant cosmic telescope. The bright yellow galaxies near the center of the image are cluster members. The cluster's gravity boosted the light from the faraway galaxy, making its image appear approximately eight times brighter than it otherwise would. (NASA, ESA, M. Postman and D. Coe (STScI), and the CLASH Team) 

On the last day of a rough but fortunate voyage,
near the farthest end of the known world,
I found my way to the shores of sentient mountain...

There is another kind of justice than the justice of number,
which can neither forgive nor be forgiven.
There is another kind of mercy than the mercy of Law
which knows no absolution.

There is a justice of newborn worlds which cannot
be counted.
There is a mercy of individual things that spring into
being without reason.
They are just without reason, and their mercy is without

They have received rewards beyond description
because they themselves refuse to be described.
They are virtuous in the sight of God
because their names do not identify them.

Every plant that stands in the light of the sun is a saint
and an outlaw.
Every tree that brings forth blossoms without the 
command of man
is powerful in the sight of God.
Every star that man has not counted
is a world of sanity and perfection.
Every blade of grass is an angel singing in a shower of glory.

These are worlds of themselves.
No man can use or destroy them.
Theirs is the life that moves without being seen and cannot
be understood.

It is useless to look for what is everywhere.
It is hopeless to hope for what cannot be
gained because you already have it.

-Thomas Merton,  "Atlas and the Fat Man", Collected Poems, pp. 690-691

Saturday, December 8, 2012

born in our own souls, quietly as the breath of our being

From the NASA Space Advent Calendar which is HERE.

This object, known as Messier 54, could be just another globular cluster, but this dense and faint group of stars was in fact the first globular cluster found that lies outside our own galaxy. Discovered by the famous astronomer Charles Messier in 1778, Messier 54 belongs to a satellite of the Milky Way called the Sagittarius Dwarf Elliptical Galaxy. Messier had no idea of the significance of his discovery at the time, and it wasn't until over two centuries later, in 1994, that astronomers found Messier 54 to be part of the miniature galaxy and not our own. Current estimates indicate that the Sagittarius dwarf, and hence the cluster, is situated almost 90,000 light-years away -- more than three times as far from the center of our galaxy than the Solar System. Ironically, even though this globular cluster is now understood to lie outside the Milky Way, it will actually become part of it in the future. The strong gravitational pull of our galaxy is slowly engulfing the Sagittarius dwarf, which will eventually merge with the Milky Way creating one much larger galaxy.

But there is greater comfort in the substance of silence
than in the answer to a question.
Eternity is in the present.
Eternity is in the palm of the hand.
Eternity is a seed of fire,
whose sudden roots beak barriers
that keep my heart from being an abyss.

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 also disappear.
In this hour I shall cease to ask them,
and silence shall be my answer.
The world that Your love created,
and that my mind is always misinterpreting,
shall cease to interfere with our voices.

With You there is no dialogue
unless You choose a mountain and circle it with cloud
and print Your words in fire upon the mind of Moses.
What was delivered to Moses on tablets of stone,
as the fruit of lightning and thunder,
is now more thoroughly born in our own souls
as quietly as the breath of our own being.

The hand lies open.  The heart is dumb.
The soul that held my substance together,
like a hard gem in the hollow of my own power,
will one day give in.

Although I see the stars, I no longer pretend to know them.
One by one I shall forget the names of individual things.

-Thomas Merton, "Fire Watch", Sign of Jonas

Friday, December 7, 2012

... which is night, which is starlight, which is silence ...

From the NASA Space Advent Calendar which is HERE.

The full beauty of the Cat's Eye Nebula (NGC 6543), seen in a detailed view from Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS), showing a bull's eye pattern of eleven or even more concentric rings, or shells, around the Cat's Eye. Each 'ring' is actually the edge of a spherical bubble seen projected onto the sky -- that's why it appears bright along its outer edge. Observations suggest the star ejected its mass in a series of pulses at 1,500-year intervals. These convulsions created dust shells, each of which contain as much mass as all of the planets in our solar system combined (still only one percent of the Sun's mass). These concentric shells make a layered, onion-skin structure around the dying star. The view from Hubble is like seeing an onion cut in half, where each skin layer is discernible.
(NASA, ESA, HEIC, and The Hubble Heritage Team, STScI/AURA)
When the angel spoke, God awoke in the heart of this girl of Nazareth and moved within her like a giant. He stirred and opened His eyes and her soul and she saw that, in containing Him, she contained the world besides.
The Annunciation was not so much a vision as an earthquake in which God moved the universe and unsettled the spheres, and the beginning and the end of all things came before her in her deepest heart.
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, The Ascent to Truth (Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1951, p 317)

Thursday, December 6, 2012

take me out among the stars

From the NASA Space Advent Calendar which is HERE.

Resembling comets streaking across the sky, these four speedy stars are plowing through regions of dense interstellar gas, creating brilliant arrowhead structures and trailing tails of glowing gas. The stars in these NASA Hubble Space Telescope images are among 14 young runaway stars spotted by the Advanced Camera for Surveys between October 2005 and July 2006. 

All things stir by night,
waking or sleeping,
conscious of the nearness of their ruin.

Only man makes himself illuminations he conceives to be 
solid and eternal.

But while we ask our question and come to our decisions,
God blows our decisions out, the roofs of our houses cave
in upon us,
the tall towers are undermined by ants, the walls crack and
cave in,
and the holiest buildings burn to ashes
while the watchman is composing a theory of duration.

Now is the time to meet You, God, where the night is 
where the forest opens out under the moon 
and the living things sing terribly that only the present is
and that all things having a past and a future are doomed to
pass away!

I ask these useless question,
I do not wait for an answer, because I have begun to realize
You never answer when I expect.

And now my whole being breathes the wind
and my hand is on the door through which I see the

The door swings out upon a vast sea of darkness and of 
Will it come like this, the moment of my death?
Will You open a door upon the great forest
and set my feet upon a ladder under the moon,
and take me out among the stars? 

-Thomas Merton, "Fire Watch", The Sign of Jonas, pp. 349-362


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