Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Nannygoat and kids (Harlan Hubbard woodcut)

Harlan Hubbard Woodcut
This PM I headed off the goats, or part of them way up the
hollow and followed them back to the gate.  I like to watch
them -- who could enjoy the woods more.  I wish I could
get my living so directly and simply as they do.  Theirs 
is an unhurried peaceful existence, they are cared for,
and no effort or concern is required of them.
Harlan Hubbard Journal, October 23, 1961


"Christmas is the mystery of contact with God, fundamentally and actually." (p. 72)
- Fr. Alfred Delp SJ, “The Prison Meditations of Father Alfred Delp”, 1963 Herder and Herder New York
See also: The Prison Meditations of Father Delp

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

trees with snow (Harlan Hubbard woodcut)

Harlan Hubbard Woodcut

the silver threads of God's mystery

"Whoever is true to life, however hard and barren it may be, will discover in himself fountains of very real refreshment.  The world will give him more than he ever imagined possible.  the silver threads of God's mystery will begin to sparkle visibly in everything round him and there will be a song in his heart.  His burdens will turn to blessings because he recognizes them as coming from God and welcomes them as such. … 
"Let us trust in life because this night will pass and a new day will dawn  Let us trust in life because we do not have to live through it alone.  God is with us."  ((p. 69)
- Fr. Alfred Delp SJ, “The Prison Meditations of Father Alfred Delp”, 1963 Herder and Herder New York
See also: The Prison Meditations of Father Delp

the unfathomable mystery

"There has always been a lot of misunderstanding about the feast of the nativity.  Superficial familiarity, sentimental crib-making and so on have to some extent distorted our view of the stupendous event the feast commemorates … 
"To be honest I too long to be able to breathe again, to be relieved of my troubles … The question that applies to the whole world applies to me personally and concretely on this feast of the nativity.  Is there anything different about celebrating Mass here in this narrow cell where prayers are said and tears are shed and God is known, believed in and called upon?  At stated hours the key grates in the lock and my wrists are put back into handcuffs; at stated hours they are taken off -- that goes on day after day, monotonously, without variation.  Where does the breathing again which God makes possible come in?  And the waiting and waiting for relief -- how long?  And to what end? … 
"We ought to remember we are approaching the feast of God-made-man, not of man rendered divine.  The divine mystery takes place on earth and follows the natural course of earthly events.  As the epistle so emphatically states:  according to the flesh - from the seed of David.  It cannot be interpreted any other way,  It is an indisputable but incomprehensible fact that God enters our homes, our existence, not only like us but actually as one of us.  That is the unfathomable mystery.  From this point on the Son is absorbed by history, his fate becomes part of history and history's fate is his fate.  In the darkest cells and the loneliest prisons we can meet hims; he is continually on the high roads and in the lanes." (p. 63)
- Fr. Alfred Delp SJ, “The Prison Meditations of Father Alfred Delp”, 1963 Herder and Herder New York
See also: The Prison Meditations of Father Delp

Monday, December 23, 2013

Plowhandle Point from Payne Hollow (Harlan Hubbard Woodcut)

Harlan Hubbard Woodcut
Man's life on this earth -- who has the courage to face it?  Yet there are
the trees,  against the dark sky, black bare trees, springing from the
earth to flower, swaying in the wind, the low moan of the wind.
Who could live without this grace?
Harlan Hubbard Journal, December 17, 1964

God is day and night

"God is day and night, bondage and freedom, prison cell and the whole world." (p. 59)
- Fr. Alfred Delp SJ, “The Prison Meditations of Father Alfred Delp”, 1963 Herder and Herder New York
See also: The Prison Meditations of Father Delp


"Sooner or later we all make the discovery that human beings are subject to prohibitions and restraints that are even harsher, more irksome and more inexorable than the limitations of nature.  The liturgy calls this imprisonment -- a word we often use very glibly, for only those who have actually suffered it can have any idea of the effect it has on one's inner nature.  The man who has had a taste of prison life knows what it means to be shut up in a narrow cell, his wrists fettered, his mind occupied with a thousand depressing thoughts as he visualizes the flag of freedom drooping forgotten in some obscure corner.  Again and again his hopes rise only to fall back into despair when the steps of the warder approach or the key grates harshly in the lock.  Then dreams fade into reality and it all seems hopeless.  Again and again you come back to the same point -- you have no key, and even if you had there is no keyhole on the inside of a prison door.  And the window is barred and it is so high up you can't even look out.  Unless someone from the outside comes to set you free there can be no end to your misery -- all the will power in the world makes no difference.  The facts clamor for recognition."  (pp. 45-46)
- Fr. Alfred Delp SJ, “The Prison Meditations of Father Alfred Delp”, 1963 Herder and Herder New York
See also: The Prison Meditations of Father Delp

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Sin is like a handcuff

"Advent does not offer freedom to the man who is convinced he is already converted.  Stir up thy power: by the help of grace.  It is a case of God against sin.  Sin is very like a handcuff -- only the person with the key can unlock it.  It doesn't matter how fervently I desire it, I cannot rid myself of my handcuffs because I have no key.  And sin is like the door of my cell - even if I had a key I could not unlock the door because it has no keyhole on this side.  It can only be opened from the outside."
- Fr. Alfred Delp SJ, “The Prison Meditations of Father Alfred Delp”, 1963 Herder and Herder New York
See also: The Prison Meditations of Father Delp

life remains an inscrutable mystery

"The threads of which life is made up are too intricately interwoven for man to be able to separate them.  Its burdens  and its rewards are such that man, left to his own resources, can neither bear nor understand.  When, after untold labour, he thinks he has reached the ultimate it always proves to be the penultimate; and so it goes on, always new signs, new missions, new information, new questions, new tasks.  Hence despite the mot vigilant care and all human endeavor, despite alertness and willingness, life remains an inscrutable mystery and often a disquieting one at that."  (pp. 54-55)
- Fr. Alfred Delp SJ, “The Prison Meditations of Father Alfred Delp”, 1963 Herder and Herder New York
See also: The Prison Meditations of Father Delp

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The 4th Sunday of Advent

" … On the fourth Sunday in Advent the acute awareness of shrouded mystery is deepening for the final hour of darkness that heralds the dawn.  There is an intense awareness of captivity, of crippling disability and despair, but it is already shot through with a premonition of the divine grace -- the premonition that will soon become certainty." (p. 51)
- Fr. Alfred Delp SJ, “The Prison Meditations of Father Alfred Delp”, 1963 Herder and Herder New York
See also: The Prison Meditations of Father Delp

Friday, December 20, 2013

Pope: silence guards one's relationship with God

2013-12-20 Vatican Radio

(Vatican Radio) Only silence guards the mystery of the journey that a person walks with God, said Pope Francis in his homily at Mass on Friday morning at the Casa Santa Marta. May the Lord, the Pope added, give us “the grace to love the silence”, which needs to be guarded from all publicity.

Read the rest HERE.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

River by moonlight

Harlan Hubbard woodcut
What church or shrine could be as holy and comforting
as the river was this dark evening?
Harlan Hubbard Journal, December 12, 1963

The great illusion

"A Godless life is one delivered up to a vast army of kill-joys.  When man loses touch with the eternal truths he gets submerged in the weeds that sprout all over the garden of his life.  They are senseless trivialities that assume an air of real importance.  Though they pretend to have a purpose they are quite futile, and merely add obscurity and confusion to a life which is gradually engulfed in a sort of eternal twilight without light or direction. … Hunted and driven, and bewitched he is no longer master of his own fate, no longer a free man.  It is hard enough to meet the ordinary hazards incidental to every existence; but the Godless man has no defenses and is delivered up, bound and disarmed.  Left to cope with them in this defenseless fashion he falls back on the excuse that fate is against him and the world is all wrong.  He is a failure and it takes very little to keep him bogged down in depression and despair.  The world becomes a cheerless place, not worth living in, although there seems to be no way out of it.  Or, on the other hand, he may persuade himself that a flippant attitude is the right one to adopt, and he seeks a cheap way out of his troubles by various forms of escapism.  The great illusion begins, the age of noise and mass mentality and organized animation - 'circuses' - for crowds.  Till at last the earth begins to quake and underground rumblings, which have been more or less effectively drowned by the surface uproar, imperatively assert themselves.  Thunder crashes proclaiming the day of judgement." (pp. 37-38)
- Fr. Alfred Delp SJ, “The Prison Meditations of Father Alfred Delp”, 1963 Herder and Herder New York
See also: The Prison Meditations of Father Delp

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

living with every fibre of our being, flowing forth from the mystery of God

"God is personally here in our midst … this is the hidden and holy burden of all the experiences we undergo … And man will discover that he is living God's life within himself, in his very heart's core, proving the truth of the words of great and intuitive men like Eckhart, St. Augustine and the rest.  He will arrive at a state of perception in which he realizes that the Supreme Being actually resides within him.  He will find himself and regain faith in his own dignity, his mission and his purpose in life precisely to the extent that he grasps the idea of his own life flowing forth within him from the mystery of God … 
"Only when a man arrives at that state of mastery and freedom can he breathe freely.  The world and life itself then owe him nothing for he lives with every fibre of his being… " (pp. 39-40)
- Fr. Alfred Delp SJ, “The Prison Meditations of Father Alfred Delp”, 1963 Herder and Herder New York
See also: The Prison Meditations of Father Delp

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Trees in snow

Harlan Hubbard woodcut
Probably no moon has furnished me with as much light as this
one, in this clear weather.  Now it is past full, and I can arise before
daybreak and see my way about, sawing firewood.  One feels alone 
on the earth, no sounds, no lights, anywhere, unless a boat passes.  
In a light fog, as this morning, the isolation is even more strongly
felt.  It brings peace, contentment and a sure faith that all is well.
Harlan Hubbard Journal, December 28, 1958

forgotten & healing springs

"… each man must return to God, listen to his inner voice, consciously make contact with him.  The great conversion will invariably win a blessing, one which will make man's wilderness blossom.  It will open up new perspectives and unseal forgotten springs. … A surrender without reserve is essential; then 'these things' are given back to him.  His eyes are opened and acquire a new perception.  His earth regains its fruitfulness under the healing streams, which strengthen him for his appointed tasks and give him mastery as they carry the ship of his life on its way" (pp. 38-39)
- Fr. Alfred Delp SJ, “The Prison Meditations of Father Alfred Delp”, 1963 Herder and Herder New York
See also: The Prison Meditations of Father Delp

Monday, December 16, 2013

living fully

"Only in God is man capable of living fully." (p. 35)
 - Fr. Alfred Delp SJ, “The Prison Meditations of Father Alfred Delp”, 1963 Herder and Herder New York
See also: The Prison Meditations of Father Delp

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The house at Payne Hollow (Harlan Hubbard woodcut)

Harlan Hubbard woodcut
To arise in the frosty morning at the point of daybreak, climb the
hill and cut wood, while the sky lightens above the soaring trees;
to eat this wholesome, sweet food, to use my body, hands and
mind at the endless work I have to do; to read by the firelight,
to sleep warm and snug; all this shared and enjoyed by my 
loving partner -- what manner of man originated this
idea of a happier life beyond death?
Harlan Hubbard Journal, December 12, 1955

The 3rd Sunday of Advent

"There are times when one is curiously uplifted by a sense of inner exaltation and comfort.  Outwardly nothing is changed.  The hopelessness of the situation remains only too obvious; yet one can face it undismayed.  One is content to leave everything in God's hands.  And that is the whole point.  Happiness in this life is inextricably mixed with God.  Fellow creatures can be the means of giving us much pleasure and of creating conditions which are comfortable and delightful, but the success of this depends upon the extent to which the recipient is capable of accepting the good and accepting it.  And even this capacity is dependent on man's relationship with God. 
"Only in God is man capable of living fully. … 
"How must we live in order to be, or to become, capable of happiness?  The question is one which ought to occupy us nowadays more than ever before.  Man should take his happiness as seriously as he takes himself.  And he ought to believe God and his own heart when, even in distress and trouble, he has an intuitive feeling that he was created for happiness.  But this entails certain clear convictions.  For a full and satisfying life man must know what it is all about.  He must have no doubts about being on the right road with all the saints to back him up, and divine strength to support him.  Such a life is a dedicated one, conscious of being blessed and touched by God himself."  (p.35)

 - Fr. Alfred Delp SJ, “The Prison Meditations of Father Alfred Delp”, 1963 Herder and Herder New York
See also: The Prison Meditations of Father Delp

Note: I have given up on using [sic]'s to mark the gender problems in the translation of Delp's writing.  It was probably there in the German as well.  Let it be as it is.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

River with trees (Harlan Hubbard woodcut)

Harlan Hubbard woodcut
I see before me the river slowly rowing past, quiet,
almost unnoticed, but I feel its power.  What can stop it?
from the Journal of Harlan Hubbard, August 14, 1935

the middle class

"At one time the middle class style of life had its virtues and served a purpose.  It was always threatened and it was also always a potential danger because it allied itself with human e=weakness and ran the risk that the possessions man hoarded, and which he needed for his task and mission, would end by mastering him.  This was his particular form of numbness and hardening; the sense of duty died out and what remained was middle class gluttony, idleness, comfort, ease and all that went with material possessions.  Dividends, stock, shares, bank balances -- these were the symbols of respectability, the ideals men strived for.  There arose a type of man to whose hearts one might almost say God himself could find no access, because they were so hedged around with security and insurance.  This type still flourishes.  It laid down the lines on which our present progress is developing.  The type has not been overcome because all the counter-movements have failed to negative the type -- they merely object to the exclusion of sections of humanity from the type.  Most modern movements set off with the object of enabling their adherents to live in the best possible material style.  And even where the times and the spiritual connections have here and there carried the movements on they have still clung to the old middle class mould in middle class imperialism." (p. 173)
 - Fr. Alfred Delp SJ, “The Prison Meditations of Father Alfred Delp”, 1963 Herder and Herder New York
See also: The Prison Meditations of Father Delp

holy fire

"It is not easy to revive a soldering fire.  When man has strayed from the current of reality he can do nothing about it at any rate on his own.  At best he can revive his memory, give the assent of his will and pray for the fire from heaven that prepares, transforms and rekindles. 
"The Holy Ghost is God's passion for himself.  Man must make contact with this passion, must play his part in completing the circuit.  Then true love will reign again in the world and man will be capable of living to the full.  The indwelling presence of God must take possession of our senses, draw us out of ourselves, in order that we may be capable of genuine assent and contact.  God must ratify himself in us and through us; then we shall live as we should.  Then the holy fire will again become the heart of the earth and remain so." (pp. 172-173)
 - Fr. Alfred Delp SJ, “The Prison Meditations of Father Alfred Delp”, 1963 Herder and Herder New York
See also: The Prison Meditations of Father Delp

Friday, December 13, 2013

socialism of the minimum

“ ... an ‘existence minimum’ consisting of sufficient living space, stable law and order and adequate nourishment, is indispensable. The ‘socialism of the minimum’ is not the last word on the subject but the essential first word, the start. No faith, no education, no government, no science, no art, no wisdom will help mankind if the unfailing certainty of the minimum is lacking”. (pp. 105-106)
 - Fr. Alfred Delp SJ, “The Prison Meditations of Father Alfred Delp”, 1963 Herder and Herder New York
See also: The Prison Meditations of Father Delp

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Tree trunk with snow (Harlan Hubbard woodcut)

Harlan Hubbard woodcut
Even through these trivial crowded days, I never lose sight of
the wild earth on which I live, of the ravishing perfection of its
beauty.  I stand before infinity and look out over a virgin
wilderness.  The potential for reproducing fragments
of this in a form worthy of it are endless.
Harlan Hubbard Journal, January 15, 1987

God-conscious humanism

It's not easy to find small, "quotable", excerpts which will draw one into Fr. Delp’s incredible insights. His writing is dense. He covers a lot of areas: what’s wrong with the world, what’s wrong with the Church, ideas for how educate and how to shape history.

He’s writing in an extreme situation: facing his own execution. He has no idea if anyone will ever find or read what he is writing. Yet he writes with an intensity and honesty as if his life depended on it.

I find myself having to dig into him, listen closely, read slowly and reflect on almost everything. He's very deep and saying things that can only be heard in deep places.

Always, his vision is God-centered.

“Every meditation on humanism is historically handicapped at the outset. There has already been a humanism -- in fact there have been several. And unless the humanism of the future succeeds in cutting itself off completely from its predecessors it is hardly likely to inspire confidence. And quite rightly. But it is not easy to establish that we are dealing with true humanism and at the same time overcome, or rather transform, the versions that have gone before.

“The essential requirement is that man must wake up to the truth about himself. He must rouse his consciousness of this own worth and dignity, of the divine and human potentialities within himself and at the same time he must master the undisciplined passions and forces which, in his name and by bemusing him with delight in his own ego, have made him what he is. this is not a disparagement of passions. Woe to the man who tries to live without any -- that is the way to disintegration. Man must take himself as he is with all the undercurrents and the fire of his nature. But the destructive element in passions, the element which knows neither limit nor restraint, must be brought under control or it will tear man to pieces and destroy him. Man’s passionate preoccupation with self must be subordinated; he must retain all the strength and fire of devoted human love but without the blindness, the irresponsibility, the lack of instinct that makes it destructive.

“Man wants to be happy and it is right that he should. But by thinking only in terms of self man destroys himself for it is a limited concept and has no room for anything stronger than the human order. Left entirely to himself man is unhappy and intrinsically insincere. He needs other people to give him a sense of completeness; he needs the community. He needs the world and the duty of serving it. He needs eternity, or rather he needs the eternal, the infinite. And there we come to the new, God-conscious humanism.” (pp. 103-104)
- Fr. Alfred Delp SJ, “The Prison Meditations of Father Alfred Delp”, 1963 Herder and Herder New York
See also: The Prison Meditations of Father Delp

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

God heals

“The man [sic] who insists on isolation and never grows conscious of the inner presence of the Spirit is doomed to failure after failure. If I had tried to cope with all this mountain of trouble unaided I should have reached the end of my tether long ago. Natural logic keeps forcing its evil conclusions, like poison, on one’s consciousness. To counter them one has to apply the logic of healing, of guidance and submission, on which decisions can be based when they have been patiently arrived at through prayer. The Holy Ghost constantly helps me over my hurdles in the small hours. I am aware of this and I do not doubt it. I could never have accomplished any of this on my own. Not even that night in the Lehrterstrasse. God heals. The healing strength of God lives in me and with me.” (pp. 167-168)
- Fr. Alfred Delp SJ, “The Prison Meditations of Father Alfred Delp”, 1963 Herder and Herder New York
See also: The Prison Meditations of Father Delp

Dialogue, the fundamental form of creative life

Again and again Delp refers to the inner vitality and dialogue (with God) that is necessary if one is to become fully alive:
“Fate may be the cause of a paralysis which is the grimmest of all. When life itself transfixes a man, tying him hand and foot, shutting him up in a prison with no possible outlet, of what use then are all decisions to live abundantly? The paralysis of fear, the hardening brought about by bitter experience are often a mere defensive armour, but they can also endanger life itself. Only when God’s strength plays a part in the drama will the inner vitality hold out, even if man falls. The restorative power of the Spirit must refresh man’s nature from within rendering him capable of resisting temptation and of holding his own, no matter what fate may have in store for him. The love of God, and the patient loving hands of those whose lives have not been afflicted with paralysis, will help him in his struggle.

“A life that has hardened into numbness is mortally sick. All that is vital in life succumbs to the hardening process. A numbed man deludes himself into believing that he cannot hear the inner voice that calls on him to shake off this numbness and rise out of himself. He is bound and fettered to himself and wastes away in that condition. He becomes incapable of living faith, as he is incapable of entering into the dialogue, the fundamental form of creative life in every respect. True faith, reverence, respect, love adoration -- all these are forms of the dialogue and all of them are stifled in the numbness brought about by the hardening of heart. So a man really ought to make every effort to maintain the dialogue and not to miss a single moment of contact with the invisible partner. More grievous than any external hardness of difficulty is this inner numbness, whether it result from habit, or fear, or shock, from pettiness or pride.

"In the creative dialogue man finds himself and makes closer acquaintance with his underlying motives and his background. Hence the prayer for bending is actually a plea for his own life.” (pp.169-170)
- Fr. Alfred Delp SJ, “The Prison Meditations of Father Alfred Delp”, 1963 Herder and Herder New York
See also: The Prison Meditations of Father Delp

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Two Anniversaries

Painting of Thomas Merton by Jim Nally
one light
one ray and it will be the angels' spring: one flash
one glance upon the shiny pond
and then asperges me! Sweet widerness
and lo! we are redeemed!
-- Thomas Merton (Christmas 1966)

Today is the 45th anniversary of the death of Thomas Merton -- and the 72nd anniversary of his arrival at the Abbey of Gethsemani to begin monastic life.

HT: Jim Forest

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

Merton's Last Words (December 10, 2012)

Monday, December 9, 2013

God is part of the definition of what it is to be human

“Man [sic] is nothing without God. Sometimes we are tempted to declare that man is nothing at all. But this is because comparatively few people have the good fortune to meet a real man. After all no one is above the law of transgression -- without thy grace. We have all taken the wrong road and our empirical experience of man has demonstrated little but weakness, incapacity and extreme helplessness. Man’s [sic] yearning to excel, his desire to achieve and accomplish things indicates that his shortcomings are not fundamental but are a superficial effect. his dissatisfaction with the conditions of his earthly existence is deep seated and constantly impels him to venture to try to improve his way of life.
“Man [sic] has it in hims to conceive high ideals and work for their realisation but if he is honest he will recognise the fact that he can do nothing on his own. Left to himself he is incomplete, not quite a man. God is part of the definition of a man [sic]; inner unity with God is the primary condition for a fulfilled and successful life. The decision to recognise this is the greatest that man can make and the only one that will rescue him from the chaos in which he is involved. About turn -- back to the beginning -- that is the only solution and the way to achieve life’s fulfillment.” (pp. 156-157)
- Fr. Alfred Delp SJ, “The Prison Meditations of Father Alfred Delp”, 1963 Herder and Herder New York
See also: The Prison Meditations of Father Delp

Trifonov Pechengsky Monastery (video)

I enjoy finding good free videos to watch on my little computer.

Here's a wonderful 45-minute documentary on the world's most northernmost monastery, the Trifonov Pechengsky Monastery, located around Murmansk on the Arctic Sea. It's in Russian, but with good subtitling. The film features unique footage of inner life of the monastery.

Life at the monastery is difficult to say the least. The monks often seem more playful, casual than you might expect, but when you listen to their words you see the intensity of their faith.

UPDATE: Friend who watched part of this video describes it as a real slice of "Unreal Reality"!

HT: Jim Forest (thanks, Jim!)

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The 2nd Sunday of Advent

Woodcut by Harlan Hubbard
"Tree trunk with snow"
Delp calls the 1st Sunday of Advent a moment of grace that brings a shock of awakening to genuine truth. The theme of the 1st Sunday is concerned with our helplessness and turning toward God.

The 2nd Sunday is what happens after we turn toward God:
“... emphasizing God’s reaching out toward man. God is always the one who approaches. Not just occasionally, but all the time. Affirming that he [sic] comes for our healing and salvation; the injunction to man to take God seriously; the man [sic] who trusts in God will be steadfast and equal to whatever is demanded of him [sic] ...

“... the encounter with God is not of man’s choosing either in regard to the place or the manner of it. Therefore the central portion of the message runs: ‘Blessed is he that shall not be scandalised in me’. That is to say God is approaching but in his own way. The man [sic] who insists that his salvation shall depend on his own idea of what is right and proper is lost. ...”

“the keynote of this Sunday is decision. ... decision to let the grace of God work in us, that God may dissolve our opposition and render us worthy to receive him [sic] and to execute his [sic] mission.” (pp. 32-33)

Surrender is not just a giving up. It is an active decision to let go (and let God).  It's important for me to remember that I do not approach God - indeed, I am incapable of such a thing!

These are not necessarily my favorite of Delp’s profound meditations while in prison, but I need to include them so that I can more faithfully follow his thought.

I apologize for all the [sic]’s. I know that Fr. Delp (like Merton) lived before the awareness of gender sensitive language. It’s hard to believe that it wasn’t that long ago that we accepted without question the use masculine pronouns only when referring to all of humanity (or God!). Now it jumps out at me and seems to call for some kind of marking, otherwise I’m furthering the conscious and unconscious acceptance of the bias.

- Fr. Alfred Delp SJ, “The Prison Meditations of Father Alfred Delp”, 1963 Herder and Herder New York
See also: The Prison Meditations of Father Delp

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Golden Threads of Reality

"The Great Silence", from Neither Use Nor Ornament
"The world is greater than the burden it bears, and life is more than the sum total of its grey days.  The golden threads of reality are already shining through; if we look we can see them everywhere.  Let us never forget this; we must be our own comforters. … 
"The air still vibrates with the noise of violence and destruction.  But silently the eternal values are gathering on the horizon.  They are like the first pale rays of light as the promise of radiant fulfillment creeps upward accompanied by the first tentative notes of jubilation.  It is not yet a full chorus but only an indication, a hint, far away.  But it is drawing nearer."  (p. 27)
- Fr. Alfred Delp SJ, “The Prison Meditations of Father Alfred Delp”, 1963 Herder and Herder New York
See also: The Prison Meditations of Father Delp

Friday, December 6, 2013

Our Lady

Icon of Salus Populi Romani in the Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica in Rome. 
Recounted by pious tradition to have been painted by St. Luke the Evangelist.
"That God should have condescended to become a human mother's son;  that one woman whose womb was sanctified as the holy temple and tabernacle of the living God should have been permitted to walk the earth -- these wonders make up the sum total of the earth's actual purpose and they are the fulfillment of all its expectations." (pp. 25-26)
- Fr. Alfred Delp SJ, “The Prison Meditations of Father Alfred Delp”, 1963 Herder and Herder New York
See also: The Prison Meditations of Father Delp

The Herald Angel

Nativity by Caravaggio

I do not think much about angels - or spirits. As a child, I suppose, I believed in my “guardian” angel. But that belief ended up with the Ouija board / Carlos Castaneda mentality of my teenage years: manufactured and superficial attitudes that could make for interesting fun, but nothing that went deep into my understanding of reality.

Yet Father Delp has called the herald angel one of the central figures of the Advent message. Who/what is this herald angel?
“Not the plaster images we have made of them but spirits of higher order of existence identified with freedom, loyalty, wisdom and love. We meet them in the opening scene on the plain of Bethlehem singing hymns of joy and praise. But that is not the mystery or the law they represent -- that is its fruit and reward. They bring tidings; they announce God’s mystery and summon the listeners to the adoration from which they themselves have risen. Their mystery is that they represent the afterglow of the divine reality they proclaim. 
“That is their message and their judgment of us. For a long time now there have been no great spirits among us. They have dwindled and died out because gifted men have themselves broken the laws of the spirit. For the last hundred years intellectualism has been obsessed by the glorification of self, as if truth and reality ought to consider it an honor to be perceived and recognised by such marvelous individuals. Spirit is no longer regarded as the living reflection of a higher life ... That is why for a very long time there have been no communications worth listening to. We have had no messengers of glad tidings singing paeans of praise. Whenever such a voice has been raised it has seemed illusory or has come from agonies of suffering -- an indication of the depths of our soul sickness. ... 
“Let us return to praising God, to proclaiming him joyfully and then we shall find words that are significant and valuable. We shall see visions again and penetrate mysteries. Insight and decision and the meaning of the spirit will again become matters of importance, pushing aside the empty show and the bombast of ‘presentation’ which have so much influence nowadays.” (pp. 75-76)
These are certainly words that go against the reality that is presented in the news, on TV, in the Internet.  The reality that most everyone buys into.   I admit that I have been a secular heathen for many decades, and perhaps especially during this Xmas season when things are especially confusing for me.  Is there something to that common refrain that is bantered around, even in the marketplace, during the Christmas season: "Believe"?

Throughout his meditations, Delp emphasizes again and again the need to wake up to the truth about ourselves. This is where angels keep coming in:
“For the first thing man must do if he wants to raise himself out of this sterile life is to open his heart to the golden seed which God’s angels are waiting to sow in it.” (p. 24)

“And one other thing; he must himself throughout these grey days go forth as a bringer of glad tidings. There is so much despair that cries out for comfort; there is so much faint courage that needs to be reinforced; there is so much perplexity that yearns for reason and meanings. God’s messengers, who have themselves reaped the fruits of divine seed sown even in the darkest hours, now how to wait for the fulness of harvest. Patience and faith are needed, not because we believe in the earth, or in our stars, or our temperament or our good disposition, but because we have received the message of God’s herald angel and have ourselves encountered him.” (pp. 24-25)
I kind of get this.

I kind of know within myself that there are seeds of hope and “glad tidings” that counter my own despair and lack of courage. I just never called them “angels”. It is interesting to hear someone else describe these inner voices in ways that I am not inclined to dismiss as mere figments of my own imagination, but rather as real and essential.  Angels.
“Never have I entered on Advent so vitally and intensely alert as I am now. When I pace my cell, up and down, three paces one way and three the other, my hands manacled, an unknown fate in front of me, then the tidings of our Lord’s coming to redeem the world and deliver it have quite a different and much more vivid meaning. And my mind keeps going back to the angel someone gave me as a present during Advent two or three years ago. It bore the inscription; ‘Be of good cheer. The Lord is near.’ A bomb destroyed it. The same bomb killed the donor and I often have the feeling that he is rendering me some heavenly aid. It would be impossible to endure the horror of these times - like the horror of life itself, could we only see it clearly enough - if there were not this other knowledge which constantly buoys us up and gives us strength: the knowledge of the promises that have been given and fulfilled ...

“The angels of Advent are not the bright jubilant beings who trumpet the tidings of fulfillment to a waiting world. Quiet and unseen they enter our shabby rooms and our hearts as they did of old. In the silence of night they pose God’s questions and proclaim the wonders of him with whom all things are possible ...” (p. 24)
- Fr. Alfred Delp SJ, “The Prison Meditations of Father Alfred Delp”, 1963 Herder and Herder New York
See also: The Prison Meditations of Father Delp

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

the cry in the wilderness

Some years ago, walking down a crowded and fast moving street in Munich, Germany, a lone monk walked among us. Perhaps Buddhist, perhaps some other denomination or no denomination at all. But it was clear that he was a monk, someone a bit removed from the hustle bustle that enveloped the rest of us. He walked very slowly, one step at a time, and rang a little bell every now and then.

No one really noticed him, we all hurried around him. But I never forgot him.

Just this week I read about The Prophets of Oak Ridge. An 82 year old nun, a drifter, a painter. In the dead of night, these three people penetrated the exterior of Y-12 in Tennessee, supposedly one of the most secure nuclear-weapons facilities in the United States. By exposing what they believe to be the fallacy of national security, by smuggling their anti-war message into the judicial system through the back door, they believe they are putting the country on trial.

Definitely odd people. Outside the norm.

This is what Father Delp says about the man crying in the wilderness, one of his 3 figures who carry the Advent message:

“We live in an age that has every right to consider itself no wilderness. But woe to any age in which the voice crying in the wilderness can no longer be heard because the noises of everyday life drown it - or restrictions forbid it -- or it is lost in the hurry and turmoil of ‘progress” - simply stifled by authority, misled by fear and cowardice ...”

“... There should never be any lack of prophets like John the Baptist in the kaleidoscope of life at any period; brave men [sic] inspired by the dynamic compulsion of the mission to whch they are dedicated, true witnesses following the lead of their hearts and endowed with clear vision and unerring judgement. Such men [sic] do not cry out for the sake of making a noise or the pleasure of hearing their own voices, or because they envy other men the good things which have not come their way on account of their singular attitude towards life. They are above envy and have a solace known only to those who have crossed both the inner and outer border of existence.

“Such men [sic] proclaim the message of healing and salvation. They warn man of his chance, because they can already feel the ground heaving beneath their feet, feel the beams cracking and the great mountains shuddering inwardly and the stars swinging in space ...

“May the Advent figure of St. John the Baptist, the incorruptible herald and teacher in God’s name, be no longer a stranger in our own wilderness. Much depends on such symbolic figures in our lives. For how shall we hear if there are none to cry out, none whose voice can rise above the tumult of violence and destruction, the false clamour that deafens us to reality?"
- Fr. Alfred Delp SJ, “The Prison Meditations of Father Alfred Delp”, p.22. 1963 Herder and Herder New York
Indeed. The false clamor.

There used to be the Berrigans, powerful stories of those faith-driven people who went to jail for actions that were meant to wake us up.

The writings of Father Delp are also part of this cry in the wilderness.

See also: The Prison Meditations of Father Delp.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

the wilderness

Woodcut by Harlan Hubbard
Father Alfred Delp SJ
"The wilderness has a necessary function in life.  'Abandonment' one of my friends called it and the word is very apt.  Abandonment to wind and weather and day and night and all the intervening hours.  And abandonment to the silence of God, the greatest abandonment of all.  The virtue that thrives most on it -- patience -- is the most necessary of all virtues that spring from the heart -- and the Spirit. 
"Please don't think I am trying to write an ode to the wilderness.  Anyone who has ever had to encounter and withstand a wilderness must have a healthy respect for it -- and must speak of it with the reserve that prompts a man to hide his wounds and his weaknesses.  It is a great place for thinking things out, for recognizing facts, for getting new light on problems and for reaching decisions.  A heavy load brings the ship low in the water but it also keeps her steady.  The wilderness represents the law of endurance, the firmness that makes a man.  It is the quiet corner reserved for tears, prayers for help, humiliations, terror.  But it is part of life and to try to avoid it only postpones the trial."

- Fr. Alfred Delp SJ, “The Prison Meditations of Father Alfred Delp”, p.97. 1963 Herder and Herder New York
See also: The Prison Meditations of Father Delp

Monday, December 2, 2013

the figures of Advent

Father Alfred Delp SJ
" … We have to listen, to keep watch, to let our hearts quicken under the impulse of the indwelling Spirit.  Only in this quiescent state can the true blessing of Advent be experienced and then we shall also recognize it in other ways.  Once awakened to an inner awareness we are constantly surprised by symbols bearing the Advent message, figures of tried and proved personalities that bring out in a most forceful way the inner meaning of the feast and emphasize its blessing. 
"I am thinking of three in particular -- the man crying in the wilderness, the herald angel, and our blessed Lady."

- Fr. Alfred Delp SJ, “The Prison Meditations of Father Alfred Delp”, p.22. 1963 Herder and Herder New York

Sunday, December 1, 2013


Ralph Eugene Meatyard, photo by Thomas Merton 1968
Photograph of photographer, Ralph Eugene Meatyard, by Thomas Merton, 1968
"Jonathan Williams, Guy Davenport and Gene Meatyard were here yesterday … The one who made the greatest impression on me was Gene Meatyard, the photographer -- does marvelous arresting visionary things, most haunting and suggestive, mythical, photography I ever saw.  I felt that here was someone really going somewhere."  
-- Thomas Merton, June 18, 1967

Life is a continuous Advent - Fr. Delp, Advent 2013

Last year I added to "louie" a series of Merton poems accompanied by the NASA photo of the day:

2012 NASA Advent Project

This year I want to post excerpts from Fr. Delp's prison writings.  I've written about Fr. Delp before on this blog HERE.
The First Sunday of Advent 
Unless a man has been shocked to his depths at himself and the things he is capable of, as well as at the failings of humanity as a whole, he cannot possibly understand the full import of Advent. 
If the whole message of the coming of God, of the day of salvation, of approaching redemption, is to seem more than a divinely-inspired legend or a bit of poetic fiction two things must be accepted unreservedly. 
First, that life is both powerless and futile in so far as by itself it has neither purpose nor fulfillment. It is powerless and futile within its own range of existence and also as a consequence of sin. To this must be added the rider that life clearly demands both purpose and fulfillment. 
Secondly, it must be recognized that it is God’s alliance with man, his being on our side, ranging himself with us, that corrects this state of meaningless futility. It is necessary to be conscious of God’s decision to enlarge the boundaries of his own supreme existence by condescending to share our’s for the overcoming of sin. 
It follows that life, fundamentally, is a continuous Advent; hunger and thirst and awareness of lack involve movement towards fulfillment. But this also means that in his [sic] progress towards fulfillment man [sic] is vulnerable; he is perpetually moving towards, and is capable of receiving, the ultimate revelation with all the pain inseparable from that achievement.
- Fr. Alfred Delp SJ, “The Prison Meditations of Father Alfred Delp”, p.29. 1963 Herder and Herder New York

Merton's Calligraphy -- "...cooperating with something …"

"Merton's long experiment with abstract calligraphy dates to the hermitage period … 
"Merton had started with direct brushwork on paper and, with characteristic curiosity and verve, moved on to a home-made, primitive, but effective form of printmaking.  He would lay down a pattern in ink of make and then ink a pattern composed with found materials -- envelopes from his voluminous correspondence, whatever else was at hand.  And then press a sheet of paper, by hand, to take a single impression.  THe method was naive, but the results could be impressive, not only to us but to Merton himself because he would never quite know what marks and textures would transfer.  Chance or providence intervened; the finished work had its own trajectory, its own mind.  Merton as artist was cooperating with something.  Something good, something that deeply interested and touched him.  The process detoured the ego-driven notion that he was the artist, the skilled maker; the finished work emerged of itself....
" This is visual art at its best.  It speaks -- but what are we being told?  Merton wasn't given to precise interpretation.  He valued pre-verbal, visceral appreciation: another detour, this time around the chatty mind that thinks it knows.  … There is something scarcely known but insistent in our natures.  Some would call it a will to live; others would experience it as a need to arise and find our way."
-- Roger Lipsey, a bief commentary in "Meatyard/Merton - Merton/Meatyard", an exhibition at public, The Louisville Visual Art Association Gallery, At Whiskey Row Lofts, Louisville KY, May 13-22, 2013

Thursday, November 14, 2013

"Political" poems

Lax at St. Bonaventure University, late 1940s
"Anyone can produce poems concerned with the world, and what to think about the world, and what can we do about the things in the world.  But to say that someone who writes about what can we do about things is talking in a "political" way is only a way of labeling.  I'm sure there are many entries in my journals in which I ask myself what can we do about the world. 
"Our idea with PAX was to take pieces and put them in order; a "harmony of order" as St. Thomas said.  Getting things in order is a good thing.  As far as art goes,  I think that beauty is the tranquility of order.  With PAX, what we thought that we should do is have artists working for peace, not by making peace posters, but by making the best art they could, and by letting us publish it, and by letting the world see what harmony and beauty there can be in the world when people are working on art instead of on war.  I think that was the essential idea about PAX.  And, in general, people did contribute, and they contributed with very good heart.  I think there were eighteen issues of it.   We planned it all in Paris.  But we weren't really able to publish it until JUBILEE began, and then Ed Rice let me do it.  Berhard Moosbrugger was in on the plan from the beginning, and he liked it too."

- Robert Lax from an interview with Sigrid Hauff on Patmos, September 1999

Friday, November 8, 2013

the river and the sea (Lax poem)

Photograph by Edith Feuerstein Schrot


Robert Lax

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Merton Icon by Fr. Bill

St. Andrei Rublev Icons represents the art and iconography of William Hart McNichols.


In an informal talk in Calcutta, just weeks before his death, Thomas Merton described the monk, and thus himself, as a “very strange kind of person,” a “marginal person, who withdraws deliberately to the margin of society with a view to deepening fundamental human experience.” The monk in the modern world, he continues, “is no longer an established person with an established place in society. 'The monk' is essentially outside of all establishments.”

Weeks later, in a conference just hours before his death, Merton recalls a Buddhist monk during the Chinese invasion of Tibet who spoke these words to another monk in great distress, “From now on, Brother, everybody stands on his own feet.” Merton repeats the line, describing it as “an extremely important monastic statement.” From now on, everybody stands on his own feet. Merton gestures further: “You cannot rely on structures. The time for relying on structures has disappeared.”

It seems to me that Fr. Bill’s icon beautifully reflects Merton’s witness as a marginal person, standing at the margins, standing on his own feet. Yet Merton’s gaze, perfectly at home outside his hermitage, is not that of a rugged loner, indifferent to his visitor. His gaze welcomes and invites me in.

It is She, Sophia, who welcomes and invites me in: Wisdom-child in flame dancing playfully over Merton’s head. She and Merton are one, and we are three, encircling in time and space like Rublev’s Trinity. I am at peace. We are friends. The time for relying on structures has disappeared.

The monk is a marginal person, and I confess, I want so much to follow. Cor ad cor loquitor; heart speaks to heart. From before all beginnings, Her heart speaks silently to my heart, calling me forth with gentleness into being, into a brand new day.

The monk is a liminal man, in wool cap and denim jacket, guarding the doorway between life and death. Why do you seek the living among the dead? There is music on both sides, but stay awake, and let Life be your song! It is life and love that makes you dance. How the valley awakes! The cool hand of the nurse, whispering “Mercy within mercy within mercy.” The bridegroom is coming.

The frost at Merton’s feet, spread thinly over Kentucky bluegrass, is familiar to me. I am a native of Kentucky, where gray-damp winters drove us children indoors by late afternoon, and necessitated conversation and family play after dinner, deep into the evening, around smoking wood fires that my father loved to build. A Child’s heart, sometimes frozen, still beats within me. I want the frost to melt away.

In Fr. Bill’s icon Merton comes to us as heir to Julian of Norwich, heralding the eschatological secret of Christian hope. Gazing on me, gazing on him, he reminds me, “Do not be afraid.” What was fragile has become powerful. I loved what was most frail. All things are pregnant with expectation.

“Wisdom,” cries the dawn deacon, and I am learning, even as I fall back into sleep, how to listen. A child again in Her mercy I am learning to stand on my own two feet.

Thank you, Fr. Bill, for showing us, so humbly and lovingly, how to listen, and for bringing into birth this remarkable icon of Thomas Merton.

Christopher Pramuk is the author of four books, including Hope Sings, So Beautiful: Graced Encounters Across the Color Line (Liturgical, 2013) and Sophia: The Hidden Christ of Thomas Merton (Liturgical, 2009), which was awarded the International Thomas Merton Society’s 2011 “Thomas Merton Award,” a.k.a. “The Louie,” its highest honor. A lifelong musician and student of African American history and spirituality, Pramuk’s present work focuses on racial justice and interracial solidarity in society and church.

Link to Fr. Bill's icon: Holy World Evangelist Thomas Merton


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