Friday, June 14, 2013

Keep Death Always Before Your Eyes

Brother David Steindl-Rast
[I guess I thought that this blog had run its course, and after almost 7 years I had said all I had to say about Thomas Merton.

Then people were starting to wonder what had happened.  (By the way, my health is ok now; the metastatic breast cancer seems to be in remission and I feel good.)

Almost every day I am ruminating about something "contemplative" that has crossed my path so perhaps the louie blog is a good place to collect those thoughts. 

This is from Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk who has done much to foster the Buddhist-Christian dialogue.  I believe Merton met him in California on his way to Asia in 1968 (but I'll have to double check that.)]

Keep death always before your eyes.
—St. Benedict: The Rules: Chapter 4.47
One reason why Christian tradition has always steered me away from preoccupation with reincarnation has not so much to do with doctrine as with spiritual practice. The finality of death is meant to challenge us to decision, the decision to be fully present here now, and so begin eternal life. For eternity rightly understood is not the perpetuation of time, on and on, but rather the overcoming of time by the now that does not pass away. But we are always looking for opportunities to postpone the decision. So if you say: “Oh, after this I will have another life and another life,” you might never live, but keep dragging along half dead because you never face death. Don Juan says to Carlos Castaneda, “That is why you are so moody and not fully alive, because you forget you are to die; you live as if you were going to live forever.” What remembrance of death is meant to do, as I understand it, is to help us make the decision. Don Juan stresses death as the adviser. Death makes us warriors.

—Brother David Steindl-Rast from LEARNING TO DIE, PARABOLA, Volume 2, Number 1: Death.
Photograph: Stephen Weiss, MD, portrait of Brother David Steindl-Rast, Mt. Saviour Monastery, Elmira, NY
 (Source: parabola-magazine)


  1. Please find the most beautuful set of words ever written and spoken on the topic of death, and two websites that point out that there is a process which could be called reincarnation, and that the deeper-personality-vehicle (re)-incarnates time and time and time again until it Wakes Up. And that the d-p-v is reborn in more or less the same circumstance, even associating with the same people (especially their family members) time and time again.

    Believing in "Jesus" of course has nothing to do with such an asana/process/understanding and in fact prevents such from happening.

    1. Thanks, Anonymous. Looks interesting - I'll take a look. I sometimes have a hard time with the "Jesus" language that permeates Christianity. I have to experience this "person" as somehow mysteriously within as well as an objective historical reality. I know that it's predominately a Western mind-structure, but the "Jesus" story digs so deeply into our psyche/soul that I'm not ready to discard it. I think that Flannery O'Connor probably relays the very materiality of our sacredness better than any other modern writer.

  2. Brother David has been associating with all sorts of eclectic people ever since the early 70's, including the Lindisfarne Gatherings which are introduced here - as late as 2011 he still does.

    The author of the above list of essays provides a much more expanded paradoxical understanding of human culture than anything that you fill find in any of the usual oh-so-serious left-brained theology blogs.

    1. Wow, what a delightful read. I've book marked the page and will read some more. I really like surrounding myself with people who can get out of the box ... thank your for this new source of insight!

  3. Thanks so much for this posting, Beth.

    David Steindl-Rast's is a fascinating point: one which reflects the very different attitudes traditionally held by eastern and western cultures. I wonder if that urgency of the gospel message profoundly shifted European's perspective on time and immanence, thus creating the idea of wasted time.

    Keep well!

    1. Thanks, J. I need to read more of David S-R, I'm really only familiar with him at a superficial level. It's pretty clear to me that Western notions of time are deeply delusional and our whole lives become dysfunctional when we lose our grip on the present moment.

      Is the awareness that God is always at hand, right before us, too much to bear? Do you think that sense of "urgency" gets us off track, unable to "waste time", resting in our safety in the heart of God without guilt?

      Interesting thoughts to mull over ...

  4. I wish I could visit with you over a cup of tea.

  5. Hi Beth, Glad to BE seeing your posts again. They are inspiring and give me a bit more to contemplate as I go through my day. The idea of "urgency" is very interesting to me. With my big gardening lifestyle it can take me up in its torrent at times. When I look forward I may feel "urgency", looking back can be satisfying or not. It is only in this very moment with each breath that I find peace. Nature is my reminder each day that it is Now and now again. In nature I never feel alone. I feel what most call God and what I do not want to label.
    “Watching gardeners label their plants
    I vow with all beings
    to practice the old horticulture
    and let plants identify me.” Robert Aitken

    Be Well and Healing Thoughts debOrah

    1. I have been so enjoying your garden and writings, Deborah. You're right, Now and Now again!

  6. I very much appreciate your blog and I am glad you are still posting. Much obliged.


From Dorothy Day’s editorial in the Catholic Worker on the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.