Thursday, July 18, 2013

Prayer is attuning yourself to the life of the world

Prayer is not sending in an order and expecting it to be fulfilled. Prayer is attuning yourself to the life of the world, to love, the force that moves the sun and the moon and the stars. We can close our hearts to that Tao of the universe, and because we so often do, alienation and lack of peace tear the world apart. But to the extent that we attune ourselves to the flow of life, to our life breath, our lives can become peaceful even in an alienated and torn world. To that extent, the world also becomes more peaceful. God works with us and in us. Also, as I noted before, it’s not what our prayers do to God, but how we ourselves are changed by encountering God in prayer.
Steindl-Rast, Brother David; Lebell, Sharon (2009-05-01). Music of Silence: A Sacred Journey Through the Hours of the Day (p. 75). Ulysses Press. Kindle Edition.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

We live in the fullness of Time

Our Lady of the Redwoods
Recollections of Thomas Merton’s Last Days in the West 

by Bro. David Steindl-Rast O.S.B. 

"In prayer we discover what we already have.  You start where you are and you deepen what you already have, and you realize that you are already there."

When I remember my last visit with Thomas Merton I see him standing in the forest, listening to the rain.  Much later, when he began to talk, he was not breaking the silence, he was letting it come to word.  And he continued to listen.  “Talking is not the principal thing” he said.

A handful of men and women searching for ways of renewal in religious life, we had gone to meet him in California as he was leaving for the East, and we had asked him to speak to us on prayer.  But he insisted that “Nothing that anyone says will be that important.  The great thing is prayer.  Prayer itself.  If you want a life of prayer, the way to get to it is by praying.

“As you know, I have been living as a sort of hermit.  And now I have been out of that atmosphere for about three or four weeks, and talking a lot, and I get the feeling that so much talking goes on that is utterly useless.  Something has been said perfectly well in five minutes and then you spend the next five hours saying the same thing over and over again.  But here you do not have to feel that much needs to be said.  We already know a great deal about it all.  Now we need to grasp it.

“The most important thing is that we are here, at this place, in a home of prayer.  There is here a true and authentic realization of the Cistercian spirit, an atmosphere of prayer.  Enjoy this.  Drink it all in.  Everything, the redwood forests, the sea, the sky, the waves, the birds, the sea-lions.  It is in all this that you will find your answers.  Here is where everything connects.”  (The idea of “connection” was charged with mysterious significance for Thomas Merton.)

Three sides of the chapel were concrete block walls.  The fourth wall, all glass, opened on a small clearing surrounded by redwood trees, so tall that even this high window limited the view of the nearby trees to the mammoth columns of their trunks.  The branches above could only be guessed from the way in which they were filtering shafts of sunlight down onto the forest floor.  Yes, even the natural setting of Our Lady of the Redwoods provided an atmosphere of prayer, to say nothing of the women who pray there and of their charismatic abbess.  On the day we had listened to the Gospel of the Great Wedding Feast, flying ants began to swarm all across the forest clearing just as the communion procession began, tens of thousands of glittering wings in a wedding procession.  Everything “connected.”

To start where you are and to become aware of the connections, that was Thomas Merton’s approach to prayer.  “We were indoctrinated so much into means and ends,” he said, “that we don’t realize that there is a different dimension in the life of prayer.  In technology you have this horizontal progress, where you must start at one point and move to another and then another.  But that is not the way to build a life of prayer.  In prayer we discover what we already have.  You start where you are and you deepen what you already have, and you realize that you are already there.  We already have everything, but we don’t know it and we don’t experience it.  Everything has been given to us in Christ.  All we need is to experience what we already possess.

"We must slow down to a human tempo and we’ll begin to have time to listen."

”The trouble is, we aren’t taking time to do so.”  The idea of taking time to experience, to savor, to let life fully come to itself in us, was a key idea in Thomas Merton’s reflections on prayer.  “If we really want prayer, we’ll have to give it time.  We must slow down to a human tempo and we’ll begin to have time to listen.  And as soon as we listen to what’s going on, things will begin to take shape by themselves.  But for this we have to experience time in a new way.

“One of the best things for me when I went to the hermitage was being attentive to the times of the day:  when the birds began to sing, and the deer came out of the morning fog, and the sun came up – while in the monastery, summer or winter, Lauds is at the same hour.  The reason why we don’t take time is a feeling that we have to keep moving.  This is a real sickness.  Today time is commodity, and for each one of us time is mortgaged.  We experience time as unlimited indebtedness.  We are sharecroppers of time.  We are threatened by a chain reaction:  overwork–overstimulation–overcompensation–overkill. 

“We must approach the whole idea of time in a new way.  We are free to love.  And you must get free from all imaginary claims.  We live in the fullness of time.  Every moment is God’s own good time, his kairos.  The whole thing boils down to giving ourselves in prayer a chance to realize that we have what we seek.  We don’t have to rush after it.  It is there all the time, and if we give it time it will make itself known to us.”

In contrast to the person whose time is mortgaged, the monk is to “feel free to do nothing, without feeling guilty.”  All this reminded me of Suzuki Roshi, the Buddhist abbot of Tassajara, who had said that a Zen student must learn “to waste time conscientiously.”  I was not surprised, then, to hear Thomas Merton refer explicitly to Zen in this connection.  “This is what the Zen people do.  They give a great deal of time to doing whatever they need to do.  That’s what we have to learn when it comes to prayer.  We have to give it time.”  There is, in all this, a sense of the unfolding mystery in time, a reverence for gradual growth.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

the collective illusion

"If we take our vulnerable shell to be our true identity, if we think our mask is our true face, we will protect it with fabrications even at the cost of violating our own truth. This seems to be the collective endeavor of society: the more busily we dedicate ourselves to it, the more certainly it becomes a collective illusion, until in the end we have the enormous, obsessive, uncontrollable dynamic of fabrications designed to protect mere fictitious identities - "selves", that is to say, regarded as objects. Selves that can stand back and see themselves having fun (an illusion which reassures them they are real)." 

- Thomas Merton, 'Raids on the Unspeakable', pg15

The Honesty of Thomas Merton

I like this article over on The Internet Monk a lot.  Just goes to show how honesty cuts through all sorts of things that we think divide us.

The Monk Who Wouldn't Go Away by Michael Spencer 
One of the joys of having a hero is sharing him/her with someone else. If you know me very long, you'll hear about my hero, Thomas Merton: monk, writer, poet, activist, Christian, enigma, good looking bald man. Merton (1915-1968) is one of the most significant religious writers of the twentieth century and a lasting influence on untold numbers of Christians (and non-Christians) from every tradition and culture. For those of us in the Bluegrass state, he also holds the distinction of being perhaps the most significant religious figure to reside in Kentucky, being a monk at Our Lady of Gesthemeni monastery near Bardstown for twenty-seven years. He is buried there today.  
Merton is a strange kind of hero for me. I am a conservative Reformed Protestant. He was a liberal Roman Catholic who could easily have become a Buddhist. Merton was a former communist sympathizer turned Democrat who found Gene McCarthy too tame. I am a libertarian-Republican who wishes Pat Buchanan's brain could be surgically altered and put in George W's body. Merton befriended and praised the sixtie's liberal pantheon; wrote poems about them, wrote letters for them. I think those people- Baez, Berrigan, etc- were alternately amusing and frightening. Merton hated systematic theology and loved modern literature. I hate modern literature and love systematic theology. Merton choose monasticism over marriage. I think that was a crying shame. Merton thought a good time was walking barefoot in a cornfield reading Muslim mystics. I'd prefer a Dave Mathews show. He loved jazz. I love bluegrass and rock. Merton died by touching a faulty electrical fan after taking a shower, thus becoming the patron saint of all clumsy people. I haven't yet decided how I'm going to go, but it could possible involve all the White Castles I can eat. 

Read the rest HERE.

The Coffinmaker

A lovely three minutes of film ... "we are meant to carry each other" ...

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Divine Comedy of Thomas Merton - 2010 development pitch

I'm coming around to this idea of the Merton movie.  This is a development pitch that was made in 2010 before the script was written.  I love the way they have portrayed Merton's relationship with Abbot Fox.

The Divine Comedy of Thomas Merton - Development Pitch 2010 from Knitted Heart on Vimeo.

the fear of emptiness and uselessness

"The person who dares to be alone can come to see that the 'emptiness' and 'uselessness' which the collective mind fears and condemns are necessary conditions for the encounter with truth. It is in the desert of loneliness and emptiness that the fear of death and the need for self-affirmation are seen to be illusory." - Thomas Merton, "Raids on the Unspeakable"

Thursday, July 11, 2013

James George

This is my first introduction to James George.  Spiritual teachers are all around ...

HT to Intense Cities by Luke Storms

Merton, the Movie

Coming in 2015.  The Divine Comedy of Thomas Merton - The Movie.

I have mixed feelings about this.

The movie is getting some good endorsements:

Jim Forest says of the screenplay: "I found it very gripping - read it in one bite."

Richard Rohr says: "Thomas Merton is serving history as a 'Prime Attractor'.  He excites, challenges, and educates the hardest of hearts and most rigid of minds from so many different spheres of life.  He seduces people into a future where there is room and compassion for so much more.  You can jump into that future through this fully entertaining but profoundly true account of his life."

Cathleen Falsani (Orange County Register Religion columnist) says: "'The Divine Comedy captures the delicious dichotomy of Thomas Merton - a thoroughly modern mystic who toiled in realms both profane and sacred."

What disturbs me is the hype.  Thomas Merton, the man who wanted to disappear, is now a movie star.

And then there is the lead in to their Facebook page:

In 1966, world famous monk Thomas Merton falls in love with a nursing student half his age, plunging him into the most agonizing predicament of his life. 
In the summer of 1966, world famous monk and peace activist Thomas Merton falls in love with a nursing student half his age, plunging him into the most agonizing predicament of his life. As he endeavors to prevent his secret romance from being discovered by his abbot, James Fox, Merton is brought to the brink of despair, realizing he must finally choose between serving himself or serving the world.
Oy.  Typical sensationalism a bit like tabloid journalism.  This worries me.

Granted, the movie is directed to a younger audience, those who do not know Merton.  It just might invite them to look deeper into a life that seeks a different way of knowing and being in the world.

There are contemplative monks and nunks alive today, hidden in their communities but every bit as holy and radical as Thomas Merton.  They don't have movies dedicated to them - or blogs for that matter.

Is this a matter of staying focused on the moon, rather than the finger pointing to it?  Or is it just one more example of the absurdity of taking our lives so seriously?

Maybe I'm just a grump today.

Christ in the Rubble

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