Thursday, August 29, 2013

connecting the dots

On this day that we honor, celebrate, and vow to continue to struggle the 50th anniversary of the March for Jobs and Freedom on Washington led by Dr. Martin Luther King, we must remember something that was not heard in the official commemorations in Washington today: the way in which the struggle here at home in terms of poverty is related to the struggle abroad in terms of America’s militarism. 
We have to connect the dots between what Martin called the triple giant of evil: racism, materialism, and militarism.
Martin was pressured not to make this link, and in fact it took him from 1963 till the famed 1967 Riverside church speech to speak “against the apathy of my own soul” and break his own silence against the war in Vietnam. 
The result was powerful, controversial, and as of today, still a task for all the real followers of Martin to heed. 
- See more at:

See: The Martin Luther King connection 


Among the many things that religious tradition holds in store for us is a legacy of wonder.  The surest way to suppress our ability to understand the meaning of God and the importance of worship is to take things for granted.  Indifference to the sublime wonder of living is the root of sin. 
Awareness of the divine begins with wonder.  It is the result of what man does with his higher incomprehension.  The greatest hindrance to such awareness is our adjustment to conventional notions, to mental cliches.  Wonder or radical amazement, the state of maladjustment to words and notions, is therefore a prerequisite for an authentic awareness of that which is. 
Abraham Joshua Heschel

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

not knowing


how would it be to allow for knowing
and not knowing:
allowing room
for the mystery
of creating
to be able to wonder
without needing to understand everything
to trust in the process
to trust in love
to trust in the mystery and wonder
of the universe
that beats softly wildly
all round about us,
that is hidden
in the mists
in the clouds and the rain
in the wind blowing and the rain lashing down on your window,
reminding you
that this is where you are,
on the island,
at the edge,
in a place of finding
and refinding,
and remembering
to remember
the feel of the mist, wind and rain.

—John O’Donohue


from the Eckhart Tolle website.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

learning to engage contemplatively in the dilemma of how difficult it is to live contemplatively

Sculpture by Jeanne Dueber SL
"... Here is a more generous, more robust approach to the dilemma of our ignorance.  This more generous approach consists, not of attempts to overcome our ignorance, but rather of a willingness to gaze deeply within it, learning its ways as we learn to get up with it in the morning and go to bed with it at night.  The tonality of this approach is not about methods of attainment but is the tonality of a willingness to see and accept the dark divinity of our plight of being trapped on the outer circumference of the inner richness of the life we are living. 
"In this humble self-knowledge there is the growing realization that this whole journey of contemplative self-transformation is not simply or primarily about "me" in my private quest for inner peace.  Rather it is about entering into the homelessness of the whole world being uniquely expressed in my experience of it.  Likewise, we begin to discover that the journey of which we find ourselves is not one of rising above or leaving behind our unaware self.  Rather, the journey consists of waking up and coming home to the divinity at once hidden and revealed in the dance of the now so near now so far away, the noble now so Oh-my-God-what-have-I-done stuff of our own life and the lives of those around us.." 
-James Finley, The Contemplative Heart, pp. 39

Monday, August 26, 2013

the contemplative loop

Sculpture by Jeanne Dueber, SL

" ... Sooner or later (usually sooner) our plan for contemplative living leads us directly into all the obstacles, within and without, which undermine our efforts. Those of us who have been on this contemplative journey for very long know full well how ineffective our plans for contemplative living tend to be. We can look back over our shoulder to see a trail of abandoned spiritualities, like so many cars that have run out of gas. Each, for an enthusiastic moment, seeming to be the long awaited point of arrival. Each leaving us, all too quickly, once again a malcontent in discovering ourselves to be, even after all our efforts, our plain old distracted self.

"But the realization of the extent to which our path seems to be paved with the shards of enthusiastic beginnings come to naught is not the only shortcoming to be faced. For this is, as well, the shortcoming of self-absorption. If we are not careful our efforts to commit ourselves to living a more contemplative way of life become suspiciously limited to an exclusionary process of attempting to rise above or leave behind all that is broken and lost within ourselves and others. In such approach our very efforts to overcome our ignorance become sublimated variations of the ignorance we are attempting to overcome."

- Jim Finley, The Contemplative Heart,  pp. 38-39

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The lived experience of Church (we don't do this alone)

What is the lived experience of truly encountering the Church?
It is an experience of being loved unconditionally by a group of people who draw an unknown strength from their relationship together in the name of Jesus Christ.  It is an experience of coming home, of finding one’s place in the universe and in one’s own skin.  It is what we have always looked for without knowing it.  It is the delight and pain of being accepted by those who can see through us and know us better than we know ourselves.  It is the realization that we can be who we are because we are called by the experience itself to become who we are.  We can accept ourselves and everything that has happened to us and every thing we have done and not done.   
Thus, a Christian community is a group of people who seek to love one another as Jesus loves: incarnated unconditional love - mercy.  But true mercy only exists when we truly confront the sin and evil within us, calling it by name and helping each other to know truth about ourselves.  It is by sharing that unconditional life-giving love that the Church announces Jesus Christ to the world. 
- Martha Driscoll, OSCO (from the Gethsemani Visitors Center)

Monday, August 19, 2013


"Yes, it is always a difficult, a dark word that scarcely can be tolerated by our ears — that word “resurrection.” That is to say, it is not necessarily hazy. What it really means is clear — too clear, plain — only too plain. It means what it says: something mighty, crystal-clear, complete. It signifies: that the world, that is life with its imprisonments and tragedies of sorrow and sin, life with its doubts and unanswered questions, life with its grave-mounds and crosses for the dead, a unique enigma, so immense that all answers are silent before it. Nothing, absolutely nothing can one do to stop it; everything is too insignificant to fill up this vacuum. Admit it; it negates everything; there is no way out! There might be the possibility of a miracle happening — no, not a miracle, but the miracle, the miracle of God — God’s incomprehensible, saving intervention and mercy, the all-inclusive renewal that leads from death to life that comes from him, God’s creation-word, God’s life-word — and that means resurrection from the dead! Resurrection, not progress, not evolution, not enlightenment, but what the word means, namely a call from heaven to us: “Rise up! you are dead, but I will give you life.” That is what is proclaimed here, and it is the only way that the world can be saved take away this summons, and make something else of it, something smaller, less than the absolute whole, less than the absolute ultimate, or less than the absolutely powerful, and you have taken away all, the unique, the last hope there is for us on earth." 
-- Karl Barth, “Jesus is Victor.” In “Come Holy Spirit,” p 148-50.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

When we choose to pray ...

When we choose to pray we accept the invitation to come and see who this God of goodness is, and to come to see who we are as God’s cherished one.  Prayer is an essential way of kindling and developing this relationship.  If we are going to have quality prayer, we will need to take time to stay with the Holy One in prayer, to become familiar with the depth of Love in the center of our being.  As we increasingly commit ourselves to keeping this relationship alive and thriving, not only is more of God’s essence revealed; we also come to know more our own true self 
Trusting anyone with our shadow side is difficult to do.  In prayer we risk allowing our whole self to be revealed and known.  As we do so, we grow in our ability to be our bare-bones-self with God.  This does not happen automatically.  Growth in trust requires deliberate choices to spend time with the Other, humbly opening up, believing that all of who we are will be received with merciful kindness. 
Joyce Rubb, Prayer
(from the Gethsemani Visitors Center)

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Gethsemani, the Visitor's Center

There is a new Visitor's Center at Gethsemani. I didn't notice it when I was here last year (Pentecost 2012) but I think it has been here for awhile, at least a couple of years. I almost passed it by this year as well, but for a call of nature. The gift shop is typical, nothing special, but the rest of the center is very worthwhile.

There is a good little film about the Trappist life, and Gethsemani in particular, made by Louisville film maker, Morgan Atkinson. In the film the monks acknowledge that their lives are for us.

There is a room with many photos of the monks and quotes from them and others about the nature of contemplative life.

I was glad that the center didn't focus on Merton at all. He was just a monk among many here.

A statue of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, the best known and most influential Cistercian of all time, is there to greet you at the entrance:

Born into a knightly family in 1090, he entered Citeaux at the age of twenty two, bringing with him a group of thirty relatives and friends whom he had previously convinced to join him in leading a more serious Christian life.  At the time of Bernard's entry, Citeaux was beginning to grow and had just made its first foundation (La Ferte, 1113).  The influx of this large group made further expansion possible, and, in 1115, Bernard was chosen to lead Citeaux's fourth foundation, Clairvaux. 
An inspired teacher and a consummate artist with words, Bernard is known as the "last of the Fathers" and a Doctor of the Church.  His own monastery so prospered under his leadership that, at the time of his death in 1153, Clairvaux had made sixty-eight foundations. 
Bernard's field of activity gradually expanded beyond his own abby, and he found himself involved - for better or worse - in theological controversies and ecclesiastical and political affairs.  Among his monks and in his public life Bernard was considered a saint in his own lifetime.  He was canonized in 1174 and officially proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1830.

These monks carry a profound legacy.   

I love the stillness that permeates everything at Gethsemani.  I come away changed, knowing the world from a much quieter and simpler place. I love seeing the monks here, living their hidden prayer-lives. Sometimes I wake up in the early morning hours and think of them singing their psalms in the early darkness and I know that we are not all going to hell in a hand basket, despite the news. Life is holy.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


Probably the finest Mary prayer I've ever come across.  From the Visitor Center at the Abby of Gethsemani.


Earlier this month I was able to spend a couple of days at Gethsemani.  I'll be adding some photos and impressions of that visit over the next few days.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

more on the Merton movie ...

[from the Orange County Register by Cathleen Falsani]

Don't sing love songs, you'll wake my mother
She's sleeping here right by my side
And in her right hand a silver dagger,
She says that I can't be your bride.
— from “Silver Dagger” by Joan Baez

It was their song — the young, winsome brunette and her silver-pated lover with the sparkly eyes.

“All the love and all the death in me are at the moment wound up in Joan Baez’s ‘Silver Dagger,’” the man wrote to his lady love in 1966. “I can’t get it out of my head, day or night. I am obsessed with it. My whole being is saturated with it. The song is myself — and yourself for me, in a way.”

He yearned for her. He was heartbroken. And he was Thomas Merton — the Trappist monk, celebrated author, and perhaps most influential American Catholic of the 20th century.

It’s a chapter of the thoroughly modern mystic’s life that is no secret to his legions of fans, detractors, and scholars of his prolific work, including the best-selling autobiography (written when he was just 31), “The Seven-Storey Mountain.”

Now Merton’s complex love life (divine or otherwise) is also the subject of a forthcoming feature film, “The Divine Comedy of Thomas Merton.”

Not long before his death in1968 at the age of 53 — he reportedly was electrocuted when he stepped out of a hotel shower and touched an electric fan during a monastic convention in Bangkok — the thoroughly modern mystic (known to fellow monks at the Abbey of Gethsemani in rural Kentucky as “Brother Louis”) fell in love with a nursing student half his age. She is referred to, simply, as “M” in his memoir and letters collected in the volume “A Midsummer Diary for M,” published posthumously in 1997.

“I will never really understand on earth what relation this love has to my solitude,” Merton wrote to M in a letter dated June 21, 1966. “I cannot help placing it at the very heart of my aloneness, and not just on the periphery somewhere.”

I recently had the pleasure of reading the screenplay for “The Divine Comedy of Thomas Merton,” written by Ben Eisner and Kevin Miller, the filmmakers behind last year’s feature-length Canadian documentary “Hellbound?.” That film explored popular notions of hell and what those ideas say about our collective understanding of God.

The duo’s Merton film, while factually-based (carefully so, they emphasize), is not a documentary. Rather it is an epic tale of spiritual, emotional, and cultural transformation in the 1960s. And, yes, it is a love story.

“I chose to build this film around Merton's love affair in 1966 for every reason other than the fact that sex sells,” Eisner told me earlier this week.
“A lot of Merton fans are revolting against what I am doing because they want to hold on to him and sanitize him. Merton doesn't fit into any mold, and that's why I love the man.”

Merton was “a fully spiritual person and fully human person who openly shared his deepest fears and failures with anyone who cared to listen,” Eisner added.

“He tosses formulas out the window. We all want something spelled out for us to follow so we know we are safe, secure, and on the right path. But Merton doesn't let us off the hook that easy.”

The middle-age monk’s love for M was an “agonizing, and at other times liberating, crucible he has been forged in,” that “crystallized his vocational vision and cemented him more firmly in his message for the world. And oh how relevant that message is for us today amid the clamor of social media and the 'me, me, me' mentality we pretend doesn't exist,” Eisner said.

I first read Merton as a graduate seminarian 20 years ago and fell head-over-heels in love with him, too. His voice was, to me at the time, unique in the way he lived in the awkward no-man’s-land between holiness and humanity (where, frankly, each of us dwells.) It is a delicious dichotomy, one he navigated with grace and brutal honesty.

Merton was a man’s man, handsome and strapping, like a rugged Spencer Tracy with a tonsure and cassock. “Tom” had been around the block a few times, both before he moved behind Gethsemani’s cloistered walls and after. That made him, to me and many others, more accessible and authentic than many other giants of the faith.

Merton was saintly and serious. He also was sexy and a little bit dangerous. It’s a combination that tends to make people nervous, not unlike C.S. Lewis’ Aslan. Not safe, but good.

“He is so human, real, and relatable to me,” Eisner said. “I am convinced that what he so eloquently and vulnerably wrote about is perhaps more relevant today than it was in his own day... I just can't wait to introduce this beautiful person to a whole new mass of people who have yet to be smitten by his wit and wisdom.”

The way Eisner and Miller have written the romance between Merton and his M is lovely. It’s not tawdry or voyeuristic, and it leaves to the audience the (highly debated) question of whether their relationship was ever fully consummated physically. I was grateful for that as the details of what happened between the sheets are the least compelling part of their unlikely coupling.

“Dear, I have a terrible desire for fidelity to what has been far greater than either of us,” Merton wrote to M in the “Midsummer” collection. “And not a choice of fidelities to this or that, love or vows. But a fidelity beyond and above that to both of them in one, to God; to the Christ who is absolutely alone and not apart from us, but is the dreadful deep hole in the midst of us, waiting for no explanation.”

Eisner and Miller are in the midst of development and fundraising, with principal shooting set to begin next March and a (hopeful) 2015 release date to coincide with what would have been Merton’s 100th birthday.

Of course, the million-dollar question remains: Who will portray Merton on the big screen?

When I posed the question online via Twitter and Facebook, people responded with definite (and passionate) ideas including Patrick Stewart (probably a little too old, though), Sir Anthony Hopkins (ditto), Paul Giamatti (hmm...), Daniel Day-Lewis (too skinny), Campbell Scott (the eyes are close and he’s 52), and Philip Seymour Hoffman (well, everything he does is art.)

I’d like to see Jeremy Sisto — whose middle name is Merton and whose jazz musician father knew Brother Louis (a longtime jazz fan) personally — cast in the film.

Sisto already has played Jesus in a film and he’s got a glimmer in his eyes and brooding energy that reminds me of Merton. If not the protagonist himself, Sisto, perhaps best known for his recurring role on "Six Feet Under," might do well as Merton’s final abbot, Flavian Burns, or his friend, the Chilean poet Nicanor Parra.

But if Eisner has his way, he knows exactly who the lead roles will go to: “I wrote the script with Stanley Tucci and Zooey Deschanel in mind.”
Sounds like a match made in heaven to me.

Learn more about “The Divine Comedy of Thomas Merton” at


Today is the 68th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima.

August 6 - Sixty-eight years ago on August 6th, the U.S. unleashed the atomic bomb over the city of Hiroshima. Hundreds of thousands of people died from the blast itself and radiation sickness over the next years.

This is also the Christian feast day of the Transfiguration of Christ - when our Lord appeared in His divine glory before the Apostles Peter, James, and John. His face shone like the sun, and His garments became glistening white.

Points for meditation to be scratched on the walls of a cave. 
Poet-monk, Thomas Merton, wrote a poem, “Original Child Bomb,” the title being an exact translation of the Japanese word for the bomb that dropped on Hiroshima onAugust 6, 1945. 
The poem is a short history written in numbered, laconic sentences about the development and first use of nuclear weapons, despite the appeal of some of the bomb’s makers that it not be used without prior warning. Nonetheless, the bomb was dropped on a city considered of minor military importance. 
“The people who were near the center became nothing. The whole city was blown to bits and the ruins caught fire instantly everywhere, burning briskly. 70,000 people were killed right away or died within a few hours. Those who did not die at once suffered great pain. Few of them were soldiers.” 
Merton noted the odd way that religious terms had been used by those associated with the bomb. Its first test was called Trinity. The mission to drop the Hiroshima bomb returned to Papacy, the code name for Tinian.

"The bombing of Hiroshima and the Feast of the Transfiguration"

The bomb

Original Child Bomb, poem by Thomas Merton

Sunday, August 4, 2013

contemplative identity - a certain cast of soul

Abby of Gethsemani, None - August 3, 2013 
Any contemplative identity comes not so much from an individual endowment as from the melding that follows on a common search.  In the familiar terms of psychology, we would probably be safe in assuming most monks to be introvert and intuitive.  It is not the practical aspect of the life that attracts them, but the inner experience born of dwelling on the mysteries of faith.  Against a backdrop of psalmody, work, reading, and the celebration of the Christian mysteries of faith, and a participation in the drama by way of one’s life, is the power that unites.  Even a group as restrained and unobtrusive as ours reveals a love that cannot be hidden and is obvious to all who are sensitive and responsive.  And it is a quest not through ministry and service of the people of God but a quest within.  By some instinct, as it were, men so endowed come here.
The challenge, of course, is one’s response to the call and fidelity to it.  When these weaken or fail, the love of all will soon wither, for there is nothing to sustain it.  Such a one will walk out on the monks without difficulty.  We do not love one another because we choose one another as friends.  No more than soldiers choose their buddies in the corps, or players their team mates.  It is the pursuit that creates love, nurtures and develops it.  Call it a contemplative identity if you will, a certain cast of soul that prefers inner to outer, pondering to preaching, quiet to action.  In a context of beauty and peace, barren of noise and strife, contention and confrontation, such people thrive.  And it is the whole that matters: church, chapter, refectory, work, prayer, study, silence, and solitude.

Matthew Kelty
Monk of Gethsemani
from My Song is of Mercy 

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Mystery of Death

(Photo taken of a photo at the visitor center at the Abby of Gethsemane)
It is when faced with death that the enigma of the human condition is most evident.  People are tormented not only by pain and the gradual diminution of their bodily powers,but also, and even more, by the dread of forever ceasing to be.  But a deep instinct leads them rightly to shrink from, and to reject, the utter ruin and total loss of their personality.  Because they bear in themselves the seed of eternity, which cannot be reduced to mere matter, they rebel against death.  All the helps made available by technology, however useful they may be, cannot set their anguished minds at rest.  They may prolong their life-span; but this does not satisfy their heartfelt longing, one that can never be stifled, for an after-life. 
While the imagination is lost before the mystery of death, the church, taught by divine revelation, declares that God has created people in view of a blessed destiny that lies beyond the boundaries of earthly misery.  Moreover, the Christian faith teaches that bodily death, from which people would have been immune had humanity not sinned, will be overcome when that wholeness which they lost through their own fault will be given once again to them by the almighty and merciful Savior.  For God has called men and women, and still calls them, to attach themselves with all their being to him in sharing for ever a life that is divine and free from all decay. 
from the Second Vatican Council's Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes 18 & 22)


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