Tuesday, December 22, 2015

meeting yourself in the desert

No Better Place to Meet Yourself

--by Moussa Ag Assarid

- See more at: http://www.awakin.org/read/view.php?tid=2133#sthash.TRMTPvuT.dpuf

Moussa Ag Assarid (MAA): I don’t know my age. I was born in the Sahara desert, with no papers. I was born in a nomadic camp of Touaregs, between Timbuktu and Gao, in the north of Mali. [...]

J: What do they do for a living?
MAA: We shepherd camels, goats, sheep, cows and donkeys in a kingdom of infinite and of silence…

J: Is the desert really so silent?
(MAA): If you are on your own in that silence you hear your heart beat. There is no better place to meet yourself.

J: What memories do you have of your childhood in the desert?
MAA: I wake up with the Sun. The goats of my father are there. They give us milk and meat, and we take them were there is water and grass. My great-grandfather did it, and my grandfather, and my father, and me. There was nothing else in the world than that, and I was very happy!

J: Really? It doesn’t sound very exciting.
MAA: It is. At the age of seven you can go alone away from the camp, and for this you are taught the important things—to smell the air, to listen, to see carefully, to orient with the Sun and the stars…and to be guided by the camel if you get lost. He will take you where there is water.

J: To know that is valuable, no doubt.
MAA: Everything is simple and profound there. There are very few things, and each one has enormous value.

J: So that world and this one are very different.
MAA: There, every little thing gives happiness. Every touch is valuable. We feel great joy just by touching each other, being together. There, nobody dreams of becoming, because everybody already is.

J: What shocked you most on your first trip to Europe?
MAA: I saw people running in the airport. In the desert you only run if a sandstorm is approaching! It scared me, of course.

J: They were going after their baggage, ha ha.
MAA: Yes, that was it. [...]

J: What do you dislike the most here?
MAA: Many people here have everything, and it is still not enough for them. They complain. In [the modern world] many people complain all the time! They chain themselves to a bank; many people are anxious to have things, to have possessions. People are in a rush. In the desert there are no traffic jams, and do you know why? Because there nobody is interested in getting ahead of other people!

J: Tell me about a moment of deep happiness for you in the desert.
MAA: It happens every day, two hours before sunset. The heat decreases, there is still no cold air, and men and animals slowly return to the camp, and their profiles are painted against a sky that is pink, blue, red, yellow, green.

J: That sounds fascinating.
MAA: It’s a magical moment… We all get into the tents and we boil tea. Sitting in silence we listen to the sound of the boiling water… We all are immersed in calmness: with the heartbeats tuned to the rhythm of the boiling water, potta potta potta…

J: How peaceful.
MAA: Yes…here you have watches; there, we have time.

Moussa Ag Assarid is the oldest of thirteen children in a nomadic Touareg family. Born in northern Mali in 1975, he moved to France in 1999 to study Management at the University of Montpellier. The above is excerpted from an interview with VĂ­ctor Amela.
- See more at: http://www.awakin.org/read/view.php?tid=2133#sthash.TRMTPvuT.dpuf

Thursday, December 10, 2015

By my monastic life and vows I am saying No to all the concentration camps, the aerial bombardments, the staged political trials, the judicial murders, the racial injustices, the economic tyrannies, and the whole socio-economic apparatus which seems geared for nothing but global destruction in spite of all its fair words in favor of peace.

Today is the 47th anniversary of the death of Thomas Merton. The following text is extracted from his preface to the Japanese edition of “The Seven Storey Mountain”:

I have learned ... to look back into the world with greater compassion, seeing those in it not as alien to myself, not as peculiar and deluded strangers, but as identified with myself. In freeing myself from their delusions and preoccupations I have identified myself, nonetheless, with their struggles and their blind, desperate hope of happiness.

But precisely because I am identified with them, I must refuse all the more definitively to make their delusions my own. I must refuse their ideology of matter, power, quantity, movement, activism and force. I reject this because I see it to be the source and expression of the spiritual hell which man has made of his world: the hell which has burst into flame in two total wars of incredible horror, the hell of spiritual emptiness and sub-human fury which has resulted in crimes like Auschwitz or Hiroshima. This I can and must reject with all the power of my being. This all sane men seek to reject. But the question is: how can one sincerely reject the effect if he continues to embrace the cause?....

The monastery is not an “escape from the world.” On the contrary, by being in the monastery I take my true part in all the struggles and sufferings of the world. To adopt a life that is essentially non-assertive, nonviolent, a life of humility and peace is in itself a statement of one’s position. But each one in such a life can, by the personal modality of his decision, give his whole life a special orientation. It is my intention to make my entire life a rejection of, a protest against the crimes and injustices of war and political tyranny which threaten to destroy the whole race of man and the world with him. By my monastic life and vows I am saying No to all the concentration camps, the aerial bombardments, the staged political trials, the judicial murders, the racial injustices, the economic tyrannies, and the whole socio-economic apparatus which seems geared for nothing but global destruction in spite of all its fair words in favor of peace. I make monastic silence a protest against the lies of politicians, propagandists and agitators, and when I speak it is to deny that my faith and my Church can ever seriously be aligned with these forces of injustice and destruction.

— Thomas Merton
who died on the 10th of December 1968 while taking part in a conference of Benedictine and Trappist monks
(“Honorable Reader”: Reflections on My Work, ed. Robert Daggy; NY: Crossroad, 1986, p 63-67)

[HT: Jim Forest]

Monday, November 30, 2015

100th Birthday of Robert Lax

Today is the 100th birthday of Robert Lax. I've archived many of Lax's works on this site (see the label LAX), but the one I choose today is from S.T. Georgiou's collection, "In the Beginning Was Love".

the important thing for a drummer or dancer, for example (singer too), is to get to the very center of the rhythm, center of the beat << the nerve >>
to find that first: to start from it as a base, and from it all other things, even very elaborate things, develop.
the captains i like, & the people in general are those who seem to have found that center; it is not that they are either << good >> or << bad >> it is rather that they are fully alive, fully themselves, & that they, again the << best >> of them, seem to have gone through a baptism (of not just water: of fire as well) from which there is no turning back.
Robert Lax, Journal C, p. 38
from S.T. Georgiou's book, "In the Beginning was Love - Contemplative Words of Robert Lax”, #34 pp. 61-62
Here is a short synopsis of Lax's life from a brochure at the lax archives at St. Bonaventure University:
Robert Lax
a lax life

Robert Lax was born in Olean, New York on November 30, 1915. The family moved between Olean and Long Island. The environs of New York City were as much home to the young Robert Lax as was the small town of Olean in upstate New York. Lax attended Columbia University in the 1930s, studying under the likes of Mark Van Doren. At Columbia Lax became fast friends with Thomas Merton, Ad Reinhardt and Ed Rice.

After college Lax worked in a variety of jobs, as a tutor, writing advertising copy, teaching college English and as an editor and writer. He worked on the editorial staff of The New Yorker, was reviewer for Time, a freelancer for Parade, and even worked in the script department of Samuel Goldwyn Studio in Hollywood. Later he was an editor for the short-lived Parisian literary journal New Story, a co-founder and editor of the Catholic culture magazine Jubilee, and the founder / publisher of the poetry broadside Pax.

Although Lax had published many poems in various magazines and journals it was not until he met the graphic artist Emil Antonucci in the 1950’s that his publishing career began to take shape. Antonucci started to publish materials by Lax in small press editions under the imprint of the Hand Press and later Journeyman Books. The most important of these early publications was Circus of the Sun (1959), a cycle of poems about Lax’s travels with the Christiani Family Circus through western Canada in 1949. Another milestone was the publication of New Poems (1962) which became somewhat of a manifesto of Lax’s simplified, pared down poetic line. Other important publications of this time were “sea & sky” (1965) and “black & white” (1966) both appearing in Lugano Review. In the mid 1960’s Lax had gone to live on the Greek island of Kalymnos & later Patmos where he was to remain for 35 years. 

Because of the visual nature of his poetry Lax came to be published more and more in small press editions by graphic artists. In the 1970’s he met the Swiss photographer Bernhard Moosbrugger. Moosbrugger founded Pendo Verlag in Zurich for the purpose of publishing Lax’s writing. These Pendo volumes were issued in English with a German translation on the facing page, opening Lax’s work up to a whole new audience.

A major retrospective of Lax materials was mounted at the Neue Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart in 1985. In 1987 Lax began an archive at St. Bonaventure University. In 1990 he became the University’s first Reginald A. Lenna Visiting Professor, and during a special convocation was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University. Lax next returned to the United States in the fall of 2000. He died on September 26 of that years in his family home in Olean. 

The bibliography of Lax’s published writings, and works based on this writings, runs to well over 500 items ranging from single poems, to pamphlets, to books, and includes graphic art, film, video, photography and performance art. He was as well known in art circles as he was in literary ones, and perhaps at time better known in Europe than he was in America.

Lax was brought up Jewish but was baptized into the Roman Catholic Church as a young man. Lax saw no great disparity between these traditions, but embraced each of them in their turn. Thomas Merton wrote early on of this friend, “the secret of his constant solidity I think has always been a kind of natural instinctive spirituality, a kind of inborn direction to the living God.

[from a brochure at the lax archives, Friedsom Memorial Library, St. Bonaventure University http://web.sbu.edu/friedsam/laxweb ]

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

happy 100th birthday matthew kelty

Today would've been Matthew Kelty's 100th birthday. He was one of the wisest persons I've had the honor to meet. As this 90 second clip reveals he was also quite a character. Happy birthday Matthew.
Posted by Morgan Atkinson on Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Sunday, November 22, 2015

the real self

"At the heart of Merton’s spirituality is his distinction between our real and false selves. Our false selves are the identities we cultivate in order to function in society with pride and self-possession; our real selves are a deep religious mystery, known entirely only to God. The world cultivates the false self, ignores the real one, and therein lies the great irony of human existence: the more we make of ourselves, the less we actually exist."
— Robert Inchausti

Monday, November 2, 2015

Monastero di Bose

“There must be monasticism in the twenty-first century!” So said a friend not long ago. Both his implicit protest and his conviction make sense. The landscape of the spirit in the West would be torn and lacking if the monastic way vanished in our time. Even for those who don’t share the same faith, it is a sign—of concentrated intention, deliberate simplicity, ancient truth, refinement of feeling, unconditional willingness to live together. Every real monastery is an ascent. “Who are you?” they ask. And what do we wish? The Bible is a book of signs, from the rainbow above the Ark to the “signs and wonders” of The Acts of the Apostles. We can’t seem to do without signs to orient our lives: landmarks in the air. The monastic community of Bose, terrestrially speaking not quite a two-hour drive toward the mountains from both Turin and Milan, knew from its beginnings fifty years ago that it too must be a sign. “Try … to make the community a sign,” reads the Rule of Bose, its foundation document. “Keep watch over its authenticity, and do not let it become a dull, colorless institution.”

- From an article in Parabola magazine about the Monastero di Bose
 by Roger Lipsey

Friday, October 16, 2015

An Artist's Life of Humility, Simplicity and Poverty

Lax on the overgrown grounds of L'Eau Vive, near Paris where he lived in the 1950s.
Courtesy of the Robert Lax Literary Trust, from the Robert Lax Collection at Columbia University

Michael N. McGregor's book, Pure Act - the Uncommon life of Robert Lax, is good.

I am a long time reader of American poet, Robert Lax, I loved him from the first poem that I read. Not just his writing, but him, even though I knew very little about his life.

Lax is not just a person, but also a Way. His life is Prayer. Readers of Lax somehow know that what Lax is doing with his life is not distinct from his art. As his writings become more and more sparse we sense that his life is also becoming more pure. Less distracted. More honest. More spontaneous and authentic.

The little that we know about Lax's life itself we gather from his journals or what other people say about him. We know that he was odd, different, but in a way that was special and not weird. People liked Lax and liked to be around him. Mothers left their children with him.

McGregor explores this oddness and gives us many details to consider and mull over. We get the inner story as well as the outer one. We can no longer idealize Lax as Lax, himself, idealized the Greek people on the islands he called home. Lax becomes a human being and his world become much more like our own flawed and mysterious one. We see the way he struggles with the cold, with finding a place to live, with finding money.

Through Pure Act we can watch Lax as he finds his way. His journal is his journey. He pays attention. Lax is always listening, always watching, waiting, and reaches deep places of awareness. His writing becomes those precisely chosen notes that can awaken us as well.

Thank you, Michael McGregor, for taking the time to write this book so well.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

saint (Lax)

saint: I may have gotten myself into trouble with that one.  i was telling him [Merton] to be one. (& i think he may have gone right out & done it.) what i'd mean by it now is to be, hope to be, hope to get to be, the person you were created to be.
- Robert Lax to Don McCoy, June 17, 1983, Robert Lax Papers, St. Bonaventure University
[from Michael McGregor's book, "Pure Act, the Uncommon Life of Robert Lax p. 357]

Monday, October 5, 2015

religion (Lax)

finding the right culture, finding the ‘’right’ religion, is important, as a
personal choice; but more important is the progress you make — the
progress you find you can make — once you have found it.

it’s enough, but not quite enough, to wish to be a good jew
it’s enough, but not quite enough, to wish to be a good catholic

to be a good jew, or to be a good catholic, is really just a start toward what
you may (& really should wish, with G-d’s grace) to become

(to be a saint, yes; to be a contemplative, yes, to be a mystic, yes)

but at the point where one is living a fully spiritual life, a contemplative and
mystical life, he is out beyond the delimiting terms of any particular

- Robert Lax, Lax Journal, June 21, 1979, St. Bonaventure University
[from Michael McGregor's book, "Pure Act, the Uncommon Life of Robert Lax pp. 349-350]

Thursday, October 1, 2015

we carry the memory of the earth

 Calligraphy by Thomas Merton
Fashioned from clay, we carry the memory of the earth. Ancient, forgotten things stir within our hearts, memories from the time before the mind was born. Within us are depths that keep watch. These are depths that no words can trawl or light unriddle. Our neon times have neglected and evaded the depth-kingdoms of interiority in favor of the ghost realms of cyberspace. We have unlearned the patience and attention of lingering at the thresholds where the unknown awaits us. We have become haunted pilgrims addicted to distraction and driven by the speed and color of images.
— John O'Donohue, Beauty: The Invisible Embrace, from Whiskey River.

The world is our consciousness, and it surrounds us

Photograph by Thomas Merton 
Our bodies are wild. The involuntary quick turn of the head at a shout, the vertigo at looking off a precipice, the heart-in-the-throat in a moment of danger, the catch of the breath, the quiet moments relaxing, staring, reflecting – all universal responses of this mammal body… The body does not require the intercession of some conscious intellect to make it breathe, to keep the heart beating. It is to a great extent self-regulating, it is a life of its own. The world is our consciousness, and it surrounds us. There are more things in the mind, in the imagination, than ‘you’ can keep track of – thoughts, memories, images, angers, delights, rise unbidden. The depths of the mind, the unconscious, are our inner wilderness areas, and that is where a bobcat is right now. I do not mean personal bobcats in personal psyches, but the bobcat that roams from dream to dream. The conscious agenda-planning ego occupies a very tiny territory, a little cubicle somewhere near the gate, keeping track of some of what goes in and out, and the rest takes care of itself. The body is, so to speak, in the mind. They are both wild.
— Gary Snyder, The Practice of the Wild. With thanks to Beyond the Fields We Know.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The art of living is based on rhythm

Photo by Thomas Merton

The art of living is based on rhythm - on give and take, ebb and flow, light and dark, life and death. By acceptance of all aspects of life, good and bad, right and wrong, yours and mine, the static, defensive life, which is what most people are cursed with, is converted into a dance, ‘the dance of life,’ metamorphosis. One can dance to sorrow or to joy; one can even dance abstractly. But the point is that, by the mere act of dancing, the elements which compose it are transformed; the dance is an end in itself, just like life. The acceptance of the situation, any situation, brings about a flow, a rhythmic impulse towards self-expression. To relax is, of course, the first thing a dancer has to learn. It is also the first thing a patient has to learn when he confronts the analyst. It is the first thing any one has to learn in order to live. It is extremely difficult, because it means surrender, full surrender. 
— Henry Miller, The Wisdom of the Heart. With gratitude to Whiskey River.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Pope Francis on Thomas Merton

 Photo by Thomas Merton
"A century ago, at the beginning of the Great War, which Pope Benedict XV termed a "pointless slaughter", another notable American was born: the Cistercian monk Thomas Merton. He remains a source of spiritual inspiration and a guide for many people. In his autobiography he wrote: 'I came into the world. Free by nature, in the image of God, I was nevertheless the prisoner of my own violence and my own selfishness, in the image of the world into which I was born. That world was the picture of Hell, full of men like myself, loving God, and yet hating him; born to love him, living instead in fear of hopeless self-contradictory hungers.' Merton was above all a man of prayer, a thinker who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church. He was also a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions." 

Pope Francis on Thomas Merton (quote from The Seven Storey Mountain), address to United States Congress, September 24, 2015

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Columbia Jester

The Columbia Jester, 1934. Issue of the school magazine from Columbia University, this issue from the golden age when Reinhardt edited with Robert Lax also on the board. This issue features a striking cover by Reinhardt.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The good Fr. Louis

Photo by Jim Forest
I finished the Lipsey book ("Make Peace Before the Sun Goes Down") last night. I had been reading it almost non-stop since it arrived. I knew that Lipsey could do this. He  could honestly delve into the muddle of confused emotion that characterized Merton’s relationship with his abbot, Dom James Fox, and come out with something authentic and believable. Even more than Merton’s own journal writing, Lipsey’s accounting of what was happening between Merton and his abbot makes Merton more believable. More human and relatable. Here is a popular monk, the 20th Century’s most prominent spiritual writer, and he is embroiled in the same complicated and painful relationship patterns that afflict most every family. Resentments, deceit, dysfunction, self-doubt, distrust, projection, exasperation. Arm wrestling indeed, and under the cover of politeness and piety. Merton’s own writing about the struggle is one sided, not giving the full context. Lipsey gives Dom James’ side of the story. He looks for ways to understand and explain Dom James and gives him the benefit of the doubt whenever possible. In the end, it is what it is and one is left seeing more clearly the role of providence in this particular relationship and all relationships.

While Merton was writing exquisite poetry and funny letters, THIS was going on. This is encouraging.

Thank you Roger Lipsey. It all had to be said. The next time I visit Gethsemane I will be sure to bring some flowers to the grave of Dom James Fox.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

How Merton might have described Ad Reinhardt's paintings

Ad Reinhardt
from http://www.formidablemag.com/ad-reinhardt/

How Merton might have described Ad Reinhardt's paintings:

"It is in this darkness, when there is nothing left in us that can please or comfort our own minds, when we seem to be useless and worthy of all contempt, when we seem to have failed, when we seem to be destroyed and devoured, it is then that the deep and secret selfishness that is too close for us to identify is stripped away from our souls. It is in this darkness that we find true liberty. It is in this abandonment that we are made strong. This is the night which empties us and makes us pure. Do not look for rest in any pleasure, because you were not created for pleasure: you were created for spiritual JOY. And if you do not know the difference between pleasure and spiritual joy you have not yet begun to live." - Thomas Merton

From New Seeds if Contemplation, Chapter 25

Quoted in "Ad Reinhardt and the Via Negative / The Brooklyn Rail", an article by John Yau.

Friday, May 8, 2015

about Faith (and the Via Negativa) - "You can only believe what you do not know."

Ad Reinhardt
from http://www.formidablemag.com/ad-reinhardt/
"First of all, faith is not an emotion, not a feeling. It is not a blind sub-conscious urge toward something vaguely supernatural. It is simply not an elemental need in man’s spirit. It is not a feeling that God exists. It is not a conviction that one is saved or “justified” for no special reason except that one happens to feel that way. It is not something entirely interior and subjective, with no reference to any exterior motive. It is not just a “soul-force.” It is not something that bubbles up out of the recesses of your soul and fills you with an indefinable “sense” that everything is all right. It is not something so purely yours that its content is incommunicable. It is not some personal myth that you cannot share with anyone else, and the objective validity of which does not matter either to you or God or anybody else. ... But it is also not an opinion. It is not a conviction based on rational analysis. It is not the fruit of scientific evidence. You can only believe what you do not know." - Thomas Merton
From New Seeds if Contemplation, Chapter 18

Quoted in "Ad Reinhardt and the Via Negative / The Brooklyn Rail", an article by John Yau.

Robert Ellsberg on Dorothy Day Canonization

Robert Lax "Legend"

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Make Peace Before the Sun Goes Down

Excellent article about a new book by Roger Lipsey on the vocation of Thomas Merton and his relationship with his abbot, Dom James Fox.
“Meeting with God does not come to man in order that he may concern himself with God, but in order that he may confirm that there is meaning in the world. “All revelation is summons and sending.... God remains present to you when you have been sent forth; he who goes on a mission has always God before him: the truer the fulfillment the stronger and more constant his nearness. He cannot concern himself directly with God but he can converse with Him.”
Responding to this passage, Merton continued, “Ten years ago I would have been perplexed and scandalized by [these thoughts], but in the depths of my heart I realize how true they are. And I realize how monumentally we fail, in this monastery, to understand this!”
Excerpted with the publisher’s kind permission from Make Peace Before the Sun Goes Down: The Long Encounter of Thomas Merton and His Abbot, James Fox, Shambhala Publications, May 2015.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

sanctuary & conflict

United Nations Room of Quiet
" ... Sanctuary is an experience sought and needed in today's anxious world. It can be found in worship communities that value moments of quiet. It can be found in traditional liturgies -- for example, in the spacious flow of Gregorian chant. It can be found in theaters, concert halls, and opera houses where art mirrors experience with love and insight. It belongs also to the meditation hall, now naturalized in the West although its roots are Asian. More than a few of us know the peaceful order of such spaces: the regular rows of cushions, the still figures of men and women seated in meditation, perhaps a sacred image on an altar. What a perfect lace and means for learning to be human from the inside out.

" ... sanctuary is tied to the world ...

"Many know something of spirituality in the sanctuary of a spiritual community or in their privacy. But what becomes of it, how does it serve and find paths forward when it must return to the world -- when it has duties? Does it enrich a man or woman's education to work? Does it strike deep roots in plain things or is it aloof? Does it touch life and allow itself to be touched only because there is no practical alternative? Does it learn from troubled circumstances and difficult people or does it long for the close of business so that it can go off on its own? Is it denatured by stress or does it somehow thrive? Does it make one more clear-sighted and strategic when strategy is needed -- or hamper mobility by draping it on  holy vestments, in slow ideas? Only Hammarskjold and a few other of our era can answer these questions -- he best of all.

"Hammarskjold had a sense of sanctuary." 

" ... Long before the popularization of notions about being "here and now" -- the value of living in the present -- he had made that discovery on his own and ever after strived to stay put, just where he was, looking after present needs. However, when at last he had time for himself and returned to his long exploration of the inner dimensions of experience and the subtleties of literature and the arts, we should follow him there too, even to the edge of what he called "the unheard of", where he encountered sacred or found prayer. His commitment to the work of the United Nations was entire and wholehearted He gave himself unsparingly. He was made for that. His commitment to an inner path was no less entire. He was made for that. How did these two intersect and reinforce each other? How did Hammarskjold become able to carry the clarity and poise of sanctuary into the world? ...

" ... in a letter to Swedish author Eyvind Johnson, he [Hammarskjold] wrote: "The other day I was forced by a journalist to try to formulate my views on the main requirements of somebody who wishes to contribute to the development of peace and reason. I found no better formulation than this: 'He must push his awareness to the utmost limit without losing his inner quiet, he must be able to see with the eyes of others from within their personality without losing his own.'"

- Hammarskjold, A Life, by Roger Lipsey pp.3-5

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax

New book coming out on Lax!

Michael McGregor's long awaited biography will be released on September 1, 2015.

From the Amazon blurb:
Pure Act tells the story of poet Robert Lax, whose quest to live a true life as both an artist and a spiritual seeker inspired Thomas Merton, Jack Kerouac, William Maxwell and a host of other writers, artists and ordinary people. Known in the U.S. primarily as Merton's best friend and in Europe as a daringly original avant-garde poet, Lax left behind a promising New York writing career to travel with a circus, live among immigrants in post war Marseilles and settle on a series of remote Greek islands where he learned and recorded the simple wisdom of the local people. Born a Jew, he became a Catholic and found the authentic community he sought in Greek Orthodox fishermen and sponge divers. 
In his early life, as he alternated working at the New Yorker, writing screenplays in Hollywood and editing a Paris literary journal with studying philosophy, serving the poor in Harlem and living in a sanctuary high in the French Alps, Lax pursued an approach to life he called "pure act"--a way of living in the moment that was both spontaneous and practiced, God-inspired and self-chosen. By devoting himself to simplicity, poverty and prayer, he expanded his capacity for peace, joy and love while producing distinctive poetry of such stark beauty critics called him "one of America's greatest experimental poets" and "one of the new 'saints' of the avant-garde." 
Written by a writer who met Lax in Greece when he was a young seeker himself and visited him regularly over fifteen years, Pure Act is an intimate look at an extraordinary but little-known life. Much more than just a biography, it's a tale of adventure, an exploration of friendship, an anthology of wisdom, and a testament to the liberating power of living an uncommon life.

I've got my copy pre-ordered. Really looking forward to this.


Saturday, January 31, 2015

the empty boat (wu wei)

“Who can free himself from achievement
And from fame, descend and be lost
Amid the masses of men?
He will flow like Tao, unseen,
He will go about like Life itself
With no name and no home.
Simple is he, without distinction.
To all appearances he is a fool.
His steps leave no trace. He has no power.
He achieves nothing, has no reputation.
Since he judges no one
No one judges him.
Such is the perfect man:
His boat is empty.” 
― Thomas Merton, The Way of Chuang Tzu

Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Thomas Merton. 

Many people are recognizing and writing about Merton now. I have certainly had plenty to say these last few years in my explorations of Merton’s art and writing.

Here are some things that I found this past week that I hadn’t seen before. Painting of Prades, France by Owen Merton, Thomas Merton's artist father:

Photo of Merton's father and mother, Owen and Ruth, in Prades -- at least the full photograph. I have seen this shot of Owen "lifted" from the photo.:

And a photo of Merton's draft of the beginning of Seven Story Mountain:

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Path Maker

Sister Kathleen Deignan, professor of religious studies at Iona College in New Rochelle, New York, called Father Merton a path maker.

"He bequeaths these paths to us so that we can actually find them. He did make the path by walking. There was nobody in front of him. No cultural conditions. No family. He did this great pilgrimage of search," said Sister Kathleen, a member of the Congregation of Notre Dame and director of the school's Iona Spirituality Institute.


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Chant to be Used in Processions around a Site with Furnaces

On the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

Thomas Merton: Chant to be Used in Processions around a Site with Furnaces

How we made them sleep and purified them
How we perfectly cleaned up the people and worked a big heater
I was the commander I made improvements and installed a guaranteed system taking account of human weakness I purified and I remained decent
How I commanded I made cleaning appointments and then I made the travellers sleep and after that I made soap

I was born into a Catholic family but as these people were not going to need a priest I did not become a priest I installed a perfectly good machine it gave satisfaction to many

Read the rest HERE

Sunday, January 25, 2015

A Letter to Thomas Merton

[Very good reflection and perspective of Fr. Louie, 100 years after his birth.]

A letter to Thomas Merton

Jan 15, 2015 by Carol Zaleski 

Dear Father Louis,

The sun has run its course in Aquarius one hundred times since your birth on “the last day of January 1915, under the sign of the Water Bearer, in a year of a great war.” It’s been almost three-quarters of a century since you entered the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani as a postulant, penitent, and convert; you enclosed yourself in its “four walls of freedom” on December 10, 1941, as the United States was entering the Second World War, a month and a half shy of your 27th birthday. You died on December 10, 1968, exactly 27 years later, after delivering a talk on “Marxism and Monastic Per­spectives” at a meeting in Bangkok. Your life divides into secular and religious halves; and that is almost the only thing about you that can be neatly sorted out.

I first learned of you during my childhood on the fringe of the peace movement in New York; I remember hearing the complaints of some Catholic Worker activists when you refused to endorse draft card burning during the Vietnam War; you had a way of disconcerting even those who considered you a prophet. During my college years I discovered your books, from your classic memoir, The Seven Storey Mountain, to your reflections on Zen, Taoism, and Sufism. You convinced me that the contemplative life remains not only viable but essential. My would-be husband figured he could win me over by keeping a copy of Contemplative Prayer in his back pocket; he succeeded. By then you had become what your name anagrammatically suggests, a mentor to millions of people who never had a chance to know you face to face.

But we desire to know you face to face; hence the profusion of notable biographies—among them, the mildly psychoanalytical investigation by Monica Furlong, the Michael Mott biography stuffed to the gills with everyday facts, the sympathetic studies by Lawrence Cunningham and William Shannon, Paul Elie’s group portrait linking you to your fellow American Catholic pilgrims Dorothy Day, Walker Percy, and Flannery O’Connor, the film biography by Paul Wilkes and Audrey Glynn—and the many picture books by Ed Rice, John Howard Griffin, Jim Forest, and others. How photogenic you were in your white habit and black scapular, set against the fields of grass and alfalfa, or in denim work clothes and straw hat on the porch of your hermitage, or, freed from your four walls of freedom, enjoying the company of newfound brothers, Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama.

And how inscrutable you were, for all the self-revealing writing. You wrote a memoir worthy of comparison to Augustine’s Confessions—were it not marred by a Holden Caulfield–like contemptus mundi. You tapped into the wellsprings of monastic spirituality through scholarship and reflection on the Rule of St. Benedict, the Desert Fathers, John Cassian, Bernard of Clairvaux—and then you translated that spirituality into an idiom of authenticity and alienation that now seems dated. You restored contemplation to its rightful centrality in Christian life and did much “to reassure the modern world that in the struggle between thought and existence we [monks] are on the side of existence, not on the side of abstraction”—and then you portrayed contemplation as so radically self-emptying that it sheds much of its specific religious content. You fought for the privilege of living as a hermit on the abbey grounds—but you let your hermitage become a gathering place for your nonmonastic friends during a period when you were (as you told Rosemary Radford Ruether) “browned off with and afraid of Catholics.”

On a reductionist psychoanalytic reading, you were an orphan searching for his lost parents, a repressed lover, and a narcissist drowning in his own reflection. On a more discerning Augustinian reading, though, you were an Everyman whose heart is restless until it rests in God; and on a sound monastic reading, you were one of thousands of essentially good monks who strayed but stayed the course. I believe you did stay the course. Had it not been for the faulty electric fan, or the fault in your own heart, I believe you would have returned to Gethsemani to be a model of monastic wisdom after the storms of youth had passed.

You said that the purpose of monasticism is not survival, but prophecy. What you may not have realized—since your entry into monastic life was the high-water mark of its wartime and postwar revival—is that the survival of monasticism is prophecy, a special kind of prophecy that subdues and outlasts political passions.

The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton gives your parting words at the Bangkok meeting as “So I will disappear.” Quoted in full, however, your words are without valedictory significance: “So I will disappear, and we can all get a Coke or something.” And so you died, with your story unfinished. But we may piece together from your letters, poems, diaries, novels, tracts, and recordings of your lectures to the Gethsemani scholastics the picture of a brilliant writer, committed monk, and fragile man who searched for God with his whole heart and bids us to do the same.




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