Wednesday, June 28, 2017

A Door

Photo by Eugene Meatyard, The Fraenkel Gallery

 A door opens in the center of our being and we seem to fall through it into immense depths which, although they are infinite, are all accessible to us; all eternity seems to have become ours in this one placid and breathless contact. God touches us with a touch that is emptiness and empties us. God moves us with a simplicity that simplifies us.

— Thomas Merton

New Seeds of Contemplation

Friday, June 23, 2017


Photograph of Gal Vihara by Thomas Merton
We are all convinced that we desire the truth above all.

Nothing strange about this. It is natural to man, an intelligent being, to desire the truth. (I still dare to speak of man as "an intelligent being"!)

But actually, what we desire is not "the truth" so much as "to be in the right."

To seek the pure truth for its own sake may be natural to us, but we are not able to act always in this respect according to our nature.

What we seek is not the pure truth, but the partial truth that justifies our prejudices, our limitations, our selfishness. This is not "the truth." It is only an argument strong enough to prove us "right."

And usually our desire to be right is correlative to our conviction that somebody else (perhaps everybody else) is wrong.

Why do we want to prove them wrong?

Because we need them to be wrong. For if they are wrong, and we are right, then our untruth becomes truth: our selfishness becomes justice and virtue: our cruelty and lust cannot be fairly condemned.

We can rest secure in the fiction we have determined to embrace as "truth."

What we desire is not the truth, but rather that our lie should be proved "right," and our iniquity be vindicated as "just."

No wonder we hate. No wonder we are violent. No wonder we exhaust ourselves in preparing for war!

And in doing so, of course, we offer the enemy another reason to believe that he is right, that he must arm, that he must get ready to destroy us.

Our own lie provides the foundation of truth on which he erects his own lie, and the two lies together react to produce hatred, murder, disaster.

-Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, p. 78

How to be a pharisee in politics

Eparchy of Newton
How to be a pharisee in politics:
At every moment display righteous indignation over the means (whether good or evil) which your opponent has used to attain the same corrupt end which you are trying to attain.

Point to the means he is using as evidence that your own purposes are righteous - even though they are the same as his.

If the means he makes use of are successful, then show that his success itself is proof that he has used corrupt methods.

But in your own case, success is proof of righteousness.

In politics, as in everything else, pharisaism is not self-righteousness only, but the conviction that, in order to be right, it is sufficient to prove someone else is wrong.

As long as there is one sinner left for you to condemn, then you are justified! Once you can point to a wrongdoer, you become justified in doing anything you like, however dishonest, however cruel, however evil!

- Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, pp. 77-78

Rare photo of Merton

H.B. Littell | AP Photo
A friend sent me this photo of Merton taken during the celebration of his first Mass. In my years of browsing around Merton lore, I had never seen it.

The accompanying article (with somewhat larger perspective photo) is HERE.

H.B. Littell | AP Photo

Thursday, June 22, 2017

We do not know the things that are for our peace

Photo by Thomas Merton, from "The Zen Photography of Thomas Merton"
For the last few days (or years) I’ve been pondering Merton’s words in “Conjectures”. This particular vein of Merton’s writings are especially relevant now, speaking to what I read in “the news”,  a near constant bickering and standoff between conservatives and liberals. You’re wrong, we’re right.

Merton speaks of this projection as being both collective and personal. We project our darkness as a group and as individuals, onto others. The enemy. We scapegoat. This certainly resonates with how I have come to know the world (life) and myself, and it helps to read Merton affirming the insight. Nowadays, few are willing to talk about it, at least not in terms strong and clear enough to break the spell.

My efforts here are to pull from Conjectures, little by little, the words that are particularly resonating. Bring together a coherent message that might better expose the tangled mess of lies that we are trapped in. Merton’s writing on the matter is dense and deep. If I read too much at one time, I don't totally grasp the broad yet precise truth of what he is conveying. Which leads me to believe that it is not just an intellectual wisdom that Merton is passing on, rather something that we find within ourselves. A hope, a peace, a revelation. An awakening.

Today, there is this:
We live in crisis, and perhaps we find it interesting to do so.

Yet we also feel guilty about it, as if we ought not to be in crisis.

As if we were so wise, so able, so kind, so reasonable, that crisis ought at all times to be unthinkable. It is doubtless this “ought,” this “should” that makes our era so interesting that it cannot possibly be a time of wisdom, or even of reason.

We think we know what we ought to be doing, and we see ourselves move, with inexorable deliberation of a machine that has gone wrong, to do the the opposite. A most absorbing phenomenon which we cannot stop watching, measuring, discussing, analyzing,  and perhaps deploring!

But it goes on.
And, as Christ said over Jerusalem, we do not know the things that are for our peace.

-Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, p. 66
Does not this passage nail us, now more than 50 years after Merton wrote it? Are we missing the point, the very gift of our time, our crisis?


a time when a difficult or important decision must be made.

"a crisis point of history"

synonyms:critical point, turning point, crossroads, watershed, head, moment of truth, zero hour, point of no return,

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Is Your God Dead?

Damon Winter/The New York Times
A significant article published in the New York Times a couple of days ago. Written by George Yancy, an African American philosopher at Emory University. Prophetic. Like Merton and Merton Luther King Jr, Yancy makes the connections between race and religion (and sexism, homophobia, patriarchy, indifference). His insights into what we're seeing exposed in our country, our world (and ourselves) are close to what I'm finding in Merton's Conjectures. 

You can read all of George Yancy's article here.

Heschel writes, “The prophet’s word is a scream in the night.” I wait to be awakened by that scream. I have not yet heard it. It is that scream, that deep existential lament, that will awaken us to the ways we are guilty of claiming to “love God” while forgetting the poor, refusing the refugee, building walls, banning the stranger, and praying and worshiping in insular and segregated “sacred” spaces filled with racism, sexism, patriarchy, xenophobia, homophobia and indifference.
WE HAVE FAILED TO DEEPEN our collective responsibility. Some of us will never do so. What would the world look like if believers from every major religion in every country, state, city and village, shut down the entire world for just a day? What would America look like, on that day, if we who call ourselves believers, decided to weep together, hold hands together, commit together to eradicate injustice? We might then permanently unlock our sacred doors, take a real step beyond our sanctimoniousness, and see one another face to face.
I await the day, perhaps soon, when those who believe in the “God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob” will lock arms and march on Washington, refusing to live any longer under the weight of so much inhumanity. Perhaps it is time for a collective demonstration of the faithful to delay going to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, to leave the pews in churches and pray one fewer time a day. None of us is innocent. “Above all, the prophets remind us of the moral state of a people,” Heschel reminds us. “Few are guilty, but all are responsible.”

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Our Time

Photo by Benjamin Lowy / Corbis
We are living in the greatest revolution in history — a huge spontaneous upheaval of the entire human race: not the revolution planned and carried out by any particular party, race, or nation, but a deep elemental boiling over of all the inner contradictions that have ever been in man, a revelation of the chaotic forces inside everybody. This is not something we have chosen, nor is it something we are free to avoid.

This revolution is a profound spiritual crisis of the whole world, manifested largely in desperation, cynicism, violence, conflict, self-contradiction, ambivalence, fear and hope, regression, obsessive attachments to images, idols, slogans programs that only dull the general anguish for a moment until it bursts out everywhere in a still more acute and terrifying form. We do not know if we are building a fabulously wonderful world or destroying all that we have ever had, all that we have achieved!

All the inner force of man is boiling and bursting out, the good together with the evil, the good poisoned by evil and fighting it, the evil pretending to be good and revealing itself in the most dreadful crimes, justified and rationalized by the purest and most innocent intentions.

Man is all ready to become a god, and instead he appears at times to be a zombie. And so we fear to recognize our kairos and accept it.

- Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, pp. 66-67

KAIROS - (καιρός) is an Ancient Greek word meaning the right or opportune moment.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

the hours of silence when nothing happens

Photo by Beth Cioffoletti
Why do I live alone? I don’t know.... In some mysterious way I am condemned to it.... I cannot have enough of the hours of silence when nothing happens. When the clouds go by. When the trees say nothing. When the birds sing. I am completely addicted to the realization that just being there is enough, and to add something else is to mess it all up. It would be so much more wonderful to be all tied up in someone ... and I know inexorably that this is not for me. It is a kind of life from which I am absolutely excluded. I can’t desire it. I can only desire this absurd business of trees that say nothing, of birds that sing, of a field in which nothing ever happens (except perhaps that a fox comes and plays, or a deer passes by). This is crazy. It is lamentable. I am flawed, I am nuts. I can’t help it. Here I am, now, ... happy as a coot. The whole business of saying I am flawed is a lie. I am happy. I cannot explain it.... Freedom, darling. This is what the woods mean to me. I am free, free, a wild being, and that is all that I ever can really be. I am dedicated to it, addicted to it, sworn to it, and sold to it. It is the freedom in me that loves you.... Darling, I am telling you: this life in the woods is IT. It is the only way. It is the way everybody has lost. ... It is life, this thing in the woods. I do not claim it is real. All I say is that it is the life that has chosen itself for me. A Midsummer Diary for M. June 23, 1966

Merton, Thomas (2003-02-01). When the Trees Say Nothing: Writings on Nature (pp. 135-136). Ave Maria Press - A. Kindle Edition.

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Mother of All Lies

Fatima, 2017
The mother of all other lies is the lie we persist in telling ourselves about ourselves. And since we are not brazen enough liars to make ourselves believe our own lie individually, we pool all our lies together and believe them because they have become the big lie uttered by the vox populi, and this kind of lie we accept as ultimate truth.

"A truthful man cannot long remain violent."

But a violent man cannot begin to look for the truth. To start with, he wants to rest assured that his enemy is violent, and that he himself is peaceful. For then his violence is justified.

How can he face the desperate labor of coming to recognize the great evil that needs to be healed in himself? It is much easier to set things right by seeing one's own evil incarnate in a scapegoat, and to destroy both the goat and the evil together.

- Thomas Merton, "Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander", pp. 84-85

About that healing ...
Pope Francis at Mass this morning (June 16, 2017): "God's power saves us from weakness & sin".  In order to be saved and healed by God we must recognize that are weak, vulnerable and sinful like earthen vessels, said ‎Pope Francis on Friday. Read more here.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017


Why talk about the somersault,
the leap and landing as such a
great thing? It is great and small.
It is a high achievement for man &
no achievement at all for god or angel.
It is proud and humble. It represents
graceful victory over so many obstacles;
the most elegant solution of so many
problems. And yet like the blossoming
of the smallest flower or the highest palm,
it is a very little thing, and very great.

Think, Mogador, of the freedom in a
world of bondage, a world expelled
from Eden; the freedom of the priest,
the artist, and the acrobat. In a
world of men condemned to earn their
bread by the sweat of their brows, the
liberty of those who,
like lilies of the field, live by
playing. For playing is like Wisdom before
the face of the Lord. Their play is
praise. Their praise is prayer. This
play, like the ritual gestures of the
priest, is characterized by grace;
Heavenly grace unfolding, flowering
and reflected in the physical grace
of the player.

— Robert Lax, from “In The Beginning was Love”, a collection of Lax writings compiled by S.T. Georgiou. Originally from Mogador’s Book, (68, 70)

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Macarius and the Pony

Macarius and the Pony

By Thomas Merton

People in a village
At the desert's edge
Had a daughter
Who was changed (they thought)
By magic arts
Into a pony.
At first they berated her
"Why do you have to be a horse?"
She could think of no reply.
So they led her out with a halter
Into the hot waste land
Where there was a saint
Called Macarius
Living in a cell.
"Father" they said
"This young mare here
Is, or was, our daughter.
Enemies, wicked men,
Magicians, have made her
The animal you see.
Now by your prayers to God
Change her back
Into the girl she used to be."
"My prayers" said Macarius,
"Will change nothing,
For I see no mare.
Why do you call this good child
An animal?"
But he led her into his cell
With her parents:
There he spoke to God
Anointing the girl with oil;
And when they saw with what love
He placed his hand upon her head
They realized, at once.
She was no animal.
She had never changed.
She had been a girl from the beginning.
"Your own eyes
(said Macarius)
Are your enemies.
Your own crooked thoughts
(said the anchorite)
Change people around you
Into birds and animals.
Your own ill-will
(said the clear-eyed one)
Peoples the world with specters.”

-- from “Emblems of a Season of Fury”
New Directions, 1963

Monday, June 12, 2017

Blaming the Negro

Eishaa Evans at Baton Rouge La. Black Lives Matter protest. Reuters photo 2016

Blaming the Negro: this is not just a matter of rationalizing and verbalizing. It has become a strong emotional need for the white man. Blaming the Negro (and by extension the Communist, the outside agitator, etc.) gives the white a stronger sense of identity, or rather it protects an identity which is seriously threatened with pathological dissolution. It is by blaming the Negro that the white man tries to hold himself together. The Negro is in the unenviable position of being used for everything, even for the white man's security. Unfortunately, a mere outburst of violence will only give the white man the justification he desires. It will convince him that he is for real because he is right. The Negro could really wreak havoc in white society by psychological warfare if he knew how to use it. Already the psychological weapon of nonviolence has proved effective as an attack on the white man's trumped-up image of himself as a righteous and Christian being.

- Thomas Merton, "Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander", p. 33

Sunday, June 11, 2017


Aurora over Dempster Highway, Photo by Fr. Jon Hansen

Now is the time to get up and go to the tower.
Now is the time to meet you, God, where the night is wonderful,
where the road is almost without substance under my feet,
where all the mysterious junk in the belfry scorns the proximate coming
of three new bells,
where the forest opens out under the moon,
and the living things sing terribly
that only the present
is eternal
and that all things having a past and a future
are doomed to pass away.

-Thomas Merton, Entering the Silence, p. 483

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Your Silence

Study for the Tabernacle in the Chapel of the Rosary, Venice, Henri Matisse
This nearness to You in the darkness is too simple and too close for excitement. It is commonplace for all things to live an unexpected life in the night: but their life is illusory and unreal. The illusion of sound only intensifies the infinite substance of Your Silence.

Here at Gethsemani, in this place where I made my vows, where I have had my hands anointed for the Holy Sacrifice, where I have had Your priesthood seal the depth and intimate summit of my being, a word, a thought, would defile the quiet of Your inexplicable love.

- Thomas Merton, Entering the Silence, pp. 482-83

Friday, June 9, 2017

The contradiction built into the pursuit of Silence

“It is better to be silent and be real than to talk and not be real” -- Ignatius of Antioch, an early Church father advising Christians at Ephesus

" ... the contradiction built into the pursuit of silence; the more sources of noise are stilled, the more the previously imperceptible rises to the level of perception. This was the essence of the silence that John Cage, a composer, used in several of his works, most famously “4’33”, a composition for piano that consists of three movements. At the beginning of each the pianist opens the instrument’s lid, and at the end of each he closes it. No notes are played. The piece allows an audience to attend to the sounds around them and the questions within."

from an article in The Economist, "The Power and Meaning of Silence".

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Healing Place of Silence

Let me seek then, the gift of silence, and poverty, and solitude, where everything I touch is turned into prayer. - Thomas Merton

There’s a language beyond words. Silence creates the space for it. Sometimes when we feel powerless to speak words that are meaningful, when we have to back off into unknowing and helplessness, but remain in the situation, silence creates the space that’s needed for a deeper happening to occur. But often, initially, that silence is uneasy. It begins “as a small frightened thing” and only slowly grows into the kind of warmth that dissolves tension.

- Ron Rolheiser, from a longer reflection, "The Healing Place of Silence"

Getting back on track

A few days ago I got an email from someone I did not know, someone who had been reading Louie for more than 10 years. I began thinking of how much keeping up this blog had helped me to focus on something that is important. An awareness, a way of seeing and being in the world that both comforts and challenges me. A calling to a different road and way than is offered by the commercials and advertisements of the world.

Writing this blog was not much trouble and it didn't take much time. But it did keep me on track. I've been feeling a bit off track lately, swirling in noise and addictive "news".

I hope to get back on track.

The following quote was at the bottom of the email I got. If I keep my eyes open, I may find more of these falling in my path.

I look up at the night sky, and I know, yes, that we are part of this Universe, we are in this Universe, but, perhaps more important than both of these facts, is that the Universe is in us.  When I reflect on that fact, I look up.  Many people feel small because they are small and the Universe is big.  But I feel big because my atoms came from those stars.

-- Neil Degrasse Tyson


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