Monday, December 31, 2018

the darkness is enough

Photograph: During Christmas services in the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, Palestine, by the American Colony Jerusalem Photo Department, between 1934 and 1939.

“Your brightness is my darkness.
I know nothing of You and, by myself,
I cannot even imagine how to go about knowing You.
If I imagine You, I am mistaken.
If I understand You, I am deluded.
If I am conscious and certain I know You, I am crazy.
The darkness is enough.”
—Thomas Merton, prayer before midnight mass at Christmas, 1941.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

I have to be the person that nobody knows

This article, Thomas Merton - Modern Monk, is in this week's New Yorker magazine.

Being a lifelong Merton reader and fan, I'm picky with many of the "about Merton" articles that appear. They seem to be just a little off, projecting an agenda or persona onto Merton that doesn't sit right with me. Not the Merton that I know.

That is the case with this article. The author (Alan Jacobs) is punchy and quick to draw conclusions right from the start --
"If he had continued to live in the world, he might have died not by electrocution but by overstimulation."
I googled Mr. Jacobs. He is a fine, and well regarded teacher and writer at a school in Texas, but talk about overstimulation. Take a look at his website, and venture, if you dare, into something called "bullet journalism"! Yikes. I can imagine Merton's rant. No wonder Jacobs' writing feels "punchy".

The New Yorker article gets worse before it gets better. I sort of like the way Jacobs presents Merton's struggle with "the world", politics, peacemaking, and world religions. But he doesn't quite get to the contemplative root of it all.

Anyway, toward the end of the article is an insight that I find quite remarkable. An insight that comes by way of Rowan Williams.
In 1978, marking the tenth anniversary of Merton’s death, a young Anglican theologian named Rowan Williams wrote, “Merton’s genius was largely that he was a massively unoriginal man.” And by “unoriginal” Williams means that Merton was not the kind of genius who was always himself, always some distinctive “original” force, but rather was “dramatically absorbed by every environment” that he found himself in. To which one might add: “absorbed by,” yes, but also “in conflict with.” Merton rebelled against Gethsemani’s discipline, but then he rebelled against the character of Clare College, too. Every environment shaped him profoundly, but he always found the shaping painful. He was always, in some sense, and down to the core of his being, at the mercy of his surroundings. 
This is why Williams focusses his inquiry on something Merton wrote in “The Sign of Jonas,” one of the first books he worked on after entering Gethsemani: “I have to be a person that nobody knows. They can have Thomas Merton. He’s dead.” Williams says, “Truth can only be spoken by a man nobody knows, because only in the unknown person is there no obstruction to reality: the ego of self-oriented desire . . . seeking to dominate and organize the world, is absent.” Williams believes that it is this distinctive absence that helps us to understand how Merton “could give almost equal veneration to Catholic and Buddhist traditions.”
And then Jacobs, still punchy, says this:
"He repeatedly affirmed a creed that can be stated in words, but was drawn to a discipline whose masters insist that Zen cannot be articulated. He was his contradictions: the person in motion who seeks stillness; the monk who wants to belong to the world; the famous person who wants to be unknown. ...
"He sought the peace of pure and silent contemplation, but came to believe that the value of that experience is to send us back into the world that killed us."
I think I would call it paradox, rather than contradiction. 

Jacobs is trying to put Merton into a box (or a bulleted list), and that's not going to work. I hope he reads some of Merton's poetry before writing about him again.

Here is the link to the New Yorker article. You need a subscription to the New Yorker, but the 1st 3 articles are free to read.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The Inward Sea

"There is in every person an inward sea, and in that sea there is an island and on that island there is an altar and standing guard before that altar is the "angel with the flaming sword." Nothing can get by that angel to be placed upon that altar unless it has the mark of your inner authority. Nothing passes "the angel with the flaming sword" to be placed upon your altar unless it be part of "the fluid area of your consent." This is your crucial link with the Eternal."
- Howard Thurman, Meditations

Wednesday, December 5, 2018


photo by Thomas Merton

“In humility is the greatest freedom. As long as you have to defend the imaginary self that you think is important, you lose your peace of heart. As soon as you compare that shadow with the shadows of other people, you lose all joy, because you have begun to trade in unrealities and there is no joy in things that do not exist.”

~Thomas Merton

there is no puzzle, no problem, and really no "mystery"

Photo by Thomas Merton
Merton arrived in Kandy, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), on Dec. 2 and a car took him to Polonnaruwa, the site of an assemblage of large stone Buddhas carved out of a hillside, and “the most impressive things I have seen in Asia.”
Two days later, he wrote in his diary, “Polonnaruwa was such an experience that I could not write hastily of it and cannot write now, or not at all adequately.” During the visit, Merton’s spirit seemed to have opened to the point of bursting forth upon seeing the languid, relaxed forms of the Buddhas in peaceful repose.
“I was knocked over with a rush of relief and thankfulness at the obvious clarity of the figures, out of the habitual, half-tied vision of things, and an inner clearness, clarity, as if exploding from the rocks themselves, became evident and obvious. I don’t know when in my life I have ever had such a sense of beauty and spiritual validity running together in one aesthetic illumination. I mean I know and have seen what I was obscurely looking for.  I don’t know what else remains, but I have now seen and have pierced through the surface and have got beyond the shadow and the disguise.”
“Looking at these figures I was suddenly, almost forcibly, jerked clean out of the habitual, half-tied vision of things, and an inner clearness, clarity, as if exploding from the rocks themselves, became evident and obvious….The things about all this is that there is no puzzle, no problem, and really no “mystery.” All problems are resolved and everything is clear, simply because what matters is clear. The rock, all matter, all life, is charged with dharmakaya…everything is emptiness and everything is compassion.  I don’t know when in my life I have every had such a sense of beauty and spiritual validity running together in one aesthetic illumination.”
This illumination came a week before his death.

[See also pollonnaruwa ]

Tuesday, November 13, 2018


photo by Thomas Merton
Meister Eckhart, the German philosopher, mystic and theologian said, “There is nothing in the world that resembles God as much as silence.”
In essence, Eckhart is saying this: Silence is a privileged entry into the realm of God and into eternal life.  There is a huge silence inside each of us that beckons us into itself, and the recovery of our own silence can begin to teach us the language of heaven.
What is meant by this?
Silence is a language that is infinitely deeper, more far-reaching, more understanding, more compassionate, and more eternal than any other language. In heaven, it seems, there will be no languages, no words. Silence will speak. We will wholly, intimately, and ecstatically hold each other in silence, in perfect understanding.
Words, for all their value, are part of the reason why we can’t do this already. They divide as much as they unite. There is a deeper connection available in silence. Lovers already know this, as do the Quakers whose liturgy tries to imitate the silence of heaven, and as do those who practice contemplative prayer. John of the Cross expresses this in a wonderfully cryptic line: “Learn to understand more by not understanding than by understanding.”
Silence does speak louder than words, and more deeply. We experience this already now in different ways: When we are separated by distance or death from loved ones, we can still be with them in silence; when we are divided from other sincere persons through misunderstanding, silence can provide the place where we can still be together; when we stand helpless before another’s suffering, silence can be the best way of expressing our empathy; and when we have sinned and have no words to restore things to their previous wholeness, in silence a deeper word can speak and let us know that, in the end, all will be well and every manner of being will be well.
“There is nothing in the world that resembles God as much as silence.” It’s the language of heaven and it is already deep inside of us, beckoning us, inviting us to deeper intimacy with everything.
- Ron Rolheiser OMI

Friday, November 9, 2018

A Life Surrendered to Love - Thomas Keating

"Nothingness is who God is".

"Nothing is one of the greatest activities there is."

the contagion of our obsessions

"He who attempts to act and do things for others or for the world without deepening his own self-understanding, freedom and integrity and capacity to love, will not have anything to give others. 
He will communicate to them nothing but the contagion of his own obsessions, his aggressiveness, his ego-centeredness, his delusions about the ends and means, his doctrinaire prejudices and ideas.”
- Thomas Merton, Contemplation in a World of Action, p. 164.

Monday, November 5, 2018

postcard from Thomas Merton to Patrick Hart, November 5, 1968

50 years ago today Merton wrote to his secretary at Gethsemani Abbey, Br. Patrick Hart, of his meeting with the Dalai Lama and his trip to Dharamshala:

"Have been making a good retreat near Dalai Lama. Had an audience yesterday and will have another tomorrow. He is very fine – I have met a lot of other very good Tibetan monks. The Tibetans are certainly a praying people! Even the laymen seem to pray all the time.

The Himalayas are marvelous. Best thing yet. This is so far the high point of the trip in every way – and I expect more, as I go to the other end of the range next week to more Tibetan monasteries."

[Photo of Merton pictured with Amiya Chakravarty ( in suit.]

Saturday, November 3, 2018

day of a stranger

Day of a Stranger // Teaser from transcendental media on Vimeo.

Day of a Stranger

“Many poets are not poets for the same reason that many religious men are not saints: they never succeed in being themselves… They never become the man or the artist who is called for by all the circumstances of their individual lives. …They wear out their minds and bodies in a hopeless endeavor to have somebody else’s experiences or write somebody else’s poems.” 
— Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation

In Pursuit of Silence from transcendental media on Vimeo.

…reminiscent of seeing 1982’s Koyaanisqatsi for the first time… Shen’s In Pursuit of Silence incessantly inspires and sometimes takes the breath away and can even accomplish both at once.” -Austin Chronicle

In Pursuit of Silence is a meditative exploration of our relationship with silence, sound and the impact of noise on our lives. Beginning with an ode to John Cage’s ground-breaking composition 4’33”, In Pursuit of Silence takes us on an immersive cinematic journey around the globe– from a traditional tea ceremony in Kyoto, to the streets of the loudest city on the planet, Mumbai during the wild festival season – and inspires us to experience silence and celebrate the wonders of our world.

Replete with imagery that shimmers with the kind of almost otherworldly wonder one might associate with a Terrence Malick movie… This film does more than just tell a story, it testifies to the sheer loveliness of anything — everything — when drenched in silence.” -The Huffington Post

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Christianity and Totalitarianism

"A mass movement readily exploits the discontent and frustration of large segments of the population which for some reason or other cannot face the responsibility of being persons and standing on their own feet. But give these persons a movement to join, a cause to defend, and they will go to any extreme, stop at no crime, intoxicated as they are by the slogans that give them a pseudo-religious sense of transcending their own limitations. The member of a mass movement, afraid of his own isolation, and his own weakness as an individual, cannot face the task of discovering within himself the spiritual power and integrity which can be called forth only by love. Instead of this, he seeks a movement that will protect his weakness with a wall of anonymity and justify his acts by the sanction of collective glory and power. All the better if this is done out of hatred, for hatred is always easier and less subtle than love. It does not have to respect reality as love does. It does not have to take account of individual cases. Its solutions are simple and easy. It makes its decisions by a simple glance at a face, a colored skin, a uniform. It identifies an enemy by an accent, an unfamiliar turn of speech, an appeal to concepts that are difficult to understand. He is something unfamiliar. This is not "ours." This must be brought into line - or destroyed.

"Here is the great temptation of the modern age, this universal infection of fanaticism, this plague of intolerance, prejudice and hate which flows from the crippled nature of man who is afraid of love and does not dare to be a person. It is against this temptation most of all that the Christian must labor with inexhaustible patience and love, in silence, perhaps in repeated failure, seeking tirelessly to restore, wherever he can, and first of all in himself, the capacity of love and which makes man the living image of God."

- Merton, Disputed Questions, "Christianity and Totalitarianism"

Friday, October 26, 2018

Fr. Thomas Keating O.S.C.O, RIP

Trappist Fr. Thomas Keating: "He taught me the value of friendship with members of different religions. He taught me the value of silence and careful thinking." (NCR file photo)
 Trappist Fr. Thomas Keating, a global figure in both interreligious dialogue and Christian contemplative prayer, has died at the age of 95.

NCR has a very good write up of his life HERE.
Largely in response to the 1962-65 Second Vatican Council's call to religious orders for renewal, Keating and fellow Cistercian monks Fr. William Meninger and the late Fr. Basil Pennington (1931-2005), worked together in the 1970s to develop a contemplative prayer method that drew on ancient traditions but would be readily accessible to the modern world.
"The gift of God is absolutely gratuitous," he said. "It's not something you earn. It's something that's there. It's something you just have to accept. This is the gift that has been given. There's no place to go to get it. There's no place you can go to avoid it. It just is. It's part of our very existence. And so the purpose of all the great religions is to bring us into this relationship with reality that is so intimate that no words can possibly describe it."

The News, continued

" ... And then, beside the few real horrors, there are the countless pseudo-events, the come-on's, the releases, the statements, the surmises, the slanders, the quarrels, the insults and the interminable self-advertising of the image-makers.

"We believe that the "news" has a strange metaphysical status outside us: it "happens" by itself. Actually, it is something that we fabricate. Those who are poor artisans make only pseudo-events. These are the tired politicians and businessmen, the educators, writers, intellectuals and the tiredest of all, the Churchmen."

- Merton "Events and Pseudo-Events", Faith and Violence, 1967, p. 152

Thursday, October 25, 2018

The News

" ... Nine tenths of the news, as printed in the papers, is pseudo-news, manufactured events. Some days ten tenths. The ritual morning trance, in which one scans columns of newsprint, creates a peculiar form of generalized pseudo-attention to a pseudo-reality. This experience is taken seriously. It is one's daily immersion in "reality". One's orientation to the rest of the world. One's way of reassuring himself that he has not fallen behind. That he is still there. That he counts!

"My own experience has been that of renunciation of this self-hypnosis, of this participation in the unquiet universal trance, is no sacrifice of reality at all. To "fall behind" in this sense is to get out of the big cloud of dust that everybody is kicking up, to breathe and to see a little more clearly.

"When you get a clearer picture you can understand why so many want to stand in the dust cloud, where there is comfort in confusion."
-Merton, "Events and Pseudo-Events", Faith and Violence, p. 151

Monday, October 22, 2018

Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it toward others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world. 
 Etty Hillesum, An Interrupted Life: The Diaries, Diary entry (September 29, 1942)

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

beautiful is the moment ...

"Beautiful is the moment in which we understand that we are no more than an instrument of God; we live only as long as God wants us to live; we can only do as much as God makes us able to do; we are only as intelligent as God would have us be."
- St. Oscar Romero

Monday, October 15, 2018

Prayer: Oscar Romero

Peace is not the product of terror or fear.
Peace is not the silence of cemeteries.
Peace is not the silent result of violent repression.
Peace is the generous, tranquil contribution of all to the good of all.
Peace is dynamism.
Peace is generosity.
It is right and it is duty.

- St. Oscar Romero

HT: John Predmore SJ

Sunday, October 14, 2018

the authentic, courageous Gospel

Canonization of Oscar Romero and Paul VI, October 14, 2018
Today Óscar Romero (1917–1980) was named a saint by the Catholic Church. I woke up early and watched the live stream from the Vatican. Francis wore the same blood stained belt that Romero was wearing when he was killed. The quotes below are from St. Oscar Romero's homilies, gathered by Richard Rohr OFM. Whatever else is going on, this canonization feels like a good place and direction to me. This is a Church that is firmly rooted in reality (here, now, what is -- the world). It is a great gift to have this anchor in life.

 " ... the Christian faith does not cut us off from the world but immerses us in it." (St. Oscar Romero)

See also: The Political Dimension of Christian Love (Oscar Romero)
The shepherd must be where the suffering is. [1]
My soul is sore when I learn how our people are tortured, when I learn how the rights of those created in the image of God are violated.  [2]
A Gospel that doesn’t take into account the rights of human beings, a Christianity that doesn’t make a positive contribution to the history of the world, is not the authentic doctrine of Christ, but rather simply an instrument of power. We . . . don’t want to be a plaything of the worldly powers, rather we want to be the Church that carries the authentic, courageous Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, even when it might become necessary to die like he did, on a cross. [3]
In his homily on March 23, 1980, the day before he was murdered, Romero addressed the Salvadoran military directly:
Brothers, we are part of the same people. You are killing your own brother and sister peasants and when you are faced with an order to kill given by a man, the law of God must prevail; the law that says: Thou shalt not kill. No soldier is obliged to obey an order against the law of God. No one has to obey an immoral law. And it is time that you recover your consciences. . . . In the name of God, then, and in the name of this suffering people whose laments rise up to heaven each day more tumultuously, I plead with you, I pray you, I order you, in the name of God: Stop the repression! [4]
The next day, following his sermon, a U.S.-supported government hit squad shot him through his heart as he stood at the altar.
Only a few weeks earlier, Romero had said:
I have often been threatened with death. I must tell you, as a Christian, I do not believe in death without resurrection. If I am killed, I shall arise in the Salvadoran people. I say so without boasting, with the greatest humility. . . . A bishop will die, but God’s church, which is the people, will never perish. [5]
[1] Óscar Romero, Homily (October 30, 1977). See Through the Year with Óscar Romero: Daily Meditations, trans. Irene B. Hodgson (Franciscan Media: 2015, ©2005), 17.
[2] Homily (December 5, 1977). Ibid., 28.
[3] Homily (November 27, 1977). Ibid., 24.
[4] Homily (March 23, 1980). Ibid., 175.
[5] From a telephone interview with newspaper correspondent José Calderón Salazar. See James R. Brockman, Romero: A Life (Orbis Books: 2005), 247-248.

HT: Richard Rohr OFM

Friday, October 12, 2018

Not a conversion, but an evolution

This article in NCR combats some common misconceptions about how Blessed (soon to be St.) Oscar Romero came to take the courageous stands he did for the farmworkers and challenged the landowners and military dictatorship. These stands that Romero took — stands that got him into trouble and eventually got him killed — were not instances of him ignoring church doctrine or rebelling against it, but rather of him faithfully taking it to its fullest consequences — as he did, for example, with Catholic social teaching.

Romero was not radicalized by the Left. He did not "change sides" in a political struggle. Rather , Romero remained faithful to God, his calling, and the Gospel:

In fact, Romero objected to people speaking of his "conversion." Salvadoran Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chávez says, "I once asked him the following question: 'Monseñor, they say you've been converted. Is it true?' I remember his answer well: 'I wouldn't say it's been a conversion, but an evolution.' "

It was, as Romero wrote on another occasion, "an evolution of the same desire that I have always had to be faithful to what God asks of me; and if earlier I gave the impression of being more 'prudent' and more 'spiritual,' it was because I sincerely believed that in that way I responded to the Gospel, because the circumstances of my ministry were not as demanding as those when I became archbishop."

Romero was radical, but not in a partisan way that some people want to make him. His canonization was blocked for years by those who say that Romero made the church's role "political".

Theologian Charles Curran says:
"Romero's struggle against the government and its injustices did not [amount to] unacceptable involvement of the church or church leaders in the world of politics. Whatever affects human persons, human communities, and the environment is by that very nature not just a political or a legal issue. It is a human, moral and, for the believer, Christian issue. The Christian tradition has consistently recognized that the political order is subject to the moral order."
Pope Francis unblocked the canonization process and moved it forward.
Nor did Francis stop there; he did something else that had long cried out to be done. Many people aren't aware — but Francis was − of how shabbily Romero was treated by all but one of his brother bishops. Seldom has there been a condemnation of bishops as strong as the one Francis expressed to a group of Salvadoran pilgrims who were visiting the Vatican in 2015:
I would … like to add something that perhaps has escaped us. Archbishop Romero's martyrdom did not occur precisely at the moment of his death; it was a martyrdom of witness, of previous suffering, of previous persecution, until his death. But also afterwards because, after he died — I was a young priest and I witnessed this — he was defamed, slandered, soiled — that is, his martyrdom continued even by his brothers in the priesthood and in the episcopate. I am not speaking from hearsay; I heard those things.
It was good to see — at long last — Romero vindicated in that way.
 There is much more (and photos!) in the NCR article HERE.

 I will be watching the canonization on Sunday with much interest. Pray for us St. Oscar Romero.

silence amid the noise

“To preserve the silence within--amid all the noise. To remain open and quiet, a moist humus in the fertile darkness where the rain falls and the grain ripens--no matter how many tramp across the parade ground in whirling dust under an arid sky.”

Dag Hammarskjöld, Markings 
If only I may grow: firmer, simpler, quieter, warmer.
Read more at:
If only I may grow: firmer, simpler, quieter, warmer.
Read more at:
If only I may grow: firmer, simpler, quieter, warmer.
Read more at:
If only I may grow: firmer, simpler, quieter, warmer.
Read more at:
If only I may grow: firmer, simpler, quieter, warmer.
Read more at:

Monday, October 8, 2018

photo of Merton's 1st Mass

H.B. Littell | AP Photo
I don't know why I'm adding this photo to Louie - perhaps for historical context.  It is a good photo and I've seen it circulating several places on the web with this information:
Father Louis (Thomas Merton) elevates the chalice during his first celebration of Solemn High Mass since his ordination to the priesthood in Trappist, Kentucky, May 28, 1949. In foreground, the censer-bearer swings censer. At this point of the Mass the Consecration of the Body and Blood of Christ are complete and will be followed by Communion. Other priests are unidentified. Merton was given the name “Louis” upon entering the Cistercians of the Strict Observance, better known as the Trappists, at the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani.

Photograph by H.B. Littell via AP Archives

See also:

active solitude

photo by Thomas Merton
He loved the loneliness of the night. It taught him to view solitude as act, and to conclude that the reason no one really understood solitude was because men viewed it as a condition, something one elected to undergo -- like standing under a shower. Actually, solitude was for him a realization; even a kind of creation as well as a liberation of active forces within him. As a mere condition, solitude could be passive, inert and basically unreal: a kind of coma. To avoid this condition, he had to work actively at solitude.

Thus, a need for discipline, for techniques of integration that keep body and soul together, harmonizing their powers to bring into one deep resonance, oriented to the root of being.

Freedom began for Fr. Louis with the willingness to realize and experience his life as totally absurd in relation to the apparent meaning which had been thrown over life by society and by illusions. But that could be only a starting point leading to a deeper realization of that root reality in himself and in all life "which I do not know and cannot know ... This implies the capacity to see that realizing and knowing are not the same ... solitude itself is the fullness of realization. In solitude I become fully able to realize what I cannot know". 

-- John Howard Griffin, writing about Merton in "Follow the Ecstacy"

Monday, October 1, 2018

the need for love

 Merton with Sr. Anita of Jesus O.C.D., Fr. John of the Cross Wasserman's sister
Man is most human, and most proves his humanity (I did not say his virility) by the quality of his relationship with woman. This obsession with virility and conquest makes a true and deep relationship impossible. Men today think that there is no difference between the capacity to make conquests and the capacity to love. Women respond accordingly, with the elaborate deceit and thinly veiled harlotry -- the role assigned to woman by fashion -- and there is a permanent battle between the sexes, sometimes covered over with the most atrocious and phony play acting. In all this everyone completely forgets the need for love. A desperate need: not the need to receive it only, but the need to give love.

In the monastery, with our vows of chastity, we are ideally supposed to go beyond married love into something more pure, more perfect, more totally oblative. This should then make us the most human of all people. But that is the trouble: how can one go "further" than something to which one has not yet attained? This does not mean that one cannot validly embrace a life of virginity until he has first been married: a nice contradiction to put a person in! But it does men that we cannot love perfectly if we have not in some way loved maturely and truly. Family life should ordinarily provide the climate in which this is possible: but if the family is simply a place where the sexes fight for supremacy ...

-Thomas Merton, Conjectures, p. 190-191

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

a hole in a flute

I am
a hole in a flute
that the Christ’s breath moves through—
listen to this

- Daniel Ladinsky, inspired by Hafiz, “The Christ’s Breath,” Love Poems from God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West (Penguin Compass: 2002), 153. Used with permission

Sunday, September 23, 2018

trust your aloneness

Therefore, dear Sir, love your solitude and try to sing out with the pain it causes you. For those who are near you are far away... and this shows that the space around you is beginning to grow vast.... be happy about your growth, in which of course you can't take anyone with you, and be gentle with those who stay behind; be confident and calm in front of them and don't torment them with your doubts and don't frighten them with your faith or joy, which they wouldn't be able to comprehend. Seek out some simple and true feeling of what you have in common with them, which doesn't necessarily have to alter when you yourself change again and again; when you see them, love life in a form that is not your own and be indulgent toward those who are growing old, who are afraid of the aloneness that you trust.... and don't expect any understanding; but believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it. 

- Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

HT: John Predmore SJ, Ignatian Spirituality

Friday, September 21, 2018

the moan is the birthing sound

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, Montgomery Alabama
The air must have been thick with fear and prayer as the slaving ships pulled out of Gorée and other West African ports laden with human cargo. Devotees of Vodun, the river gods, [YHWH], Allah, Oludumare—to name just a few—lay together (tightly or loosely packed) in an involuntary rebirthing cocoon. It was a community of sorts, yet each person lay in their own chrysalis of human waste and anxiety. More often than not, these Africans were strangers to each other by virtue of language, culture, and tribe. Although the names of their deities differed, they shared a common belief in the seen and unseen. The journey was a rite of passage of sorts that stripped captives of their personal control over the situation and forced them to turn to the spirit realm for relief and guidance.
. . . The word contemplation must press beyond the constraints of religious expectations to reach the potential for spiritual centering in the midst of danger. Centering moments accessed in safety are an expected luxury in our era. During slavery, however, crisis contemplation became a refuge, a wellspring of discernment in a suddenly disordered life space, and a geo-spiritual anvil for forging a new identity. This definition of contemplation is dynamic and situational. . . .
As unlikely as it may seem, the contemplative moment can be found at the very center of such ontological crises . . . during the Middle Passage in the holds of slave ships . . . auction blocks . . . and the . . . hush arbors [where slaves worshipped in secret]. Each event is experienced by individuals stunned into multiple realities by shock, journey, and displacement. . . . In the words of Howard Thurman, “when all hope for release in the world seems unrealistic and groundless, the heart turns to a way of escape beyond the present order.” [1] For captured Africans, there was no safety except in common cause and the development of internal and spiritual fortitude. . . .
The only sound that would carry Africans over the bitter waters was the moan. Moans flowed through each wracked body and drew each soul toward the center of contemplation. . . . One imagines the Spirit moaning as it hovered over the deep during the Genesis account of creation [Genesis 1:2]. Here, the moan stitches horror and survival instincts into a creation narrative. . . . On the slave ships, the moan became the language of stolen strangers, the sound of unspeakable fears, the precursor to joy yet unknown. The moan is the birthing sound, the first movement toward a creative response to oppression, the entry into the heart of contemplation through the crucible of crisis.
- Barbara A. Holmes, Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church, second edition (Fortress Press: 2017), 45-46, 50, 52.
HT: from today's meditation from Richard Rohr, Center for Action and Contemplation

Friday, September 14, 2018

Walking out of a door into the fresh air

 "It is simply opening yourself to receive. The presence of God is like walking out of a door into the fresh air. You don't concentrate on the fresh air, you breathe it. And you don't concentrate on the sunlight, you just enjoy it. It is all around."
- From a lecture by Thomas Merton, to the monks at Gethsemani

Thursday, September 6, 2018

all good Catholics, even the Pope

we are sinners

From Pope Francis' homily, September 6, 2018. From Vatican News HERE.
“There are people who go through life talking about others, accusing others and never thinking of their own sins. And when I go to make my confession, how do I confess? Like a parrot? ‘Bla, bla, bla… I did this, this…’ But are you touched at heart by what you have done? Many times, no. You go there to put on make-up, to make-yourself up a little bit in order to look beautiful. But it hasn’t entered completely into your heart, because you haven’t left room, because you are not capable of accusing yourself.”

And so that first step is also a grace: the grace of learning to accuse oneself, and not others:

“A sign that a person does not know, that a Christian does not know how to accuse himself is when he is accustomed to accusing others, to talking about others, to being nosy about the lives of others. And that is an ugly sign. Do I do this? It’s a good question to get to the heart [of things]. Today let us ask the Lord for the grace, the grace to find ourselves face to face with Him with this wonder that His presence gives; and the grace to feel that we are sinners, but concretely, and to say with Peter: 'Depart from me, for I am a sinner'.”

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...