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.”
"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".
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.
"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
|photo by Thomas Merton
The Rev. Munther Isaac lighting a candle next to an improvised crèche this month in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. Credit... Samar Hazboun...