Thursday, January 31, 2019

the wind in the pine trees

Nothing has ever been said about God that hasn’t already been said better by the wind in the pine trees.
— Thomas Merton, born 104 years ago today in the town of Prades in the south of France.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
- Mary Oliver

Rev. Samuel Billy Kyles and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Rev. Samuel Billy Kyles was among the last people to speak to Dr. King, visiting him in his motel room to take him to dinner. When they walked out, Dr. King was shot. The night before Rev. King 
had given his mountaintop speech.

In a 2008 interview, Rev. Kyles of Memphis, describes his famous "mountaintop" speech:

"Many of us, grown men, were crying, we had no idea why we were crying. We had no way of knowing that would be the last speech of his life. And then he took us to the mountaintop ..."

"Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life — longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over, and I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. So I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything, I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord." — the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Kyles says he's "so certain" that King "knew he wouldn't get there, but he wouldn't tell us that. That would have been too heavy for us, so he softened it." 

Afterward, "we had to help him to his seat behind that powerful, prophetic speech," Kyles says. 
"He preached himself through the fear of death," Kyles says. "He just got it out of him. He just dealt with it. And we were just standing there. It was like, what did he know that we didn't know?"
When he speaks to people who were not alive or too young to remember King, Kyle says he tells them, "we're not going to get to the place where we can say, 'Dr. King's dream has been realized. Now we can go to the beach.' That's not going to happen. Much of it has been realized, but there is so much to do. But each generation will have its portion, and that helps to keep the dream alive."

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

nameless & no where: the paradise tree

Photo by Thomas Merton

There is no where in you a paradise that is no place
and there
You do not enter except without a story
To enter there is to become unnameable.

Whoever is there is homeless for he has no door
and no identity
with which to go out and to come in.

Whoever is nowhere is nobody, and therefore cannot exist
except as unborn:
No disguise will avail him anything

Such a one is neither lost nor found.

Bue he who has an address is lost.

They fall, they fall into apartments and are
securely established!

They find themselves in streets. They are licensed
To proceed from place to place
They now know their own names
They can name several friends and know
Their own telephones must some time ring.

If all telephones ring at once, if all names are shouted at
once and
all cars crash at one crossing:
If all cities explode and fly away in dust
Yet identities refuse to be lost. There is a name and number
for everyone.

There is a definite place for bodies, there are pigeon holes
for ashes:
Such security can business buy!

Who would dare to go nameless in so secure a universe?
Yet, to tell the truth, only the nameless are at home in it.

They bear with them in the center of nowhere the unborn
flower of nothing:
This is the paradise tree. It must remain unseen until words
end and arguments are silent.

- Merton, "The Fall", In the Dark before the Dawn, pp. 184-185

Saturday, January 5, 2019

the silent self

There is a silent self within us whose presence is disturbing precisely because it is so silent: it can't be spoken. It has to remain silent. To articulate it, to verbalize it, is to tamper with it, and in some way to destroy it. 
Now let us frankly face the fact that our culture is one which is geared in many ways to help us evade any need to face this inner, silent self. We live in a state of constant semi attention to the sound of voices, music, traffic, or the generalized noise of what goes on around us all the time. This keeps us immersed in a flood of racket and words, a diffuse medium in which our consciousness is half diluted: we are not quite "thinking", not entirely responding, but we are more or less there. We are not fully present and not entirely absent, not fully withdrawn, yet not completely available. It cannot be said that we are really participating in anything and we may in fact, be half conscious of our alienation and resentment. Yet we derive a certain comfort from the vague sense that we are "part of something" -- although we are not quite able to define what that something is -- and probably wouldn't want to define it even if we could. We just float along in the general noise. Resigned and indifferent, we share semiconsciously in the mindless mind of Muzak and radio commercials which pass for "reality". 

- Thomas Merton, Love & Living, p. 36

Thursday, January 3, 2019

as these stones are quiet

Credit: Adrian Mann/All About Space

Be still
Listen to the stones of the wall.
Be silent, they try
To speak your

To the living walls.
Who are you?
Are you? Whose
Silence are you?

Who (the quiet)
Are you (as these stones
Are quiet). Do not
Think of what you are
Still less of
What you may one day be.
Be what you are (but who?) be
The unthinkable one
You do not know.

O be still. while
You are still alive,
And all things live around you
Speaking (I do not hear)
To your own being.
Speaking by the Unknown
That is in you and in themselves.

"I will try, like them
To be my own silence:
And this is difficult. The whole
World is secretly on fire. The stones
Burn, even the stones
They burn me. How can a man be still or
Listen to all things burning? How can he dare
To sit with them when
All their silence
Is on fire?"

- Thomas Merton, "In Silence", Collected Poems pp. 280-281

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

The Peoples Pastoral

"Magisterium of the People," the latest documentary from Sebastian Gomes, was inspired by the Catholic Committee of Appalachia — nuns, priests, laypeople — who go into Appalachia to listen to the stories of the region's residents and report their findings in the form of a "People's Pastoral," playing on the church's name for an open letter from a bishop to his clergy and flock.
The group's most recent pastoral appeared in 2015, following two previous documents, in 1975 and 1995, which have been published as a book. The letters are, as the original People's Pastoral put it, a "telling of the story of 'the least among us' including Earth, our listening of that story, and the Church's response to it."

"It's always been hard for the institutional church to be prophetic," Stowe says in the film, "but I think because Francis speaks with such a prophetic voice it allows the other groups within the church who have been prophetic in their vision of things, and their way of listening to people the way CCA has done, they find a validation and an encouragement in that."

New documentary chronicles a grassroots Catholic 'magisterium'

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Praise the Quiet Sky

NASA New Horizons Spacecraft, NY Times

It visited Pluto in 2015, and kept going. 

Today (January 1, 2019) NASA’s New Horizons probe will pass near a mysterious object in the Kuiper belt, making it the most distant world ever visited by a spacecraft. Scientists hope to learn more about how the solar system formed as they study Ultima Thule. Read more about why the New Horizons flyby portends a new age of planetary discovery in the New York Times here.

An artist’s rendering of a Kuiper belt object, four billion miles from the sun.

Now, in the middle of the limpid evening,
The moon speaks clearly to the hill,
The wheat fields make their simple music,
Praise the quiet sky. 

And down the road, the way the stars come home,
The cries of children
Play on the empty air, a mile or more,
And fall on our deserted hearing,
Clear as water.

They say the sky is made of glass,
They say the smiling moon's a bride.
They say they love the orchards and apple trees,
The trees, their innocent sisters, dressed in blossoms,
Still wearing, in the blurring dusk,
While dresses from that morning's first communion.

And, where blue heaven's fading fire last shines
They name the new come planets
With words that flower
On little voices, light as stems of lilies.

And where blue heaven's fading fire last shines,
Reflected in the poplar's ripple,
One little, wakeful bird
Sings like a shower.

- Thomas Merton, The Collected Poems, pp. 41-42

CreditASA, ESA, and G. Bacon (STScI)


Owen Merton, Watercolor, 1919 - "Snow Scene, Long Island"

Contemplation cannot construct a new world by itself. 
Contemplation does not feed the hungry; it does not clothe the naked… 
and it does not return the sinner to peace, truth, and union with God. 

But without contemplation we cannot see what we do… 
Without contemplation we cannot understand 
the significance of the world in which we must act. 

Without contemplation we remain small, limited, divided, partial; 
we adhere to the insufficient, 
permanently united to our narrow group and its interests, 
losing sight of justice and charity, 
seized by the passions of the moments… 

Without contemplation, 
without the intimate, silent, 
secret pursuit of truth through love, 
our action loses itself in the world and becomes dangerous.

~ Thomas Merton


Evolutionary thinking is actually contemplative thinking because it leaves the full field of the future in God’s hands and agrees to humbly hold the present with what it only tentatively knows for sure. Evolutionary thinking must agree to both knowing and not knowing, at the same time. This is hard for the egoically bound self. It wants to fully know—now—which is never true anyway. - Richard Rohr


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