Monday, December 28, 2020

those for whom there is no room

"Christ’s place is with those others for whom there is no room. 

His place is with those who do not belong, 

who are rejected by power, because they are regarded as weak, 

those who are discredited, 

who are denied the status of persons, tortured, exterminated. 

With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in this world. 

He is mysteriously present in those for whom there seems to be nothing but the world at its worst…

It is in these that he hides himself, [the people] for whom there is no room.”

-- Thomas Merton
Raids on the Unspeakable (p 72-73)

Monday, November 30, 2020

with hearts attending to the skies we cannot understand

Path to Payne Hollow, watercolor by Harlan Hubbard
Night is our diocese and silence is our ministry
Poverty our charity and helplessness our tongue-tied
Beyond the scope of sight or sound we dwell upon the air
Seeking the world's gain in an unthinkable experience.
We are exiles in the far end of solitude, living as listeners
With hearts attending to the skies we cannot understand:
Waiting upon the first far drums of Christ the Conqueror,
Planted like sentinels upon the world's frontier. 

from The Quickening of John the Baptist, On the Contemplative Vocation. Poem by Thomas Merton

Read the full poem HERE

Sunday, November 1, 2020

The Essence of all Spirituality is Presence

The essence of all spirituality is presence,
a state of consciousness that transcends thinking.
There is a space behind and in between your thoughts and emotions.
When you become aware of that space,
you are present,
and you realize that your personal history,
which consists of thought,
is not your true identity and is not the essence of who you are.
What is that space, that inner spaciousness?
It is pure consciousness,
the transcendent "I AM" that becomes aware of itself.
The Buddha calls it sunyata,
It is the "kingdom of heaven" that Jesus pointed to,
which is within you
here and now.

-- Eckhart Tolle

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Everything Matters

[I seldom (never?) quote Richard Rohr's daily posting in its entirety, but this one hit home for me. The reflection is from Cynthia Bourgeault. It belongs here.]

 Thursday,  October 29, 2020


Only the Divine matters,
And because the Divine matters,
Everything matters.

                                                             —Thomas Keating, “What Matters”

The simplicity of the final poem in The Secret Embrace speaks eloquently of what I (Richard) know more deeply to be true with every passing year. It’s the incarnational message at the heart of the Gospel: everything belongs! It is a Christ-soaked universe. As we near the end of this series, Cynthia Bourgeault shares her understanding of Thomas Keating’s final legacy to us. 

In October 2018, two weeks before he died, Thomas Keating emerged briefly from four days in what appeared to be a coma to deliver an extraordinary final message beamed straight to the heart of the world. [1] Acknowledging that “an extraordinary moment of civilization seems to be overtaking us,” he urged the human family to scrap old approaches based on religious or political dogma and “begin a new world with one that actually exists,” a world whose truth is guided by “silence and science” and whose heart is revealed in a universal resurgence of human compassion and creativity. “We need to find ways to make these really happen,” he said. “I leave this hope in your hands and hearts coming as a real inspiration from the heart of God.”

Two momentous years later, his words seem more prophetic than ever.

Of the many insights Thomas Keating has given us in these poems, two gifts stand out in particular. The first is that he has completely reframed the traditional Christian notion of God, offering us a powerful new roadmap with which to make spiritual sense of our contemporary world. In this short poem of eleven laser-like words, Thomas smashes through centuries of theological barricades separating God from the world and contemplation from action, offering instead a flowing vision of oneness within a profoundly interwoven and responsive relational field.

To have this universal wisdom affirmed so forcefully by one of Christianity’s most revered elders creates a powerful new incentive for a compassionate re-engagement with our times. Practically speaking, the map affirms that our actions, our choices, our connections bear more weight than we dare to believe. We are neither isolated nor helpless but immersed in a great web of belonging in which divine intelligence and compassion are always at our disposal if our courage does not fail us.

The second gift awaiting us in these poems is their powerful reaffirmation that the access route to all new beginning comes by leaning into the diminishment, stripping, and emptiness. Not by trying to distract ourselves, anesthetize ourselves, or use our spiritual tool kit to re-establish the status quo. New beginning is intrinsically disorienting and anguishing; it builds on the wreckage of what has been outgrown but not yet relinquished. As the veils are lifted and our familiar reference points dissolve, it is only on the timeless path of surrender (a.k.a. “letting go,” “consenting to the presence and action of God”) that we find our way through the darkness and into the new beginning. Godspeed and know that we travel the path together!

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

a monstrous irrationality

"We are victims of a monstrous irrationality

- which we call 'means of communication' -

but which in actual fact obstructs real communication.

A vast machine which processes 'events' and reduces them to gibberish

in which reality is a total loss."

- Thomas Merton

Monday, October 26, 2020

Wendall Berry Sabbath Poem

Tanya and Wendell Berry working in the field, Courtesy of Platform Media Group

Praise “family values,”

“a better future for our children,”

displacing meanwhile the familiar

membership to be a “labor force”

of homeless strangers. Praise

work and name it “jobs.”

With “labor-saving technology”

replace workers at their work

and hold them in contempt

because they have no “jobs.”

Praise “our country” and oppress

the land with poisons, gouges,

blastings, the violent labors and

pleasures of the unresting displaced,

skinning the earth alive.

This is the way, the truth, and the life.

Welcome the refugees set free

from the “nowhere” of rural America,

from the “drudgery” of the household

and the “mind-numbing work”

of shops and farms, into 

the anthills of “liberation”

the endless vistas of “growth,”

of “progress,” the “limitless adventure

of the human spirit” rising

through inward emptiness into

“outer space.” Welcome

the displaced naturally “upwardly

mobile” to their “better world”

as they gather bright-lighted

in “multicultural” masses

in the packed streets. Catch 

those who inevitably

fall from the light-swarm

in meshes of “safety nets,” “benefits,”

“job training,” the army,

the wars, mental hospitals,

jails, graves. Forget

vocation, memory, living

and dying at home. This

is the way, the truth, and the life.

Flourish your weapons of official

war where they are needed

for peace, bring death by chance

but needfully to small houses

where children play at war

or a wedding is taking place

so that the bride and the groom

will not be separately killed,

for you have an enemy

somewhere, who must be killed.

Therefor forgive the unofficial

entrepreneur who brings

your weapons to your 

school, your office, your

neighborhood theater, bringing

death randomly but needfully,

for his enemies are his

as yours are yours. This is

the way, the truth, and the life.

Wendell Berry

Sabbath Poem XIV, 2012

Saturday, October 24, 2020


“It is not by preaching or expounding the sutras (scriptures) that you fulfill the task of awakening others to self-realization; it is rather by the way you walk, the way you stand, the way you sit and the way you see things.” —Thich Nhat Hanh 

(Photo by Paul Davis)

Thursday, October 8, 2020

A Faith that is rooted in the Unknown

The heart of man [sic] can be full of so much pain, even when things are exteriorly “all right”. It becomes all the more difficult because today we are used to thinking that there are explanations for everything. But there is no explanation of most of what goes on in our own hearts, and we cannot account for it all. No use resorting to the kind of mental tranquilizers that even religious explanations sometimes offer. Faith must be deeper than that, rooted in the unknown and in the abyss of darkness that is the ground of our being. No use teasing the darkness to try to make answers grow out of it. But if we learn how to have a deep inner patience, things solve themselves, or God solves them if you prefer: but do not expect to see how. Just learn to wait, and do what you can and help other people. Often it is in helping someone else we find the best way to bear our own trouble.

-- Thomas Merton
from his Christmas letter, 1966

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Contemplation & Resistance (3) - Accepting things

NHAT HANH: ... If you cut yourself off from something -- a tradition, a community -- the hope of things will be lost. Right at that moment. So it is not a problem of a word or a term -- it is the problem of life. And that problem of being simultaneously inside and outside yourself is a very wonderful idea. Not an idea but a way of life, a way that retain one's self and the link between one's self and the other part of one's self.

DAN: This was very much a part of the style of Merton -- the inside/outside. And it had very rich consequences, I think. For him and for others. He used to say that he would never become a monk again, but now that he was a monk, he would be a monk. Absolutely. Yes.

JIM FOREST:  A man playing hide and seek with tradition.

NHAT HANH: Anyway, being a monk or not being a monk, that is not the problem. The problem is the way you are a monk or the way you are a non-monk. I think if we greet events in that way, we can master the situation.

In China, they tell the story of a man who lost his horse. He was sad and he wept about it. But a few days later the horse returned with another horse. So the man was now very happy. His loss turns out to be lucky. But the next day his son tried the new horse and fell and broke one leg. So now it is not good luck any more, but bad luck. So he deserts the other horse and takes his son to the hospital and is content with what he has. So they say, if you greet these event with a calm mind, then you can make the most of these events for the sake of your happiness. That's not me, but the Chinese! (Laughter.)

-from a slightly edited transcript of a conversation recorded in Paris in 1973 by Jim Forest between Thich Nhat Hanh and Daniel Berrigan. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Contemplation & Resistance (2) - meditation

DAN: So in a time when machine is claiming its victories over men and women, it seems to me that contemplation becomes a form of resistance -- and should lead to resistance in the world. And this to the point where one cannot claim he is in touch with God, and still is neutral toward the machine, toward the death of people. I mention this because this also is not clear, and in the derangement in our culture we see that people move toward contemplation in despair -- even though unrecognized. They meditate as a way of becoming neutral --  to put a guard between themselves and the horror around them, instead of allowing them to give themselves to people and to hope, instead of presenting something different, something new, to suffering people. We have a terrible kind of drug called "contemplation". The practitioners may call themselves Jesus freaks or followers of Krishna or Buddha; they may wear robes of some kind, be in the street, and beg, and pray, and live in communes, but they care nothing about the war. Nothing about the war. And they talk somewhat like Billy Graham, "Jesus saves". That is to say, it's not necessary to do anything. So they become another resource of the culture instead of a resource against the culture.

NHAT HANH: Also on the subject of meditation, I think most of us have been touched profoundly by our situation, the reality in which we live, and many of us need a kind of healing. A number of people, including myself and many of my friends -- we need a little bit of time, of space, of privacy, of meditation, in order to heal the wound that is very deep in ourselves. That does not mean that if sometimes I am absorbed in looking at a cloud and not thinking about Vietnam, that does not mean that I don't care. But I need the cloud to heal me and my deep wounds. Many of us are wounded, and we understand and support each other in our need for healing. 

-from a slightly edited transcript of a conversation recorded in Paris in 1973 by Jim Forest between Thich Nhat Hanh and Daniel Berrigan,

Contemplation & Resistance (1) - Time, "we ARE eternity"


[What follows are excerpts from a slightly edited transcript of a conversation recorded in Paris in 1973 by Jim Forest between Thich Nhat Hanh and Daniel Berrigan, the one a Buddhist monk and Zen master, the other a Catholic priest well known for animosity to draft  records and for failure to report for imprisonment on schedule. Published in WIN magazine in June 1973]

Dan Berrigan: ... When we were in prison I believe we had a very different sense of time, too. It was closer maybe to the truth.

Nhat Hanh: We tend to imagine that the lifetime of a person is something like using your pen in order to draw a line across a sheet of paper. A person appears on this earth and lives and dies. And we may think of the life of a person just like a line we trace across a sheet of paper. But I think that is not true. The life of a person is not confined to anything like a line you draw, because being alive you do not go in one direction - direction of the right side of a piece of paper, but you also go in other directions. So the image of that line crossing the sheet of paper is not correct. It goes in all directions. Not only four, or eight, or sixteen, but many, many. So if we can see through to that reality, our notion of time will change. That is why in meditation you can feel that you are not traveling in time but we are, we are eternity. We are not caught by death, by change. A few moments of being alive in that state of mind is a very good opportunity for self purification. Not only will it affect our being, but of course it affects our action -- our non-action.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Nagasaki: Midori's Rosary

Around 2:00 p.m. on Aug. 10. The atomic bomb had exploded about a third of a mile above this location, the Matsuyama-machi intersection. The remains of a private school is in the rear at right. The chimney, center rear, was part of the Mitsubishi Nagasaki Steel Works.

Credit...Yosuke Yamahata, courtesy Shogo Yamahata

Nagasaki: Midori’s Rosary

By Rowan Williams 


The air is full of blurred words. Something
has changed in the war’s weather. The children
(whose children will show me this) have been sent
to the country. In the radiology lab,
Takashi fiddles, listening to the ticking bomb
in his blood cells, thinks, once, piercingly,
of her hands and small mouth, knotting him in
to the long recital of silent lives
under the city’s surface, the ripple of blurred Latin,
changing nothing in the weather of death and confession,
thinks once, in mid-morning, of a kitchen floor, flash-frozen.

When, in the starburst’s centre,
the little black mouth opens, then clenches,
and the flaying wind smoothes down the grass 
and prints its news black on bright blinding
walls, when it sucks back the milk
and breath and skin, and all the world’s vowels
drown in flayed throats, the hard things,
bone and tooth, fuse into consonants of stone,
Midori’s beads melt in a single mass
around the shadow with its blackened hands
carved with their little weeping lips.

Days earlier, in Hiroshima, in what was left
of the clinic chapel, little Don Pedro, turning
from the altar to say, The Lord be with you,
heard, suddenly, what he was about to claim,
seeing the black lips, the melted bones,
and so, he said, he stood, his small mouth
open, he never knew how long, his hands
out like a starburst, while the dialogue
of stony voiceless consonants ground across
the floor, like gravel in the wind, and the two
black mouths opened against each other,

Nobody knowing for a while 
which one would swallow which.


* * *

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Original Child Bomb


Poet-monk, Thomas Merton, wrote a poem, “Original Child Bomb,” the title being an exact translation of the Japanese word for the bomb that dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.

The poem is a short history written in numbered, laconic sentences about the development and first use of nuclear weapons, despite the appeal of some of the bomb’s makers that it not be used without prior warning. Nonetheless, the bomb was dropped on a city considered of minor military importance.

“The people who were near the center became nothing. The whole city was blown to bits and the ruins caught fire instantly everywhere, burning briskly. 70,000 people were killed right away or died within a few hours. Those who did not die at once suffered great pain. Few of them were soldiers.”

Merton noted the odd way that religious terms had been used by those associated with the bomb. Its first test was called Trinity. The mission to drop the Hiroshima bomb returned to Papacy, the code name for Tinian.
The poem is posted below:

Hibakusha, those who were bombed


Seventy-five years ago today Nagasaki was destroyed with an atomic bomb.

At the end of World War II, 2 Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, were obliterated. 

On August 6, 1945, the Enola Gay, a B-29 Superfortress bomber named after the pilot's mother, dropped Little Boy, a five-ton uranium explosion bomb, on Hiroshima.

Three days later another plane, jokingly named Bock's Car (after the plane's original pilot), dropped
Fat Man (a moniker supposedly given it in honor of former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill), a more complex plutonium implosion bomb, on Nagasaki. 

In Hiroshima, Little Boy's huge fireball and explosion killed 70,000 to 80,000 people instantly. Another 70,000 were seriously injured. As Joseph Siracusa, author of Nuclear Weapons: A Very Short Introduction, writes: "In one terrible moment, 60% of Hiroshima... was destroyed. The blast temperature was estimated to reach over a million degrees Celsius, which ignited the surrounding air, forming a fireball some 840 feet in diameter."

Three days later, Fat Man exploded 1,840 feet above Nagasaki, with the force of 22,000 tons of TNT. According to "Hiroshima and Nagasaki Remembered," a web resource on the bombings developed for young people and educators, 286,000 people lived in Nagasaki before the bomb was dropped; 74,000 of them were killed instantly and another 75,000 were seriously injured.

Those who somehow managed to survive call themselves Hibakusha, which literally means "those who were bombed." 

[ extracted from Frida Berrigan's Reflections on Hiroshima and Nagasaki published on August 3, 2009 in TRUTHOUT ]

The photo above is the front cover of a New Directions book containing the poem, "Original Child Bomb", by Thomas Merton. The book was designed and illustrated by Emil Antonucci and published in 1961

For most of the years of this louie blog, I have in some way remembered and noted these days of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. These posts can be found HERE

Other louie postings on Nagasaki & Hiroshima are here:

Nagasaki (2018)


As of July 8, 2017, the United States has 6,800 warheads, according to data from Hans Kristensen and Robert Norris at the Federation of American scientists. 2,800 of them are retired, 4,000 are stockpiled, and 1,800 are deployed. The total number of U.S. warheads is second only to Russia, which currently has 7,000 of them.

Saturday, August 8, 2020



 “I may be wrong about Pax, but keep feeling that through good poems and pictures, peace can travel.”
–Robert Lax to Thomas Merton, 1953

The image here is from the third issue of Robert Lax’s broadsheet Pax, which he published sporadically between 1956 and 1962, adding three new issues in 1985. 

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Flash of Light, Wall of Fire

Patients being treated in a medical tent in Hiroshima on Aug. 9.

Credit...Yotsugi Kawahara, courtesy Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum

“Americans, when they think about atomic war, think about the mushroom cloud,” said Benjamin Wright, a doctoral student at the University of Texas at Austin who helped curate “Flash of Light, Wall of Fire,” a new book of photographs about the 1945 bombings.
“Perhaps they think of a destroyed city, but it’s very much a bird’s-eye view,” Mr. Wright said by telephone.

The book, published this month by the University of Texas Press to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the bombings, attempts to change that. It includes images from more than a dozen Japanese photographers, starting with Mr. Matsumoto’s photo of a Hiroshima wall clock that stopped at the moment when a nuclear bomb detonated above the city in a flash of light.

From the NY Times article "After Atomic Bombings, These Photographers Worked Under Mushroom Clouds" (Aug. 6, 2020)

Credit...Shunkichi Kikuchi, courtesy Harumi Tago

Credit...Eiichi Matsumoto

Friday, July 31, 2020

be faithful

Former President Clinton, in his eulogy for John Lewis at the funeral yesterday, mentioned that Lewis had Merton's autobiography (The Seven Storey Mountain) with him, but apparently it was another Merton book, New Seeds of Contemplation.
Spring 2020 newsletter of the International Thomas Merton Society

Merton at the Selma March      
March 7, 2020 marks the fifty-fifth anniversary of the 1965 “Bloody Sunday” voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, a key turning point in the struggle for civil rights for African Americans. A little-known detail about that event was that Thomas Merton was present both in spirit and in word. Leading the march was 25-year-old John Lewis, chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), who was expecting to be arrested for participating in this “illegal” demonstration and came prepared for jail, with a backpack containing a toothbrush and toothpaste, an apple and an orange, and two books to read while incarcerated, one of which was Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation. ...

At the October 2019 wake at the U.S. Capitol for another African American congressman and civil rights icon, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley encountered Rep. Lewis. Recalling having been told by Lewis on a previous occasion about New Seeds in his backpack, and “Remembering our affinity for Merton, I ask the congressman, ‘What do you think Thomas Merton would say to us as Americans today if he were alive?’ After only a brief moment of reflection, he looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘“Be faithful.” He would say, “Be faithful.”’ And so it is,” O’Malley concludes: “the clock ticks on, and the reputations of some men soar even as their abilities vanish before our eyes. But some things never die. Some ideas refuse to be buried. Justice. Dignity. Generational progress. The truth that we are all in this together” – ideals shared by the civil rights leader and the monk whose printed words accompanied him on that historic day fifty-five years ago, and whose spirit, Lewis believes, continues to summon Americans to be faithful to their truest principles and their best selves.

HT: Jim Forest & Patrick O'Connell

Thursday, July 30, 2020

if Thomas Merton could find his way and keep his faith and believe in the future, he, John Lewis could too ...

In a funeral eulogy delivered today in Atlanta, former President Clinton spoke of Lewis' humanity, strength and his unwavering belief in a future without racism. His eulogy included a reference to Thomas Merton:

Then, there was Bloody Sunday, he figured he might get arrested. And this is really important for all the rhapsodic things we believe about John Lewis, he had a really good mind and he was always trying to figure out how I can make the most out of every single moment. So he’s getting ready to march from Selma to Montgomery, he wants to get across the bridge. What do we remember? He cut quite a strange figure: He had a trench coat and a backpack. Now, young people probably think that’s no big deal but there weren’t that many backpacks back then. And you never saw anybody in a trench coat looking halfway dressed up with a backpack. But John put an apple, an orange, a toothbrush, toothpaste to take care of his body because he figured he would get arrested. And two books, one by Richard Hofstadter on America’s political tradition to feed his mind, and one, the autobiography of Thomas Merton, a Roman Catholic Trappist monk who was the son of itinerant artists making an astonishing personal transformation. What’s a young guy who’s about to get his brains beat out and planning on going to prison doing taking that? I think he figured that if Thomas Merton could find his way and keep his faith and believe in the future, he, John Lewis could too.


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