Friday, December 31, 2021

He wanted to drift on the river …

Harlan Hubbard Woodcut, “Lee’s Landing in the Snow”, Xmas Card 1953

He wanted to drift on the river not so much to see where it went
as to be one with it, to go with it as virtually a part of it.
He wished perhaps to live out a kind of parable.
One cannot drift by intention –
or at least, in intending to drift and in drifting,
one must accept a severe limitation upon one’s intentions.
But in giving oneself to the currents,
in thus subordinating one’s intentions,
one becomes eligible for unintended goods,
unwished-for gifts –
and often these goods and gifts surpass
those that one has intended or wished for.
And so a drifter subscribes necessarily to a kind of faith
that is identical both to the absolute trust of migrating birds
and to the scripture that bids us to lose our lives in order to find them.
Harlan stated it in 1932 with characteristic simplicity:
“I believe that whatever we need is at hand.” 

– Wendell Berry, from Harlan Hubbard – Life and Work

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The apocalyptic word is “Come!” 

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life."


REVELATION 22:17 (NIV)


I come into solitude to die and love. I come here to be created by the Spirit in Christ. I am called here to grow. "Death" is a critical point of growth, or transition to a new mode of being; to a maturity and fruitfulness that I do not know (they are in Christ and in His Kingdom). The child in the womb does not know what will come after birth. He must be born in order to live. I am here to face death as my birth.


This solitude-a refuge under His wings, a place to hide myself in His Name, therefore, a sanctuary where the grace of Baptism remains a conscious, living, active reality valid not only for me but for the whole Church. Here, planted as a seed in the cosmos, I will be a Christ seed, and bring fruit for other men. Death and rising in Christ.


Thomas Merton. Dancing in the Water of Life. Journals, Volume 5. Robert E. Daggy, editor. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1997: 333-334.

I need to be "confirmed" in my vocation by the Spirit... This ordains me to be the person I am and to have the particular place and function I have, to be myself in the sense of choosing to tend toward what God wants me to be, and to orient my whole life to being the person He loves.

Dancing in the Water of Life: 334


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Monday, December 20, 2021

within our reach

Aurora over Holy Name of Mary Church, Tsiigehtchic 

Photo by Jon Hansen C.Ss.R., Yellowknife

I salute you. I am your friend, and my love for you goes deep.  There is nothing I can give you which you have not. But there is much, very much, that, while I cannot give it, you can take. No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today. Take heaven! No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present little instant.

Take peace! The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. There is radiance and glory in darkness, could we but see.  And to see, we have only to look. I beseech you to look!

Life is so generous a giver. But we, judging its gifts by their covering, cast them away as ugly or heavy or hard. Remove the covering, and you will find beneath it a living splendor, woven of love by wisdom, with power. Welcome it, grasp it, and you touch the angel’s hand that brings it to you.

Everything we call a trial, a sorrow or a duty, believe me, that angel’s hand is there. The gift is there and the wonder of an overshadowing presence. Your joys, too, be not content with them as joys. They, too, conceal diviner gifts.

Life is so full of meaning and purpose, so full of beauty beneath its covering, that you will find earth but cloaks your heaven. Courage then to claim it; that is all! But courage you have, and the knowledge that we are pilgrims together, wending through unknown country home.

Fra Giovanni Giocondo (c.1435–1515) was a Renaissance pioneer, accomplished as an architect, engineer, antiquary, archaeologist, classical scholar, and Franciscan friar.  Today we remember him most for his reassuring letter to Countess Allagia Aldobrandeschi on Christmas Eve, 1513.


Thursday, December 16, 2021

bell hooks

bell hooks, who died yesterday, referenced Thomas Merton in a chapter, "Eros, Eroticism, and the Pedagogical Process":

“There is not much passionate teaching or learning taking place in higher education today. Even when students are desperately yearning to be touched by knowledge, professors still fear the challenge, allow their worries about losing control to override their desires to teach. Concurrently, those of us who teach the same old subjects in the same old ways are often inwardly bored—unable to rekindle passions we may have once felt. If, as Thomas Merton suggests in his essay on pedagogy ‘Learning to Live,’ the purpose of education is to show students how to define themselves ‘authentically and spontaneously in relation’ to the world, then professors can best teach if we are self-actualized. Merton reminds us that the ‘original and authentic “paradise” idea, both in the monastery and in the university, implied not simply a celestial source of theoretic ideas to which Magistri and Doctores held the key, but the inner self of the student’ who would discover the ground of their being in relation to themselves, to higher powers, to community. That the ‘fruit of education... was in the activation of that utmost center.’ To restore passion to the classroom or to excite again the place of eros within ourselves and together allow the mind and body to feel and know desire.” (bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress [New York: Routledge, 1994], p. 199)

~Merton writes:

“The purpose of education is to show a person how to define himself authentically and spontaneously in relation to the world-not to impose a prefabricated definition of the world, still less an arbitrary definition of the individual himself. The world is made up of the people who are fully alive in it: this is, of the people who can be themselves in it and can enter into a living a fruitful relationship with each other in it. The world is, therefore, more real in proportion as the people in it are able to be more fully and more humanly alive: that is to say, better able to make a lucid and conscious use of their freedom. Basically, this freedom must consist first of all in the capacity to choose their own lives, to find them¬ selves on the deepest possible level. A superficial freedom to wander aimlessly here or there, to taste this or that, to make a choice of distractions (in Pascal’s sense) is simply a sham. It claims to be a freedom of ‘choice’ when it has evaded the basic task of discovering who it is that chooses. It is not free because it is unwilling to face the risk of self-discovery.

The function of the university is, then, first of all to help the student discover himself: to recognize himself, and to identify who it is that chooses.” (Thomas Merton, Love and Living [New York: Harcourt, 1985], p. 3-4)

Friday, December 10, 2021

the portrait is by Jim Nally; it hangs at Corpus Christi parish in Manhattan

Today is the 53rd anniversary of the death of Thomas Merton. The following text is extracted from his preface to the Japanese edition of “The Seven Story Mountain”:

—-

I have learned ... to look back into the world with greater compassion, seeing those in it not as alien to myself, not as peculiar and deluded strangers, but as identified with myself. In freeing myself from their delusions and preoccupations I have identified myself, nonetheless, with their struggles and their blind, desperate hope of happiness.

But precisely because I am identified with them, I must refuse all the more definitively to make their delusions my own. I must refuse their ideology of matter, power, quantity, movement, activism and force. I reject this because I see it to be the source and expression of the spiritual hell which man has made of his world: the hell which has burst into flame in two total wars of incredible horror, the hell of spiritual emptiness and sub-human fury which has resulted in crimes like Auschwitz or Hiroshima. This I can and must reject with all the power of my being. This all sane men seek to reject. But the question is: how can one sincerely reject the effect if he continues to embrace the cause?....

The monastery is not an “escape from the world.” On the contrary, by being in the monastery I take my true part in all the struggles and sufferings of the world. To adopt a life that is essentially non-assertive, nonviolent, a life of humility and peace is in itself a statement of one’s position. But each one in such a life can, by the personal modality of his decision, give his whole life a special orientation. It is my intention to make my entire life a rejection of, a protest against the crimes and injustices of war and political tyranny which threaten to destroy the whole race of man and the world with him. By my monastic life and vows I am saying No to all the concentration camps, the aerial bombardments, the staged political trials, the judicial murders, the racial injustices, the economic tyrannies, and the whole socio-economic apparatus which seems geared for nothing but global destruction in spite of all its fair words in favor of peace. I make monastic silence a protest against the lies of politicians, propagandists and agitators, and when I speak it is to deny that my faith and my Church can ever seriously be aligned with these forces of injustice and destruction.

— Thomas Merton 

who died on the 10th of December 1968 while taking part in a conference of Benedictine and Trappist monks   (“Honorable Reader”: Reflections on My Work, ed. Robert Daggy; NY: Crossroad, 1986, p 63-67) note: the portrait is by Jim Nally; it hangs at Corpus Christi parish in Manhattan

Friday, December 3, 2021

Ancient Sources of Monastic Vision and Experience

Painting by Brother Tobias Haller

Sometimes I find good things on Facebook. This is from Anabela Rozwadowska.

》THOMAS MERTON had a very strong attraction to Zen. 


In his lecture, 'Monastic Experience and East-West Dialogue,' delivered in Calcutta shortly before he died, Merton said:


"I come as a pilgrim who is anxious to obtain not just information, not just 'facts' about other monastic traditions but to drink from ancient sources of monastic vision and experience. 

I seek not to just learn more quantitatively about religion and monastic life but to become a better and more enlightened monk myself."


In Merton's book 'Zen and the Birds of Appetite' he states:


"Both Christianity and Buddhism show that suffering remains inexplicable, most of all for the man who attempts to explain it in order to evade it, or who thinks explanation itself is an escape.

Suffering is not a 'problem' as if it were something we could stand outside and control. Suffering, as both Christianity and Buddhism see, each in its own way, is part of our very ego-identity and empirical existence, and the only thing to do about it is to plunge right into the middle of contradiction and confusion in order to be transformed by what Zen calls 'the great death' and Christianity calls 'dying and rising with Christ."


In his talk in Calcutta he affirmed:


 "I think that now we have reached a stage of religious maturity at which it may be possible for someone to remain perfectly faithful to a Christian and Western monastic commitment and yet learn, in depth from a Hindu or Buddhist discipline or experience. Some of us need to do this in order to improve the quality of our own monastic life."


Shortly before Merton died, he told Brother David Steindl-Rast:


 "I do not believe that I could understand our Christian faith the way I understand it if it were not for the light of Buddhism."

.----


I wholeheartedly agree. It is the same for me. 

 

the new person

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