Tag Archives: Thomas Merton

finish flossing, now rinse

Following up my flossing the “God hates you” husk from between my teeth…I rinsed with Merton:

this picture is just wrong

this picture is just wrong

The human being down here in the darkness of his fleshly state is as mysterious as the saints in heaven in the light of their glory. There are in him inexhaustible treasures, constellations without end of sweetness and beauty which ask to be recognized and which usually escape completely the futility of our regard. Love brings a remedy for that. One must vanquish this futility and undertake seriously to recognize the innumerable universes that one’s fellow being carries within him. This is the business of contemplative love and the sweetness of its regard…

Yes, we are all of us Shreks. We have layers.

What a contrast in how we view people. Reminds me of Paul’s confidence in the community of believers in Rome most of whom he had never met: “I am confident that you are full of goodness.”

We all have our bad days when we hate people in general and go sour on humanity, chanting with David, “All men are liars” and with our brother, “God hates you.” And yes, there are liars, and yes, evidently, God gets really ticked off at us at times – perhaps as often as we get ticked off at him. But still we speak in haste, as David acknowledged after the fact.

We miss the larger view of the Good News that God makes lovers out of his enemies by dying for them. God is in the friending business, and he’s fairly extreme about it. The Divine really doesn’t like blocking or unfriending us.

I think I’d rather spend a month with a Merton than a day with a Jansenite.

Just saying. Funny that way.

And it’s a Merton I will seek out every time when my own insecurities and imperfections are staring me
in the face.


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Posted by on September 21, 2013 in haverings, Nature of God, Religion


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Merton this morning.

Yesterday I was sitting in the woodshed reading and a little Carolina wren suddenly bienvenuhopped onto my shoulder and then onto the corner of the book I was reading and paused a second to take a look at me before flying away.

There is something you cannot know about a wren by cutting it up in a laboratory and that you can know only if it remains fully and completely a wren, itself, and hops on your shoulder if it feels like it.

A tame animal is already invested with a certain falsity by its tameness. By becoming what we want it to be, it takes a disguise that we have decided to impose upon it.

Even a wild animal merely “observed” is not seen as it really is, but rather in the light of our investigation (color changed by fluorescent lighting). But people who watch birds and animals are already wise in their way.

I want not only to observe but to know living things, and this implies a dimension of primordial familiarity that is simple and primitive and religious and poor. This is the reality I need, the vestige of God in His creatures.

Is this what we seek through all our religious ways?
Getting each other to behave, to conform, to be nice? operatingtable
More la-bore-a-tory
than observatory
Do we merely seek to dissect each other in our sacred labs,
to figure each other out,
to square each other away?
A pathological desire to fix
to evaluate
to judge
to prescribe
When observing is the key.
Like a glorious wren, the son of man hops on our shoulder
if he feels like it.
Do we behold
primordial vestige
full of grace and truth
or do we capture and cage
endowing with falsity
as we dissect
on unholy tables?



Posted by on April 20, 2013 in musings, Poetry


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flash of sanity

I’ve been silently watching Facebook debates.battle of britain

Gay marriage.

Gun control.


Pick a topic. Does it matter?

Peering through my canopy,
I wonder if I should dive in.

Feeling awful for the one who explodes in the feed, all caps and expletives.

Smoke trails from dogfights overhead. Aircraft soaring, diving, exploding. Victory rolls. Distant booms.

Anger. Smugness. Compassion. Bewilderment. LOL. If these avatars were animated like Potter’s paintings, what would these faces do? “Friends” gained. “Friends” lost. What does that even mean in such a “place”? What does a tally like 760 “friends” even mean, really? There are three with whom I will crack my heart.

Athenians re-birthed online, faceless faces, exchanging views on something ever new but always old. Garnering “likes” and virtual high fives. And next will be the “tsk tsk” button for those who don’t play well or who clearly show they aren’t “with it.”

Have we ever left that school cafeteria?

Then, in the midst of the food fight, of likes and jeers by virtual jocks, gushing cheerleaders, and lurking zit-faced nerds, a flash of sanity from printed page (ah, but even it is in a virtual iBook cloud!) from Merton, circa 1966:

A flash of sanity: the momentary realization that there is no need to come to certain conclusions about persons, events, conflicts, trends, even trends toward evil and disaster, as if from day to day, and even from moment to moment, I had to know and declare (at least to myself) that this is so and so, this is good, this is bad. We are heading for a “new era” or we are heading for destruction. What do such judgments mean? Little or nothing.

Things are as they are in an immense whole of which I am a part and which I cannot pretend to grasp. To say I grasp it is immediately to put myself in a false position, as if I were “outside” it. Whereas to be “in” it is to seek truth in my own life and action, moving where movement is possible and keeping still when movement is unnecessary, realizing that things will continue to define themselves and that the judgments and mercies of God will clarify themselves and will be more clear to me if I am silent and attentive, obedient to His will, rather than constantly formulating statements in this age which is smothered in language, in meaningless and inconclusive debate in which, in the last analysis, nobody listens to anything except what agrees with his own prejudices.

Perhaps I’ll just mind my tongue, steer away from the virtual dog pile. Perhaps I’ll live and love face to face instead.

The grass is greening outside.


pure faith this. from my yard. spring, what, two years ago? too much brown, yet…but it is greening…


Posted by on March 23, 2013 in musings


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whatever I can give

I was so struck by this comment of Merton, it became my prayer for the day even as I read it.

It can speak for itself…

Whatever I can give to God and to other men is only the effect and manifestation of the power of the Passion of Jesus. I would reply to His action, and let Him show Himself in my life. This He will do in a way I have expected and not expected; planned and not planned; desired and not desired.

~ Thomas Merton, February 18, 1953

Oh yes.

Do that.

my oh my

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Posted by on February 12, 2013 in musings



the peace of being nothing special

Thomas Merton continues to speak to me — at least I am “obscurely convinced” that he does.
Let’s just say Thomas-Mertonthat he is used regularly to put me in my place.

Good word for today…

It seems to me that I have greater peace and am closer to God when I am not “trying to be a contemplative,” or trying to be anything special, but simply orienting my life fully and completely towards what seems to be required of a man like me at a time like this.

I am obscurely convinced that there is a need in the world for something I can provide and that there is a need for me to provide it. True, someone else can do it, God does not need me. But I feel He is asking me to provide it.

At the consecration of my Mass I suddenly thought of the words:
“If you love me, feed my sheep!”

The wonder of being brought, by God, around a corner to realize a new road is opening up, perhaps – which He alone knows. And that there is no way of traveling it but in Christ and with Him. This is joy and peace – whatever happens. The result does not matter. I have something to do for Him and, if I do that, everything else will follow. For the moment, it consists of prayer – thought – study, and above all, care to form the South American postulants as He brings them to Gethsemani.

Merton, January 23, 1958

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Posted by on January 13, 2013 in musings



a little lucidity

Fear of ignorance that comes from clinging to a stupid idea. Fear of ignorance that comes from submersion in the body, in surrendering to the need for comfort and consolation. Yet, at the same time, one must not fear the possibility of relative lucidity in all these things, provided they are understood. There is a little lucidity in love, a little lucidity in alcohol, a little lucidity in religion, but there is also the danger of being engulfed more or less easily in all of this. My great fear is then the fear of surrendering to sham lucidity and to the “one source” theory of lucidity – clinging to one kind of affirmation and excluding everything else – which means sinking back into ignorance and superstition. One of the worst sources of delusion is, of course, an exclusive attachment to supposed “logic” and reason. Worse still when the logic and reason are centered on what claims to be religious truth. This can be as deep a source of blindness as any in the world, sex included. One always has to distinguish and go beyond: one has to question reason in order to get to the deeper awareness of reality that is built into life itself. What I fear is living in such a way that life becomes opaque and one-sided.

Love this from Merton, on so many levels. This stirs up so many random connections.

The ignorance of clinging to a stupid idea. I have known this ignorance! How much of our spiritual search isn’t merely swinging from one stupid idea to another like so many dangling vines. Each one we hope will carry us hence, to some more meaningful perch, to some more meaningful tree. And in some of these trees we build ourselves forts with ramparts and then fill them with rules and self-imposed definitions demonstrating the superior nature of this perch over every other  one found in all the other trees of this considerable forest we call the world. Some of us grow old and die alone in our perched forts. But most of us swing away, eventually, on the next dangling carrot.

The ignorance coming from submersion in the body, surrendering to the need for comfort and consolation. This one I know too. How easily the pains of this chemoed body can suck me into their world and captivate, define me. How easily submerged, how easily defined by current discomforts, how easy to so submerge that life wholly becomes a quest for escape, God becomes only a means of removal, others a means of consolation in the midst of it.

How well I know of surrendering to sham lucidity – one source lucidity. Funny how that one source of lucidity always seems to be pocked with my own personal trademark, be it political or religious. The sham lucidity of saying, “We see” and then howling at the blindness all around us. Self-serving tribal thinking masquerading as humble insight we wish all others only had the sense to possess (though we could certainly teach them, poor souls).

The wisdom of seeing a little lucidity in love, in alcohol, in religion. What a grouping! Strains of the Preacher: “Be not righteous overmuch, nor wicked overmuch.” The truly wise man avoids all extremes – or as Franklin put it, “I am an extreme moderate.” In what odd and unexpected connections can light be found.

And the greatest delusion – the exclusive attachment to supposed “logic” and reason – worse still when centered on what claims to be religious truth. I majored in this one for a decade or two. John Piper’s book Think captures the delusion in penultimate fashion as he shapes a Jesus who talked and reasoned like any enlightened westerner or Greek philosopher. If only we can have the logical wits to follow him. In my former brand of religion, this amounted to detailed laws of correctly reading Scripture through logical lenses of command, example, necessary inference, laws of exclusion, inclusion, et al, ad nauseum. Opaque. One-sided. Flatlined.

Oh the joyous simplicity, oh elusive lucidity of knowing Christ, of knowing Life, of knowing Peace. Here. Now. This reality built into life itself, available and beckoning. Without the additives and preservatives of religious scruples and prescriptions, of political maneuverings and calculations. How joyous to simply be at home within one’s own skin, within one’s own bones, however frail they be. And then, looking out, with Jefferson, to realize that “there is not a sprig of grass that grows uninteresting to me.”

Full enlightenment? I’ll leave that to the spiritual masters both real and self-imagined. I’ll be quite happy with just a little lucidity.

Sunrise Over Smith Point by Robert Lewis


Posted by on July 9, 2012 in musings


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as night descends

Headed into the chemo cave for the fifth time.

Trying to remember life before chemo and finding I really can’t. This last round after being deaccessed from the pump after the usual 46 hours, I could have sworn I was still hearing its snap, snap, snap right on through the weekend.

I’ve been amazed at how well timed various readings are that come before me on these chemo days.

Merton was once again right on time this morning with an entry entitled “As Night Descends.” So apropos for these chemo weeks with their sleepiness, their fading. It’s a night I must allow myself to sink into. His musing dates back to May, 1965. Vietnam, war, the bomb, protests, et al. It’s a good word for me in political and personal and even ecclesiastical connections. Perhaps it just might be good timing for a few of you today in your own settings:

I sweep. I spread a blanket in the sun. I cut grass behind the cabin. Soon I will bring the blanket in again and make the bed. The sun is overclouded. Perhaps there will be rain. A bell rings in the monastery. A tractor growls in the valley. Soon I will cut bread, eat supper, say psalms, sit in the back room as the sun sets, as the birds sing outside the window, as silence descends on the valley, as night descends.

As night descends on a nation intent upon ruin, upon destruction, blind, deaf to protest, crafty, powerful, unintelligent. It is necessary, to be not part of this, to be in the exile of silence, to be, in a manner of speaking, a political prisoner. No matter where in the world he may be, no matter what may be his power of protest, or his means of expression, the poet finds himself ultimately where I am. Alone, silent, with the obligation of being very careful not to say what he does not mean, not to let himself be persuaded to say merely what another wants him to say, not to say what his own past work has led others to expect him to say.

The poet has to be free from everyone else, and first of all from himself, because it is through this “self” that he is captured by others. Freedom is found under the dark tree that springs up in the center of the night and of silence, the paradise tree, the axis mundi, which is also the cross.

Good words. Sustaining words for me as I enter the cave, and find rest in its shadows.

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Posted by on June 18, 2012 in musings, Suffering


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