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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the great work of sunrise

Photo by Grace Gambrell

I have seen a queen of France with 18 million livres of diamonds on her person, but I declare that all the charms of her face and figure added to all the glitter of her jewels did not impress me as much as that little shrub right there. Now your mother always said that I never delighted enough in the mundane, but now I find that if I look at even the smallest thing my imagination begins to roam the milky way!
~ John Adams in the HBO miniseries

From Mr. Merton. Read this today. I love this man and his heart. Being dead he still speaks, and speaks so well. Consider this an addendum to the last Way havering on having a slower gait. How little we observe the great work of sunrise, as we obsessively engage in our own imagined “great work.” How observing the great work of sunrise equips and empowers us for the truly great work of observing and embracing the smaller things that we are called to see and do.

Most of us imagine ourselves and aspire to be magisters – doers of great things, the great ones, the trendsetters, the proverbial movers and shakers making a name for ourselves (all to His glory, of course, and for the greater good). How few are sensible to the fact that we are all only ministers – doers of little things. Most embarking on the path of ministry sadly seek to be magistrates more than ministers, exercising control, issuing decrees, enforcing dogmas, rather than ministers armed only with an invisible bowl and towel and in search of dirty feet – as well as offering their own.

But enough from me. Hear Merton.

The great work of sunrise again today.

The awful solemnity of it. The sacredness. Unbearable without prayer and worship. I mean unbearable if you really put everything else aside and see what is happening! Many, no doubt, are vaguely aware that it is dawn, but they are protected from the solemnity of it by the neutralizing worship of their own society, their own world, in which the sun no longer rises and sets.

Sense of importance, the urgency of seeing, fully aware, experiencing what is here: not what is given by men, by society, but what is given by God and hidden by (even monastic) society. Clear realization that I must begin with these first elements. That it is absurd to inquire after my function in the world, or whether I have one, as long as I am not first of all alive and awake. And if that, and no more, is my job (for it is certainly every man’s job), then I am grateful for it. The vanity of all false missions, when no one is sent. All the universal outcry of people who have not been told to cry out, but who are driven to this noise by their fear, their lack of what is right in front of their noses.

Good tonic indeed.

Oh to see like this as a way of life…

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Posted by on June 16, 2012 in musings


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Oh to Write, to Be…

The work of writing can be for me, or very close to, the simple job of being: by creative reflection and awareness to help life itself live in me, to give its esse an existant, or to find a place, rather, in esse by action, intelligence and love. For to write is to love: it is to inquire and to praise, to confess and to appeal. This testimony of love remains necessary. Not to reassure myself that I am (“I write, therefore I am”), but simply to pay my debt to life, to the world, to other men. To speak out with an open heart and say what seems to me to have meaning. The bad writing I have done has all been authoritarian, the declarartion of musts, and the announcement of punishments. Bad because it implies a lack of love, good insofar as there may yet have been some love in it. The best stuff has been more straight confession and witness.  ~ Merton

Read this reflection by Merton this morning.

I’m not a writer, but I how I love to do it.

When I was more or less shoved into this world of blogging a few years back, I really had no idea how to proceed in blogland. Seemed like such hubris, such chutzpah, to presume to frame words and put them out here.

Initially attempting some theological musings, I was struck by how quickly some were ready to pounce on any perceived threat to their existing thought paradigms, how ready some were to impugn all sorts of motives, to immediately slip into snarky mode and then when called on it retort “ad hominem!”

Bad writing indeed. A grievous business under the sun. Judgment. Punishment. Repeated declarations of musts.

I’ve done far too much of that in the course of my life.

While they still pop up now and then, God bless them, they seem to be trolling and finding targets elsewhere, while my writing has been nudged to more personal reflections with theological threads woven in. It’s just me, and really for me, with who knows who looking over my shoulder, and with divine ways and means embedded in the substance of me occasionally surfacing before me as I write.

I’ve never journaled before (crazy way to start!). But I’ve always loved words. Always.

On a human level I have to credit my tenth grade English teacher. Can’t remember her name but can see her face. She empowered me, connecting words and thought with speaking and writing, and called forth what she saw in me. Still remember when she held up our first batch of paragraphs on a crisp September morning. She said there were some good efforts, some promise, but there was one paragraph submitted that truly struck her as having solid potential. Sitting at the back, unknown, totally nerdy, I froze and then slowly slid down in my chair as she read my paragraph to the class with total delight on her face. The thirty other students all looked at each other to see who had written it. I stared straight ahead. And then she walked toward me with it, handed it to me, her face beaming. The other students looked at me and then each other with a “Huh. Who’s he? Who cares?” look. Didn’t really make any friends as a result – I just wasn’t part of the in-crowd, and was just fine with that. But fewer moments have meant more or been more significant.

And so I write, paying my debt to my teacher, “to life, to the world, to other men” in the simple ongoing pursuit of being.

Oh word…


Posted by on April 28, 2012 in musings


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Merton in the Morning

From last Tuesday, just before my latest surgery…

Cool, Spring air, a pink eastern horizon in which scattered clouds play. My first outdoor morning devotions since last fall.


How do I even summarize the life breathed into me in those moments?

Under creation’s gaze, I read, among other things, these thoughts from Thomas Merton, written a year before I was born (1958):

In Louisville I bought marvelous books for a few pennies – including The Family of Man for fifty cents. All those fabulous pictures. And again, no refinements and no explanations are necessary! How scandalized some would be if I said that this whole book is to me a picture of Christ, and yet that is the Truth. There, there is Christ in my own Kind, my own Kind – Kind, which means “likeness” and which means “love” and which means “child.” Mankind. Like one another, the dear “Kind” of sinners united and embraced in only one heart, in only one Kindness, which is the Heart and Kindness of Christ. I do not look for sin in you, Mankind. I do not see sin in you anymore today (though we are all sinners). There is something too real to allow sin any longer to seem important, to seem to exist, for it has been swallowed up, it has been destroyed, it is gone, and there is only the great secret between us that we are all one Kind, and what matters is not what this or that one has committed in his heart, separate from the others, but the love that brings him back to all the others in the one Christ, and this love is not our love but the Divine Bridegroom.

As I read these words aloud, standing in my front yard, a car passes. A child crosses the street and stands curbside, waiting for the morning school bus. A neighbor rolls his trash cans to the street. For one brief moment, my heart is brim full of divine epiphany of the oneness of humanity in the Cosmic Christ. The Christ who is “through all, with all and in you all” and who “holds all things together by the Word of his power” ultimately connecting us all in ways perhaps most of us don’t even fathom or realize on any practical level. Moving from other to one another. Common Christ, common Humanity. “And did not One make us all?” To see the reality of Christ as the ultimate common denominator of all humanity. To see His face, His image in the face and heart and soul of every person we encounter, a reality just waiting to be more fully realized, activated. Waiting to bud, to bloom, to explode with vibrant life. Imagine “evangelism” through this lens – as acting on and activating the Reality of the Incarnation already all around us, among us, in us.

No Jew or Gentile. No male or female. No barbarian or Scythian (the barbarian’s barbarian aka one savagely uncouth). No slave or free. Only Christ. Fill in our categories, our dividers, our distinctives. Imagine. Imagine not being so obsessed with sin in the other, imagine sin not being the deciding factor through which we see and evaluate each other. Imagine something far more Real filling our souls, our senses. Imagine living in the Reality that we are all indeed only one Kind, flowing in from East and West to share a table with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob – with only those who reject this common Humanity in Christ (“sons of the kingdom”) shut out – which generally means those thinking themselves closest to God (the “elect,” the “insiders”), the most religious, and often the most Bible-drenched.

For the briefest of moments I didn’t just imagine it. I saw it. I was bathed in it. It overwhelmed me, tears flowing, the air filling me.

The bare-branched bush before the house has suddenly exploded with green!

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Posted by on April 14, 2012 in musings


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