Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - June 30

The Cocoon Between What Crawls and What Flies

The sun, the clear morning, the quiet, the barely born butterfly from the cocoon under the bench.

Solitude—when you get saturated with silence and landscape, then you need an interior work, psalms, scripture, meditation. But first the saturation. How much of this is simply restoration of one’s normal human balance?

Like waking up, like convalescence after an illness. My life here in solitude is most real because it is most simple. In the monastery it is also real and simple, at least in the novitiate. The more I reach out into “the world,” the less simplicity, the more sickness. Our society is gravely ill[1]. This is said so often and I have said it so often, and saying it doesn’t seem to help. Knowing it does not seem to help. My concern has been probably sincere but in great part futile. I don’t want to turn off into desperation and negativism, but there has to be far greater reserve and caution and silence in my looking at the world and my attempts to help us all survive.

Identity. I can see now where the work is to be done. I have been coming here into solitude to find myself, and now I must also lose myself: not simply to rest in the calm, the peace, in the identity that is made up of my experienced relationship with nature in solitude. This is healthier than my “identity” as a writer or a monk, but it is still a false identity, although it has a temporary meaning and validity. It is the cocoon that masks the transition stage between what crawls and what flies.

June 3 and 4, 1963, IV.326-28

[1] And, to think, this was written in 1963. How much sicker is it now?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - June 29

The Sacrifice of Obedience

Gehorsamopfer—to offer obedience.

To offer oneself to God as a sacrifice of obedience in faith. This is the crucial point. Too much emphasis on one’s own truth, one’s own authentic freedom, and one forgets the limitations and restrictions of this “my own.” Tendency to take “my own” truth and freedom as unlimited, ultimate, “in my own case.” This is a total loss. The paradox that only God’s truth is ultimately my truth (there is no one truth for me, another for my neighbor, another for God) and only God’s will is my freedom. When they appear to be opposed, am I acting freely?

“Blessed are the pure in heart who leave everything to God now as they did before they ever existed” (Meister Eckhart). This is what I have to get back to. It is coming to the surface again. As Eckhart was my life raft in the hospital, so now also he seems the best link to restore continuity: my obedience to God begetting His love in me (which has never stopped!).

June 30, 1966, VI.91-92

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - June 28

Living the Gospel

Question: (1) Can the Gospel commitment, in Gospel terms, be considered enough, or must it be translated also into concrete, contemporary social terms? (2) Is my commitment by religious vows enough, or must it be clarified by a further, more concrete commitment (a) to a monastic policy and (b) to a social viewpoint for myself and the other monks? (3) Are the commitments of the Church and the Order such today that they necessarily involve one in a “reactionary” social situation? Or is it faith that to follow the Church even in politics necessarily implies going in the direction of justice and truth, despite appearances to the contrary? Or is this question absurd? What are the Church’s politics exactly?

A commitment: to the point at least of reading and studying fully these questions, not speculatively, but in order to form my conscience and take such practical actions as I can.

This requires a certain perspective, which necessarily implies a withdrawal “to see better,” a stepping back from the machinery of daily monastic life, solitude for study and thought, and more individual development. Party of my vocation!

To discover all the social implications of the Gospel not by studying them but by living them, and to unite myself explicitly with those who foresee and work for a social order—a transformation of the world—according to these principles: primacy of the person (hence, justice, liberty, against slavery, peace, control of technology, etc.). Primacy of wisdom and love (hence, against materialism, hedonism, pragmatism, etc.).

June 5 and 6, 1960, IV.8-9

Monday, June 27, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - June 27

The Public Vice of War

Comparing the tracts on patience by Tertullian and St. Cyprian. I think I prefer Tertullian—whom Cyprian, in any case, irritated. There is a great vigor in Tertullian’s thought, and a greater, more austere, genius in his style. The struggle for him was far greater and his understanding was deeper. Here was a violent man who realized he had to take with complete seriousness the command of Christ to abandon violence. And who saw that it was naturally impossible. When Tertullian reduces all sin to a root of impatience with God, he is not being arbitrary. What he says is very deep. We need to recover these perspectives.

Laza delVasto has seen a deep connection between play and war. Our society, totally devoted to one (everything is a game), necessarily ends in the other. Play is aimless, and multiplies obstacles so that the “aim,” which does not exist, may not be obtained by the other player. Getting a ball in a hole.

“War is the great public vice that insists on playing with the blood of men.”

War is not caused by hunger or by need. It is the powerful and the rich who make war. The beauty of the grave: it demands a suppression of conscience, and this is done as a matter of “sacrifice” and “duty.” To sacrifice conscience, and the “let go” and kill for the exaltation of one’s nation, made with the need for systematic irresponsibility. Reproach them for this, refuse them their outlet, and they will slaughter you.

June 4 and 5, 1962, IV.223-24

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Favorite Drive

It's easy to miss. Off U. S. 1, County Road 15 wanders along the Banana River and is not designed for speeders. But, some time in the late summer of 1999, knowing how much Daddy enjoyed that drive, we laid a towel on his seat in case he had an accident, and crawled along 15, Daddy's artist heart cherishing the attractiveness of our favorite riverside homes and glorying in the rich pinks and oranges of the sunset. I tried to remember every detail because I knew it might be and, as it turns out, was our last time taking that drive.

A Year With Thomas Merton - June 26

Living in the Only Real City in America

(Thomas Merton becomes an American citizen on June 26, 1951)

Octave of Corpus Christi. Once again, the cloister is paved with flowers, the sanctuary white-hot under the floodlights concealed behind the pillars, high in the ceiling: and you look up at the monstrance through a cloud of hot, sweet smoke from the censer, and the sweat runs down into your eyes! I feel as though I had never been anywhere in the world except Gethsemani—as if there were no other place in the world where I had ever really lived. I do not say I love Gethsemani in spite of the heat, or because of the heat. I love Gethsemani: that means burning days and nights in summer, with the sun beating down on the metal roof and the psalms pulsing exultantly through the airless choir while row upon row of us, a hundred and forty singers, sway forward and bow down. And the clouds of smoke go up to God in the sanctuary, and the novices get thin and go home forever.

June 1952, II.471