Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - September 29

I Speak Out as One Not Wise

The "Letter to Pablo Antonio Cuadra Concerning Giants" that I wrote last week is bitter and unjust. It lacks perspective. It cannot do much good to anyone in its present shape, and yet I have mailed it off to him and it may get published (though only in Nicaragua) before I have time to make any serious changes.

How did it get to be so violent and unfair?

The root is my own fear, my own desperate desire to survive even if only as a voice uttering an angry protest, while the waters of death close over the whole continent.

Why am I so willing to believe that the country will be destroyed? It is certainly possible, and in some sense it may even be likely. But this is a case where, in spite of evidence, one must continue to hope. One must not give in to defeatism and despair, just as one must hope for life in a mortal illness which has been declared incurable.

This is the point. This weakness and petulancy rooted in egoism, and which I have in common with other intellectuals in the country. Even after years in the monastery I have not toughened up and got the kind of fiber that is bred only in humility and self-forgetfulness. Or rather, though I had begun to get it, this writing job and my awareness of myself as a personage with definite opinions and with a voice has kept me sensitive and afraid on a level on which most monks long ago became indifferent. Yet also it is not good to be indifferent to the fate of the world on a simply human level.

So I am concerned, humanly, politically, yet not wisely.

September 19, 1961, IV.162-63

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - September 28

Coming Home to the Monastery

Coming back from the hospital to the monastery (last evening) was never better. Sense of recovery, of returning to something good and sane, principally the quiet here.

Coming home--cool evening, grey sky, dark hills. I felt again, once more, a renewal of the first intuition, the awareness of belonging where these rocky hills are, that I belong to this parcel of land with pine trees and woods and fields, and that this is my place.

Bright, cool afternoon. Lavender flowers on the soybeans in the field below the novitiate. As I came into the woods a covey of young quail started up out of the long grass and I was very happy--for I had worried about them. I hope the hunters keep away from there this fall.

A very fine, penetrating essay by Ivan Illich on missionary poverty, not clinging to one's own culture and background. I must rethink all this in the light of my own vocation, for I have not been good at that kind of poverty. On the other hand, my studies, etc., are useful for the community and for what I write. But I must be careful to distinguish where I am "not poor." My greatest failures are perhaps in poverty.

A cool wind moves all the leaves in the forest and blows joyously and freely all through the house.

September 6, 1962, IV.244-45

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - September 27

What a September Day Should Be

Czeslaw Milosz was here yesterday. Same face as on the new French book (Une Autre Europe) but considerably aged. I am enthusiastic about the Polish poets he has gathered into an anthology. A great deal of irony, depth, sophistication, intelligence, and compassion. This seems to me to be very real and human. I react to it as I do to most Latin American verse: as something belonging to my world. (I can hardly say this for most American or English poetry except Stevie Smith and Peter Levi.)

Everything that a September day should be--brilliant blue sky, kind sun, cool wind in the pines. But I have to wear white gloves because I cannot go near the woods without getting more poison ivy. I seem to have become extraordinarily sensitive, and if I am within fifteen or twenty or thirty feet of it, I seem to get more. On my face, too, but I shall go with face bare. If necessary I shall make myself a mask out of a little bag with holes in it and come into solitude looking sinister like a Ku Kluxer. Tiny, delicate fishbones of clouds in the sky. Harps of sound in the sweet trees. Long shadows on the grass. The distant bottomland flat and level and brown, ploughed and harrowed. The hills.

September 10 and 12, 1964, V.142-43

Monday, September 26, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - September 26

Writing to Think and Live and Pray

It is a bright afternoon: what am I going to do? I am going to work with my mind and with my pen, while the sky is clear, and while the soft white clouds are small and sharply defined in it. I am not going to bury myself in books and note-taking. I am not going to lose myself in this jungle and come out drunk and bewildered, feeling that bewilderment is a sign that I have done something. I am not going to write as one driven by compulsions but freely, because I am a writer, and because for me to write is to think and live and also, in some degree, even to pray.

This time is given to me by God that I may live in it. It is not given to make something out of it, but given me to be stored away in eternity as my own.

But for this afternoon to be my own in eternity, it must be my own this afternoon, and I must possess myself in it, not be possessed by books and by ideas not my own, and by a compulsion to produce what nobody needs. But simply to glorify God by accepting His gift and His work. To work for Him is to work that I myself may live.

How else shall I study Boris Pasternak, whose central idea is the sacredness of life?

September 27, 1958, III.219

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - September 25

Just Another Day

Today is the anniversary of the death of the holy staretz Sylvan, at
St. Panteleimon on Mount Athos--September 11, 1938. Or rather, on their calendar, September 25. But this sudden confusion of perspectives makes me wonder about all days. Who says this is September 11th? Well, we do. We have elected to call this September 11th. Actually it is just a "day." A rainy, grey one, with crows busy over the woods there and a cold wind in the grasses and blue jays behind me by the church. Rare cars on the road, going where? We have chosen to call this a "day." In order to imitate God's day on which everything is already complete, or in order to imagine that our days are leading somewhere? Like that car that passed going south toward the distillery. (But will it turn either right or left before reaching the distillery? Where then? As if anyone had to know. If we do not assume it is known by someone, we will grow anxious.) Staretz Sylvan did not want to die in the infirmary because they would put him in a room with a clock, which would disturb his prayer. September 11, 1960, IV.44-45

A Year With Thomas Merton - September 24

Only Faith Is to Be Taken Seriously

A magnificent line from Karl Barth: "Everyone who has to contend with unbelief should be advised that he ought not to take his own unbelief too seriously. Only faith is to be taken seriously, and if we have faith as a grain of mustard seed, that suffices for the devil to have lost his game (
Dogmatics in Outline)." What stupendous implications in that!

Always the old trouble, that the devil and our nature try to persuade us that, before we can begin to believe, we must be perfect in everything. Faith is not important as it is "in us." Our faith is "in God," and with even a very little of it, God is in us. "To believe is the freedom to trust in Him quite along" (and to be independent of any other reliance) and to rely on Him in everything that concerns us.

September 30, 1963, V.20

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - September 23

Holiness and the Daily Round

Last night, at moonrise (the moon is full) a doe was out in the field again. She has become quite used to me. I walked about saying Compline in front of the hermitage and she was not disturbed, even came down the field towards me! I only hope this tameness is wisely confined to one association: with the white hermitage and the monk in black and white, without a rifle. There is no question that I really feel I am living a saner and better life in the hermitage. I would not exchange this for anything, even though for four days a snake was living in the jakes. (I finally persuaded him to go elsewhere, I hope!) In spite of the hornets, the noise of the machines in the field, the dogs and hunters, etc. All this is plain ordinary reality without any need of ideology or explanation. It is. That is enough. In the monastery everything has to be justified because everything is very seriously under question. Here only I am under question, and it is right for me to face the doubt which is my own empirical self, myself as question, knowing that in myself I also have Christ as answer. For the rest--I love the night silence, the early meditation and the moon, the reading and the breakfast coffee (or good tea!), sawing wood after sunrise, washing up, tired, as the sun begins to grow warm and the Atlanta plane goes over. Afternoon meditation slow--then work on the book (Conjectures)--office in the late afternoon, quiet supper, reading, walking, looking at the hills, the silence, the moon, the does, darkness, prayer, bed.

September 10, 1965, V.292-93

A Year With Thomas Merton - September 22

Karl Barth's Dream

Karl Barth had a dream about Mozart. (Mozart a Catholic and Barth is piqued by the fact that Mozart did not like Protestantism, for he said it was "all in the head" and that they didn't know the meaning of Agnus Dei qui tollis peccata mundi.) Well, Barth dreamt he had to "examine" Mozart in Dogma. He wanted to make it as favorable as possible, and in his questions he alluded pointedly to Mozart's "Masses." But Mozart did not answer a word.

I am tempted to write Barth a letter about his moving dream, which of course concerns his own salvation.

He says that for years he has played Mozart every morning before going to work on dogma himself. (Just think! Dogma is his daily work!!)

The Mozart in himself is perhaps in some way the better, hidden, sophianic fact that grasps the "center" of cosmic music and is saved by love (yes, Eros!). The other, the theologian, is seemingly more occupied with love, but it is a stern, actually more cerebral, agape ... a love that is not in us, only in God.

I remember my own dream about "Protestants." (They are perhaps my aggressive side.)

Barth seeks perhaps to be saved by the Mozart in him.

September 22, 1960, IV.49-50

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - September 21

The Slighter Gestures of Dissent

"For what, in that world of gigantic horror, was tolerable except the slighter gestures of dissent?" So says E. M. Forster, discussing his satisfaction on reading the early T. S. Eliot during World War I.

We tend to think massive protest is all that is valid today. But the massive is also manipulated and doctored. It is false. The genuine dissent remains individual. At least that is my option. In my view it is saner and nobler to take the kind of view E. M. Forster takes, not line up with the manipulated group. But to the group that looks like defeat. It looks like futility.

What is likely to be wrong is the failure of action. This kind of dissent may never be anything but words, attitudes, ideas.

On the other side, what seems to be "action" on the mass scale may be nothing more than a parade--or an organized disaster. A big, blown-up expression of a puny idea which, by its very emptiness, leads to a cataclysm of destructiveness. This is the gigantic horror against which even the slightest idea is of great value.

September 10, 1960, IV.44

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - September 20

Love Best Shown by Deeds

Yesterday, having received a note from Ethel Kennedy (wife of the attorney general and sister-in-law of the president), I wrote her an explicit statement of objection to the resumption of nuclear testing. At least this much I can do. Yet there is something very unsatisfactory, something not quite true, about this whole moral question. This idea that it is important to take a "stand" as an individual. As if by mere gestures and statements one could satisfy conscience. And as if the satisfaction of one's conscience (emphasis on
satisfaction) was the great thing. It can become a mere substitute for responsibility and for love. Mao Tse Tung said there would be no love until the Revolution had triumphed. There is a grain of truth in this--in this very great and misleading lie. Yet that one grain is what I lack. Confucius said: "The higher type of man is not like a vessel which is designed for some special use." He was wiser than we monks are.

September 5, 1961, IV.158

A Year With Thomas Merton - September 18

Love Is Our Measure

The measure of our identity, of our being (the two are the same), is the amount of our love for God. The more we love earthly things, reputation, importance, pleasures, ease, and success, the less we love God. Our identity is dissipated among things that have no value, and we are drowned and
die in trying to live in the material things we would like to possess, or in the projects we would like to complete to objectify the work of our own wills. Then, when we come to die, we find we have squandered all our love (that is, our being) on things of nothingness, and that we are nothing, we are death. But if we have loved Him, and lost ourselves in Him, we find ourselves in Him, and live forever in joy.

But tribulation detaches us from the things of nothingness in which we spend ourselves and die. Therefore, tribulation gives us life, and we love it, not out of love for death, but out of love for life.

Let me then withdraw all my love from scattered, vain things--the desire to be read and praised as a writer, or to be a successful teacher, praised by my students, or to live in ease in some beautiful place--and place it all in Thee, where it will take root and live, instead of being spent in barrenness.

My life is measured by my love of God, and that, in turn, is measured by my love for the least of His children. And that love is not an abstract benevolence: it must mean sharing their tribulation.

September 3, 1941, I.398-99

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - September 19

The Interminable Beauty of Human Beings

In the pile of things I have lying around waiting to be read, I picked out today the mimeographed conference by
Jacques Maritain (in December 1964) to the Little Brothers of Jesus on their vocation. Jacques emphasizes the microsignes--the microsigns--of a Christian love that acts without awareness and is received without special or detailed awareness--the human and unconscious "aura" of a contemplative love that is simply there. How does one dare to undertake this? This idea of presence in and to the world is fundamental: "There are no longer walls, but the demands of a constantly purified love for one's fellow being which protects and shelters their contemplation of love." The importance of a purely immanent activity (the contemplative does not do nothing). This can be a basis for an incomparably deep understanding of another's suffering. "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." September 20, 1966, VI.137-38

A Year With Thomas Merton - September 17

Discovering America

Last time I was in town--we had to drop something at the G.E. plant--Appliance Park. We came at the enormous place from the wrong side and had to drive miles all around it. Surrounded by open fields with nothing whatever in them, not even thistles, marked "Property of General Electric. No Trespassing." The buildings were huge and go on forever and ever, out in the midst of their own wilderness. Stopped by guards, we signed in at the appropriate gate and promptly got lost in the maze of empty streets between the buildings. Finally came out right. What struck me most was the immense seriousness of the place--as if at last I had found what America takes seriously. Not churches, not libraries. Not even movies, but THIS! This is it. The manufacture of refrigerators, of washing machines, of tape recorders, of light fixtures. This is the real thing.
This is America.

September 26, 1958, III.218-19

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - September 16

A Child and His Candy

I fear the ignorance and power of the United States. And the fact that it has quite suddenly become one of the most decadent societies on the face of the earth. The body of a great, dead, candied child. Yet not dead: full of immense, uncontrolled power. Crazy.

If somebody doesn't understand the United States pretty soon--and communicate that understanding to the United States--the results will be terrible. It is no accident that the United States endowed the world with the Bomb.

The mixture of immaturity, size, apparent indulgence and depravity, with occasional spasms of guilt, power, self-hate, pugnacity, lapsing into wildness and then apathy, hopped up and wild-eyed, inarticulate and wanting to be popular. You need a doctor, Uncle!

The exasperation of the other nations of the world who know the United States thinks them jealous--for what they don't want and yet what fascinates them. Exasperation that such fools should be momentarily kings of the world. Exasperation at them for missing their great chance--this everyone finds unforgivable, including America itself. And yet what held the United States back was a spasm of that vestigial organ called conscience. Unfortunately not a sufficiently educated conscience. The conscience of a ten-year-old boy, unsure of his parents' standards--not knowing where approval or disapproval might come from!

September 9, 1961, IV.160-61

Monday, September 19, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - September 14

And Now for Something a Little Different

Yesterday was a fabulous day. Stephen Spender's wife, Natasha, blew in with a girl from the Coast, Margot Dennis--driving across the continent. They stayed for High Mass and spent most of the day here. At first we were very decorous and intelligent walking up and down the front avenue talking about Zen, Freud, music, John of the Cross, and the Dark Night of the Soul. Then it went down a notch, became more familiar, and amusing, as we went out to St. Bernard's lake and ate sandwiches and fruitcake and talked about monasteries and abbots, bishops and popes, Corn Island, Mexico, God knows what. This was very charming and maybe I began to be less scared. Finally we went to Dom Frederic's lake and went swimming, which was the most enjoyable of all. Margot, once dipped into the water, became completely transformed into a Naiad-like creature, smiling a primitive smile through hanging wet hair. We sunbathed a bit, then finally they trundled off to Cincinnati with their immense load of luggage.

It is hard to remember when I have ever so completely enjoyed anything. Of course, it had a devastating effect in the form of distractions, but I don't care. Except of course I had better make a mental note to be very careful in the future when I am going to see more of women with intelligence. I am obviously utterly starved for that kind of conversation. Everything was really as it ought to be--except that the swimming was an act of disobedience, which may or may not be justified by appeal to a higher rule. I leave that to the mercy of God.

September 6, 1958, III.326

A Year With Thomas Merton - September 15

Just This

This beautiful day, with the quiet sun shining on the bronze paint of the Garden Virgin and on the marigolds and the weeds and the hills. Crickets everywhere. Nothing moving in the garden but the wind, a butterfly, and my pen.

Fair day of recollection in the new novitiate chapel, and I was happy in it and accepted its imperfections, and accepted everything. That is all that is needed. When you accept what you have, you see all you have received is more than enough and you are overwhelmed. I desire other things because I fear to be content with what I have--I fear it is inglorious. In the last few days I have seen what matters is to be humble enough to admit I am content with just this. Leave the rest to God.

September 7, 1958, III.216

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - September 13

Returning to the World

In a sense, a very true and salutary sense, coming to the hermitage has been a "return to the world," not a return to the cities, but a return to direct and humble contact with God's world, His creation, the world of poor men who work. Andy Boone is more physically my neighbor than the monastery. It is his sawmill I hear, not the monastery machines. His rooster crows in my morning, his cows low in the evening.
I do not have the official "space"--sanctified, juridically defined, hedged in with elaborate customs--of the monastery as my milieu. To be out of that is a great blessing. It is a space rich with delusions and with the tyranny of willful fabrication. My space is the world created and redeemed by God. God is in this true world, not "only" and restrictively a prisoner in the monastery. It is crucially important for the monastery to abandon the myth of itself as a purely sacred space--it is a disaster for its real "sacredness." Curiously, the move to the hermitage is getting out in rumors. Though the situation is partly understood and partly not, it is interpreted with shock as my "leaving the monastery." This is true. The general reproach is then that I am not clinging, in spite of reason, grace and everything else, to something God no longer wills for me--clinging to it just because society expects me to do so! My life is a salutary scandal, and that is another proof of the reality of my vocation, I believe. Here I see my task is to get rid of the last vestiges of a pharisaical division between the sacred and the secular, to see that the whole world is reconciled to God in Christ.

September 11, 1965, V.293-94

A Year With Thomas Merton - September 12

Prayer to the Martyr of My French Hometown

Through the merits of thy martyr, O Lord, through thy martyr Saint Antonin in whose town I knew Thee, whose sanctuary I did not enter, though, as a child--through the great merit of thy ancient martyr, O Lord, bring me to the fullness of truth, to a great love and union with the truth, to a great fortitude with which to embrace and suffer reality, which is, in fact, my joy.

Thy martyr, O Christ, has a deep green river, and a limestone bridge of unequal arches, reflected in the water.

Thy martyr, O Christ, has cliffs and woods and, as I understand, he no longer has a train.

Sometimes, O Lord, I pray best to the saints and best of all to this one, O my Lord, this martyr who had a clarinet, a gramophone (I was reproved for putting my head in the horn). The people of thy town, O Lord! they have not changed. The Germans probably did not come. Wine barrels, berets, tabliers, l'accent du Midi, singing in the stinking dark streets, walking quietly, walking slowly.

Thy martyr's town, O Lord, walks at the pace of ox carts.

Some charitable, some uncharitable, all of the houses smell of the same kind of cooking and of rabbits stewed in wine. How could I forget the people of thy martyr, laughing at table?

Or the dark-skinned girl at the Hôtel L'Enfant who told me: "Arnold Bennett slept here."

September 2, 1956, III.79

Saturday, September 17, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - September 11

Seeing Deerness

Magenta mist outside the windows. A cock crows over at Boone's. Last evening, when the moon was rising, saw the warm, burning, soft red of a doe in the field. It was still light enough, so I got the field glasses and watched her. Presently a stag came out, then I saw a second doe and, briefly, another stag. They were not afraid. Looked at me from time to time. I watched their beautiful running, grazing. Everything, every movement, was completely lovely, but there is a kind of gaucheness about them sometimes that makes them even lovelier. The thing that struck me most: one sees, looking at them directly in movement, just what the cave painters saw--something that I have never seen in a photograph. It is an awe-inspiring thing--the Mantu or "spirit" shown in the running of the deer, the "deerness" that sums up everything and is saved and marvelous. A contemplative intuition! Yet perfectly ordinary, everyday seeing. The deer reveals to me something essential in myself! Something beyond the trivialities of my everyday being and my individuality. The stag is much darker, a mouse grey or rather a warm grey-brown, like a flying squirrel. I could sense the softness of their coat and longed to touch them.

September 6, 1965, V.291

A Year With Thomas Merton - September 10

Clarity and Redemption

How much I need clarity. I live in great darkness and weakness, occasionally getting some smell of the fresh air where light is outside my cellar.
The center of the problem: my own pride, the pride of others, the pride of my monastery. I enter into dialogue with the pride of others, and it is my own pride that speaks. Hence I have to see their pride and not my own. Fury after Prime, or brief spasm of it, resentment, clearly seen. And the realization that the whole thing can someday break off like a cliff and fall into the sea, if I don't learn to not identify myself with my own angry, righteous and spiteful image. Moving words of Karl Barth preached on Good Friday, 1948, in Hungary at Debrecen, the great Calvinist center: "For in His meekness, which we remember today, He achieved the mightiest of all deeds ever fulfilled on earth. In His own person He restored and re-established the violated law of God and the shattered law of man. In this meekness the grace of God appeared in His person, and the obedient man, at peace with God and in whom God has pleasure, was revealed. In this meekness of His, Jesus Christ, nailed to the cross as a criminal, created order in the realm of creation, the order in which man can live eternally as the redeemed, converted child of God" (Against the Stream). September 18 and 23, 1960, IV.50-51

Friday, September 16, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - September 9

To Absorb, to Digest, to Remember

Heavy rain after a long dry spell. (I think perhaps I register all the rain in this book--my journal--solicitude for rain and freshness, as if dying in a desert.

Sorrow. Sorrow for sin. No more fooling about this sorrow in silence. Mourning. Grief.

Importance of being able to rethink thoughts that were fundamental to men of other ages, or fundamental to men in other countries. For me, especially: contemporary Latin America--Greek Patristic period--Mt. Athos--Confucian China--T'ang dynasty--Pre-Socratic Greece. Despair of ever beginning to know and understand, to communicate with these pasts and these distances, yet sense of obligation to do so, to live them and combine them in myself, to absorb, to digest, to "remember." Memoria. Have not yet begun. How will I ever begin to appreciate their problems, reformulate the questions they tried to answer? Is it even necessary? Is it sane? For me it is an expression of love for man and for God. An expression without which my contemplative life would be useless.

And to share this with my own contemporaries.

September 8 and 9, 1960, IV.42-43

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - September 8

The Need for New Directions

I believe that I have the right and the duty to try to go on to a more pure and simple and primitive form of life. I believe that I have the right to appeal to a higher superior for permission to make this trial. I can ask and wait and see what happens. On the one hand, I have to be really sincere about looking for a simpler, poorer, more solitary life, more abandoned to Providence. On the other hand, there are all the things that enter into this and spoil this: desire of liberty, desire to be out from under a stupid form of authority, desire to travel--to go to a more beautiful and primitive country. All these things are there, unfortunately, and they are strong.

The one thing necessary is a true interior and spiritual life, true growth, on my own, in depth in a new direction. Whatever new direction god opens up for me. My job is to press forward, to grow interiorly, to pray, to break away from attachments and to defy fears, to grow in faith, which has its own solitude, to seek an entirely new perspective and new dimension in my life. To open up new horizons at any cost. To desire this and let the Holy Spirit take care of the rest. But really to desire this and work for it.

September 21 and 22, 1959, III.331

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - September 7

God's Lucid Afternoon

Out here in the woods I can think of nothing except God, and it is not so much that I think of Him either. I am as aware of Him as of the sun and the clouds and the blue sky and the thin cedar trees.

Engulfed in the simple lucid actuality which is the afternoon: I mean God's afternoon, this sacramental moment of time when the shadows will get longer and longer, and one small bird sings quietly in the cedars, and one car goes by in the remote distance and the oak leaves move in the wind.

High up in the summer sky I watch the silent flight of a vulture, and the day goes by in prayer. This solitude confirms my call to solitude. The more I am in it, the more I love it. One day it will possess me entirely and no man will ever see me again.

September 15, 1952, III.16

A Year With Thomas Merton - September 6

Called into Silence

You have called me into this silence to be grateful for what silence I have, and to use it by desiring more.

Prayer should not only draw God down to us: it should lift us up to Him. It should not only rest in His reflection (which the soul, still resting in the house of the body, finds within itself). It should rise out of the body and seek to leave this life in order to rest in Him. This is true solitude, unimaginably different from any pressures of desires that make us heavy and anchor us to earth when we are immersed in the active life of a community.

Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory. Full of Thy mercy. And I who am nothing have been placed here in silence to behold it and to praise Thee!

September 3, 1952, III.15

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - September 5

Beauty's Holiness

You flowers and trees, you hills and streams, you fields, flocks and wild birds, you books, you poems, and you people, I am unutterably alone in the midst of you. The irrational hunger that sometimes gets into the depth of my will tries to swing my deepest self away from God and direct it to your love. I try to touch you with the deep fire that is in the center of my heart, but I cannot touch you without defiling both you and myself, and I am abashed, solitary and helpless, surrounded by a beauty that can never belong to me.
But this sadness generates within me an unspeakable reverence for the holiness of created things, for they are pure and perfect and they belong to God and are mirrors of His beauty. He is mirrored in all things like sunlight in clean water: but if I try to drink the light that is in the water, I only shatter the reflection. And so I live alone and chaste in the midst of the holy beauty of all created things, knowing that nothing I can see or hear or touch will ever belong to me, ashamed of my absurd need to give myself away to any one of them or to all of them. The silly, hopeless passion to give myself away to any beauty eats out my heart. It is an unworthy desire, but I cannot avoid it. It is in the hearts of us all, and we have to bear with it, suffer its demands with patience, until we die and go to heaven, where all things will belong to us in their highest causes.

A Year With Thomas Merton - September 4


A dream last night that was in many ways beautiful and moving--a hieratic dream.

I am invited to a party. I meet some of the women going to the party, but there is an estrangement. I am alone by the waterfront of a small town. A man says that for five dollars I can get across on a yacht to where I want to go. I have five dollars and more than five dollars, hundreds of dollars, and also francs. I am conscious of my clerical garb. The yacht is a small schooner, a workaday schooner, and no yacht. It does not move from shore--we make it move a little by pushing it from inside. Then I am swimming ahead in the beautiful water, magic water from the depths of which comes a wonderful life to which I am entitled, a life and strength that I fear. I know that by diving into this water I can find something marvelous, but that it is not fitting or right for me to dive, as I am going to the further shore, with the strength that has come from the water, immortality.

Then in the summerhouse on the other side, where I have arrived, first of all I play with the dog, and then the child brings me two pieces of buttered white bread that I am to eat on arrival.

September 12, 1961, III.161-62

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - September 3

A Visit from My Good Teacher

Mark and Dorothy Van Doren were here yesterday on their way back to Illinois--long enough to walk to the cow barn and back and for me to show Mark the novitiate.

I was happy to have him stand in these rooms, so wise a person, and lean against the bookshelf in the scriptorium and talk about some things that had come up when he was at the Hampton Institute the day before. The English professor there complained that his students had no preparation to read Shakespeare, and Mark said that everyone is prepared to read Shakespeare by the time they are eighteen. They have been born, they have had fathers, mothers, they have been loved, feared, hated, been jealous, etc.

At the cow barn we looked at brushfires being lit along the hillside of St. Bernard's field, and Mark talked about his love for fires and I talked of mine. We decided that everybody loves fires and that those who admit it are not pyromaniacs but just love fires reasonably.

When I talked a moment about Bulgakov, Mark quoted the wonderful lines at the end of Dante where he sees in Christ the face of man and the Face of God and they are one face. "But to explain it as hard as to square the circle," Mark said.

They were pleased that both their sons had married Jews this summer, and I too.