Monday, October 31, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - October 31

The Smell of Night Under Cold Stars

The nights I have spontaneously been remembering the days when I first came to Gethsemani twenty-three years ago: the stars, the cold, the smell of night, the wonder, the Verlassenheit--abandonment (which is something else than despondency)--and above all the melody of the Rorate Coeli. The entire first Advent bore in it all the stamp of my vocation's particular character. The solitude inhabited and pervaded by the cold and mystery and woods and Latin liturgy. It is surprising how far we have got from that cold and the woods and the stars since those days.

My fiftieth year is ending and, if I am not ripe now, I never will be. It is the kairos, say the stars, says Orion, says Aldebaran, says the sickle moon rising behind the dark tall cedar cross. And I remember the words I said the Father Philotheus at St. Bonaventure's, which may have been in part a cliché, but they were sincere and I know at the time that I really meant them. And they were unpremeditated: the "I want to give God everything." Until now I really have not, I think. Or perhaps in a way I have tried to. Certainly not too hard! I cannot say my life in the monastery has been useless, or a failure. Nor can I say where or how it has had a meaning. Nor will I probably find where and how the hermitage has a meaning. It is enough that there is the same anguish and certitude, the same sense of walking on water, as when I first came to the monastery.

October 31, 1964, V.160

Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - October 30

Prayer Is All I Have Left

If everything centers on my obligation to respond to God's call in solitude, this does not mean simply putting everything out of my mind and living as if only God and I existed. This is impossible anyway. It means rather learning from what contacts and conflicts I still have how deep a solitude is required of me. This means now the difficult realization that I have relied too much on the support and approval of others--and yet I do need others. I must now painfully rectify this. That is to say that there is a sense in which some of God's answers must come to me from others, even from those with whom I disagree, even from those who do not understand my way of life. Yet it would be disastrous to seek merely to placate these people--the mere willingness to do so would make me deaf to whatever real message they might have. To do this job rightly is beyond my power. Prayer is all I have left--and patient, humble (if possible) obedience to God's will. One thing is certain: I do not possess my answers ready at hand in myself. (It almost seems an axiom that a solitary should be one who has his own answers....) But I cannot simply seek them from others either. The problem is in learning to go for some, perhaps for long periods, with no answer!!

End of 1965, V.347-48

Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - October 29

Writing Before the World Burns

In choir the less I worried about the singing, the more I was possessed by Love. There is a lesson in that about being poor. You have got to be all the time cooperating with Love in this house, and Love sets a fast pace even at the beginning and, if you don't keep up, you'll get dropped. And yet, any speed is too slow for Love--and no speed is too fast for you if you will only let Love drag you off your feet--after that you will have to sail the whole way. but our instinct is to get off and start walking....

I want to be poor. I want to be solitary. This business burns me. "My strength is dried up like a potsherd" (Psalm 21:16). I am all dried up with desire and I can only think of one thing--staying in the fire that burns me.

Sooner or later the world must burn, and all things in it--all the books, the cloister together with the brothel, Fra Angelico together with the Lucky Strike ads. Sooner or later it will all be consumed by fire and nobody will be left, for by that time the last man in the universe will have discovered the bomb capable of destroying the universe and will have been unable to resist the temptation to throw the thing and get it over with.

And here I sit writing a diary.

But Love laughs at the end of the world because Love is the door to eternity, and he who loves is playing on the doorstep of eternity, and before anything can happen, Love will have drawn him over the sill and closed the door, and he won't bother about the world burning because he will know nothing but Love.

October 3 and 10, 1948, II.234-36

Friday, October 28, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - October 28

Taking Sides

The train whistle in the valley reminds me of the first day I came here--the first day we worked, on a grey afternoon like this, in St. Edmund's field. And my gratitude. It is the same gratitude and the same vocation. What has died in my spirit and my vocation here lately has come back to life. I feel at last that I can grow and move forward, and that all life has not been stamped out of my heart.

I opened Isaias at the forty-ninth chapter and read from verso 7 to the end: the marvelous liberation from Babylon and the return.

I have little desire, at the moment, to read anything but the Prophets.

"The gravest moral problems are found at the political level" (Tresmontant). Never was this more true than in our time. Hence the importance of political decisions and of taking sides in crucial and "prophetic" affairs which are moral touchstones and in which Christians are often in large numbers on the side of the unjust and the tyrant.

Problem of atomic bomb. How many Christians have taken a serious and effective stand against atomic warfare? How many theologians have striven to justify it?

October 6 and 25, 1959, III.335-37

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - October 27

Always Beginning Again

It is not complicated to lead the spiritual life. But it is difficult. We are blind and subject to a thousand illusions. We must expect to be making mistakes all the time. We must be content to fail repeatedly and to begin again to try to deny ourselves for the love of God.

It is when we are angry at our own mistakes that we tend most of all to deny ourselves for the love of ourselves. We want to shake off the hateful thing that has humbled us. In our rush to escape the humiliation of our mistakes, we run headfirst into the opposite error, seeking comfort and compensation. And so we spend our lives running back and forth from one attachment to another.

If that is all our self-denial amounts to, our mistakes will never help us.

The thing to do, when you have made a mistake, is not to give up doing what you were doing and start something altogether new, but to start over again with the thing you began badly and try, for the love of God, to do it well.

October 7, 1949, II.372

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - October 26

Waiting for God

Now is the time to see what great strength comes out of silence--and not without struggle.

Obedience to God means, first of all, waiting, having to wait, sustine Dominum--waiting for the Lord. The first thing then is to accept the fact that one will have to wait. Otherwise obedience is undermined by an implicit condition that destroys it.

To say that I am a child of God is to say, before everything else, that I grow. That I began. A child who does not grow becomes a monster. That idea "Child of God" is therefore one of living growth, becoming, possibility, risk, and joy in the negotiation of risk. In this God is pleased: that His child grows in wisdom and grace.

God is the Father who fights to defend and rescue His child. The life of the Child of God is not in the "development of spirituality" but in obedience to the Good Shepherd who seeks him, knowing he is lost. It is in solitude that we recognize, with a shock, how lost we have been, and that now we are found, rescued, recovering conscience, returning to ourselves, to Truth, carried by Him who has sought and found us.

End of 1965, V.334

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - October 25

Grateful for Life

Brilliant, windy day--cold. It is fall. It is the kind of day in October that Pop used to talk about. I thought about my grandfather as I came up through the hollow, with the sun on the bare persimmon trees, and a song in my mouth. All songs are, as it were, one's last. I have been grateful for life.

Many strange things I remember: for instance, if I had only stayed with the cross-country team, at Columbia, until the end of the season, I would have had my "letter." Why think of that?

Great clouds of seed fly in the wind from the poplar tree.

The new magazine, Ramparts, had two impressive pictures of Brother Antoninus in a black and white Dominican habit, among birch trees. I know he often feels as I do. I must write to him and say, "Courage! We are honest men!"

Deep pessimism in a letter from E. I. Watkin. I cannot say there is much hope to be seen among politicians and military men.

October 23, 1962, IV. 260

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - October 24

One Must Be Careful of Words

My need for genuine interior freedom is now urgent. Yet this is something I am helpless to enter except through the Cross, and I must try to see and accept the Cross of conflict--to renounce myself by renouncing "my" answers and by restraining my urge to answer, to reply, in order that I may silently respond, or obey. In this kind of obedience there is never a full understanding of what one has to do--this does not become clear until the work has been done.

Viktor Frankl's point that in the camps the prisoners who wanted to keep human had to take on their suffering itself as a task (individually and together) in order to give it meaning.

I have used a lot of existentialist terms. I can already see how nauseated I will be with them when they become vulgar currency (commitment, authenticity, etc.), and they are already vulgar. I am nauseated by the Secular City syndrome. But forget it--in a year there will be another nausea. What is the use of being in the silence of true words and letting in this noise? Yet I do not quite see how to manage the situation. With patience, it will arrange itself.

For me--the betrayal I have to look out for is that which would consist simply in attaching myself to "a cause" that happens to be operating at this time, and getting involved, and letting myself be carried along with it, simply making appropriate noises from time to time, at a distance.

End of 1965, V.342-43

A Year With Thomas Merton - October 23

Being Alive and Awake

I got up to the hermitage about nightfall. Wonderful silence, saying Compline gently and slowly with a candle burning before the icon of our Lady. A deep sense of peace and truth, that this was the way things are supposed to be, that I was in my right mind for a change (around the community I am seldom in my right mind). Total absence of care and agitation. Slept wonderfully well, even thought there was a great pandemonium of dogs in the woods when I got up about 12:20 and went out to pee off the edge of the porch.

I thought I could hear the bell for Vigils at the monastery and didn't. However, I woke up soon after that and lit the fire and said Lauds quietly, slowly, thoughtfully, sitting on the floor. I felt very much alive, and real, and awake, surrounded by silence and penetrated by truth. Wonderful smell of predawn woods and fields in the cold night!

October 13, 1964, V.154

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - October 22

The Birds Don't Know They Have Names

The warblers are coming through now. Very hard to identify them all, even with field glasses and a bird book. (Have seen at least one that is definitely not in the bird book.) Watching one which I took to be a Tennessee warbler. A beautiful, neat, prim little thing--seeing this beautiful thing which people do not usually see, looking into this world of birds, which is not concerned with us or with our problems, I felt very close to God or felt religious anyway. Watching those birds was as food for meditation, or as mystical reading. Perhaps better.

Also the beautiful, unidentified red flower or fruit I found on a bud yesterday. These things say so much more than words.

Mark Van Doren, when he was here, said, "The birds don't know they have names."

Watching them I thought: who cares what they are called? But do I have the courage not to care? Why not be like Adam, in a new world of my own, and call them by my own names?

That would still mean that I thought the names were important.

No name and no word to identify the beauty and reality of those birds today is the gift of God to me in letting me see them.

(And that name--God--is not a name! It is like a letter X or Y. Yahweh is a better name--it finally means Nameless One.)

October 5, 1957, III.123-24

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - October 21

Night Is Coming

Though I am nearly forty-eight, and it is doubtless time to feel a change of climate in my physical being, which begins to dispose itself for its end some one of these years, it is useless to interpret every little sign or suggestion of change as something of great significance. This is a temptation I yield to. I am still too young mentally to be in the least patient of any sign of age. My impatience is felt as an upheaval of resentment, disgust, depression. Yet I am joyful. I like life. I am happy with it. I have nothing to complain of. But a little of the chill, a little of the darkness, the sense of void in the midst of myself, and I say to my body: "Okay, all right then, die, you idiot!" But it is not really trying to die, it just wants to slow down.

This war scare aggravates it, this sense of death and desperation running through my whole society with all its bombs and its money and its death wish. The colossal sense of failure in the midst of success that is characteristic of America (but that America cannot really face). I have a comfortable sense of success, which I know to be more or less meaningless, yet I want to make my will now--as a writer. Go on, fool! Forget it! You may write another twenty books, who knows? In any case, does it matter? Is this relevant? On the contrary, now is the time I must learn to stop taking satisfaction in what I have done, or being depressed because the night will come and my work will come to an end. Now is the time to give what I have to others and not reflect on it. I wish I had learned the knack of it, of giving without question or care. I have not, but perhaps I still have time to try.

October 2, 1962, IV.253

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - October 20

Going Beyond My Boundaries

A wonderful letter from Pasternak to Kurt Wolff, in German, was forwarded to me from Pantheon. Most of it concerned with his reaction to my letters and to my "perfect" understanding of all that was most important to him in his work. "The aptness of his understanding and the clarity of his insights is beyond belief." And he picked out especially my reaction to his Hamlet poem and the business about the Red Sea and the Blessed Virgin, and about God-manhood.

That I have been able to give the consolation of understanding and appreciating what he most wanted to say is also to me a great consolation.

Later in the letter, a most important point, and one which came back to me this morning after my Mass:

"One cannot remain immobile where the political and aesthetic customs and potentialities are so conspicuous and compelling: one must take another step."

I agree with this perfectly, and I see that this is the very heart of my own personal vocation.

I must--in my writing, in my prayer, in my life--take this further step and go beyond my limitations and the limitations of thought, art and religion of our time. And this requires effort and suffering. I simply cannot sit down and accept my limitations--that is impossible. But I must take care most of all not to be content with merely fanciful transcendence--going beyond my limitations in thought and imagination only. It must be a real transcendence.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - October 19

The Technological Society

I am reading Jacques Ellul's book The Technological Society. Great, full of firecrackers. A fine, provocative book and one that really makes sense. Good to read while the Second Vatican Council is busy with Schema 13 (as it is). One cannot see what is involved in the question of "The Church and the Modern World" without reading a book like this. I wonder if the Council Fathers are aware of all the implications of a technological society? Those who can only resist it may be wrong, but those who want to go along with all its intemperances are hardly right. Or do they know that this might be what they were wanting?

Gentle whistles of a bluebird and, in the mist, a SAC plane swoops huge and low over the ridges where Edelin's valley is and where the final hermitages are to be. I wonder if it carries bombs. Most probably. They all do, I am told. The technological society! I will go out and split some logs and gather a basket of pinecones.

October 30, 1964, V.159-60

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - October 18

What We Most Need

The anchor in the window of the Old Zion Church, before it burned in 1924 or 1925: this is the earliest symbol of which I remember being conscious. I was struck by it, aged perhaps seven or eight, but could not see why it was in a church window. Perhaps I did not know what it was. Yet I had seen the symbol somewhere in crossing the ocean (and I desired to be a sailor). Anyway, there was an anchor in the window and I was aware of it. I have forgotten almost every other detail of the church, except perhaps the eagle on whose outspread wings the Bible rested, and even of this I am not sure. Was there really such an eagle? Whether or not, it is relevant that the anchor is a symbol of hope; hope is what I most need. And the world needs most.

Letter from the Fellowship of Reconciliation. They want to reprint "The Root of War" as a pamphlet. Convinced again that I must set everything aside to work for the abolition of war. Primarily, of course, by prayer. I remain a contemplative, but as for writing, contacts, letters, that kind of effort: here it seems to me everything should yield first place to the struggle against war.

October 30, 1961, IV.175-76

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - October 17

Plato's Music, Gandhi's Truth

After the night office. The superb moral and positive beauty of Plato's Phaedo. One does not have to agree with Plato, but one must hear him. Not to listen to such a voice is unpardonable, it like (sic) listening to conscience or to nature. I repent, and I love this great poem, this "music." It is purifying music of which I have great need.

And Gandhi--how I need to understand and practice non-violence in every way. It is because my life is not firmly based on the truth that I am morally in confusion and captivity--under the half truths and prejudices that rule others and rule me through them.

"A person who realizes a particular evil of his time and finds that it overwhelms him dives deep in his own breast for inspiration and, when he gets it, he presents it to others" (Gandhi).

Moved and delighted by the line of the Book of Wisdom about ships (14:1-7), especially the one " that even if a man lacks skill he may put to sea." Profound implications, especially for me at this moment. The necessity of risk and its place in the context of Providence and wisdom. A desire for gain plans the vessel (not necessarily reproved here); wisdom builds it; Providence guides it; and the navigator needs not long experience but trust and good sense.

October 10, 12, and 13, 1960, IV.57

Sunday, October 16, 2011

An Autumn Dream - October 16

An Autumn Dream

Last night I took an hour out of my sleep and made a two-hour meditation before retiring, instead of one. As a consequence this morning's meditation was much more serious and my reading has been more sober and fruitful. It was a good inspiration, and I will do it again once in a while. (Not habitually, for it would be just another routine.) During the night I dreamt I was in a strange city with some other monk(?), and we had to go to some place at the center and begin a journey. A waitress in the lunchroom left to come with us and show us the way. I remember the warmth of her presence sitting in the car with me. I spoke of streets like "Page" and "Sky" which I found on a map, but she had another and shorter way. All along, it was a case of knowing the way and of my not knowing it.

Whose house is not built now shall build no more,
Who now is lonely long shall be alone,
shall lie awake, and read, long letters write,
and restlessly, among the drifting leaves
of avenues shall wander, to and fro.

Rilke's autumn poem ("Autumn Day"). Beautiful and close to home.

October 19, 1965, V.306-7

Saturday, October 15, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - October 15

Walking on Water

Whether we live or die, we are the Lord's. Life and death alike can be offered up as penance. I can make reparations for my impiety by living as perfectly as I can the Rule and Spirit of St. Benedict--obedience, humility, work, prayer, simplicity, the love of Christ.

The light of truth burns without a flicker in the depths of a house that is shaken with storms of passion and of fear. "You will not fear the terror of the night." And so I go on trying to walk on the waters of the breakdown. Worse than ever before and better than ever before. It is always painful and reassuring when he who I am not is visibly destroyed by the hand of God in order that the simplicity in the depths of me, which is His image, may be set free to serve Him in peace. Sometimes in the midst of all this I am tremendously happy, and I have never in my life begun to be so grateful for His mercy.

And no more professional spirituality! Terrifically purged of ideas about prayer, and of all desire to preach them, as if I had something!

October 22, 1952, III.22

Friday, October 14, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - October 14

Something in My Core Needs Revealing

Dawn. Cold. Mist in the valley. The rampart line of hills is always new every day.

There has been much self-searching, some futile, some disquieting. It may be excessive, but there is something in the core of my being that needs to be revealed. I wonder if I can face it? Is it futile even to try? "Let sleeping dogs lie, leave things as they are, etc." I will try to do whatever God wills. Jeremias 20:14-18 (Cursed be the day on which I was born, etc.). Lines I do not experience nor understand. I hope to God I do not have to experience them. Reading them is enough. I have the Vulgate and Luther's German (which is much more graphic and concrete). Importance of obedient meditation. God will take care of the rest.

October 11, 1965, V.302

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - October 13

Truth and Silence

Dan Berrigan arrived by surprise Tuesday--I was not expecting him until the end of the week. We concelebrated twice--once in the regular present rite, and today, with a new Mass he found somewhere which is very fine and simple. I don't know how "legal" we were. It was a very moving, simple English text (Canon and all). I think it was composed by Anglicans and has been used by them. Contrast to the Mass, old style, that I said for Jacques Maritain when he visited last week. That was very sober, austere, solemn, intense. This Mass very open, simple, even casual, but very moving and real. Somehow I think the new is really better--and is very far from anything we will be permitted here for a long time. I have nothing against the old.

A dark October morning with clouds. Extraordinary purple in the north over the pines. Ruins of gnats on the table under the lamp. Albert Camus's preface to L’Étranger--The Stranger--has things to say on truth and silence which have deep monastic implications. I must refuse all declarations and affirmations of what I do not fully and actually know, experience, believe myself. Not making statements that are expected of me, simply because they are expected, whether by the monastery (or monastic life) or by the peace movement, or by various literary orthodoxies and anti-orthodoxies or routine rebellions. If I renounce all this, there will be precious little left to say. But above all (as Jacques Maritain and I agreed) to steer clear of the futilities of "Post-Conciliar" theological wrangling and image making.

October 13 and 14, 1966, VI.149-50

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - October 12

Farewell to My Woodchuck

Late yesterday afternoon Brother Dunstan came up with typed copies of the book Barth's Dream (Conjectures)--much bigger than I expected. Then it rained (quietly) most of the night and it is cooler. I said Mass (of St. Anselm) for all my friends in England and Anglican friends everywhere. There is a woodchuck which has dug a new hole outside my jakes, and I watch him furnishing it with dead leaves for the winter.

Evening. A turning point in the weather. The heavy rain clouds broke up a bit in the morning. There were patches of sun, a few short showers late in the afternoon. It is turning cold. I noticed that my woodchuck had buried himself completely, covering up the entrance to his hole, and had gone to sleep for the winter in his bed of leaves. I wish him a happy sleep! And today is very autumn-like--cold clouds flying, trees half bare, wet leaves lying around everywhere, the broad valley beautiful and lovely. The wonderful, mysterious, lonely sense of an autumn evening.

October 20 and 23, 1965, V.307-08

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - October 11

Witnessing to the Personal

A day of spiritual fires, quiet fires, warm skies. Pink beasts in the field (pigs).

Angry kingfisher rattles over the foul creek and swings upward, to head for the clear lake.

Everything adds up to these two points:

A. My instinct to regard as an evil and as an oversimplification the thought of "losing oneself" in total identification with (submersion in) any group as such--this instinct against such is correct, it is good. To be a man of the church I have to be fully myself--and fully responsible and free before God--not a "unit" or a mere "number."

B. My vocation and task in this world is to keep alive all that is usefully individual and personal in me, to be a "contemplative" in the full sense--and to share it with others--to remain as a witness of the nobility of the private person and his primacy over the group.

October 2 and 7, 1958, III.221-22

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - October 10

Godlikeness Begins at Home

Brilliant and gorgeous day, bright sun, breeze making all the leaves and high brown grass shine. Singing of the wind in the cedars. Exultant day, in which a puddle in the pig lot shines like precious silver.

Finally I am coming to the conclusion that my highest ambition is to be what I already am. That I will never fulfill my obligation to surpass myself unless I first accept myself--and, if I accept myself fully in the the right way, I will already have surpassed myself. For it is the unaccepted self that stands in my way--and will continue to do so as long as it is not accepted. When it has been accepted, it is my own stepping-stone to what is above me. Because this is the way man was made by God--and original sin was the effort to surpass oneself by being "like God," i.e., unlike oneself. But our Godlikeness begins at home. We must become like ourselves, and stop living "beside ourselves."

October 2, 1958, III.220-21

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - October 9

God's Mustard Seed in Me

The Henry Corbin book on Ibn al'Arabi is in ways tremendous. The plays and changes on the theme of the divine compassion, on the "sympathy" of the spirit and God, on God seeking to manifest Himself in the spirit that responds to a "Name" which is meant to embody its life. Compare the medieval Cistercians with their births of Christ in us. Need for compassion and tenderness towards the infinite fragility of the divine life in us, which is real and not an idea or an image (as in our conception of God as "object").

This could and should lead me more and more and more to a new turning, a new attitude, an inner change, a liberation from all futile concerns to let Him emerge in His mystery and compassion within me. Yielding to the inexplicable demand of His presence in weakness. To be very careful and timid now about those innumerable self-affirmations that tend to destroy His weakness and littleness in me--fortunately indestructible. This mustard seed, His kingdom in me. The struggle of the very small to survive and change my self-affirmations.

October 3, 1961, IV.167

Saturday, October 8, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - October 8

A Different Sense of Time

Last night I slept in the monastery, because spiritual direction ran late and my shoulder also was hurting, so that I wanted the traction which is fixed up on my bed in the novitiate dorm. Sleeping at the hermitage gives one a totally different sense of time--measured by the phases of the moon (whether or not one will need the flashlight, etc.). This in itself is important. The whole day has different dimensions. And so for office in choir, its artificiality impresses me more and more. Not that it is not a "good thing." Not that there is not a great will to do good and praise God there. But the whole décor of habits and stalls and stained glass seems unreal when you have been praying the psalms among pine trees. The thing I most appreciate about the monastery is the electric light. The lamplight of the hermitage is primitive and mysterious, but the lamp smokes and one cannot read well by it. Which is all right since it means more meditation. Yet I like and need to sit here with a book open and really read, take notes, study.

As to the brethren, it is good to be with them and to see them (even though I know them enough to recognize their tensions and troubles), but I can tell that a feeling of loneliness for them would probably be a deception--or a reflex. One can love them and still live apart from them without explanation.

October 19, 1964, V.158

Friday, October 7, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - October 7

America, The World's Mad Abbot

Clarity in the early morning studying William of Conches on Plato's Timaeus. The dark, the silence. Then, clarity at Mass, exactly at down. The sun is now rising at seven and I am clothed in dawn light as I stand at the altar (the first rays of the sun add the only warmth in the chapel). Then after, the day is warm.

The United States is now spending more each year on armaments than was spent in any year before 1942 for the entire national budget.

People demand that the government "interfere" in nothing, just pour money into the armament industry and provide a strong police for "security." But stay out of everything else! No interference in medicine, mental health, education, etc., etc. Never was a country at once shrewder and less wise--shrewd in nonessentials and lunatic in essentials.

I have no doubt the world feels toward America the way many monks feel toward an abbot who wants to exercise total power, to receive unquestioning obedience on the basis of slogans about which he himself ceased thinking twenty-five years ago, and who above all wants to be loved, so that he may never, at any time, to himself, seem to be exercising power, or loving it. Nobody denies him the power he has: few give him the love that he needs in order to be safe and content. And therefore he uses his power, from time to time, in unpredictable, arbitrary, and absurd ways in which he defends his own ends and makes everybody miserable.

October 20, 1962, IV.259

A Year With Thomas Merton - October 6

Praying Through the Noise

The offices at night have been fine. I have slept more and have a clearer head to attend to the Word of God.

Yet it is surprising that I do not lose more sleep, as there is a bulldozer working day and night in the corn fields, in the bottomlands, and I sleep next to the window right over those fields. What are they doing? Can't they be content to let the creek wind the way it always did? Does it have to be straight? Really, we monks are madmen, bitten by an awful folly, an obsession with useless and expensive improvements.

To the east, then, the bulldozer day and night. The noise never stops. To the west, the dehydrator. The noise stops perhaps at midnight. A layman drives the bulldozer, our brothers work at the dehydrator.

To the northwest--a pump, day and night. Never stops. There is nothing making any noise to the south, but then to the south the monks' property soon comes to an end, and there are only lay people whose lives are generally quiet. They only speak. We make "signs," but drown everything in the noise of our machines. One would think our real reason for making "signs" might be that it is not always easy to be heard.

October 19, 1961, IV.170-71

Thursday, October 6, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - October 5

Learning the Tempo of Solitude

I was finally right in the heart of Isaac of Stella--the translation of his "island loneliness" in the metaphysic of being and nothingness of the Sexagisma sermons (Sermon XIV). Hit very hard by a lot of ambiguities of expression, but an unquestionably deep and austere intuition, and very modern. But deeply mystical. Profound implications for my own prayer and solitude opened up. (Prayer of Christ on the Cross!)

I find more and more the power--the dangerous power--of solitude working on me. The easiness of wide error. The power of one's own inner ambivalence, the pull of inner contradiction. How little I know myself really. How weak and tepid I am. I need to work hard, and I don't know how--hence I work at the wrong things. I see that the first two months I got off to a nearly false start with too much excited reading of too many things, and my life has been grossly overstimulated for a solitary (in community, all right). Especially I worked too hard, too obsessively on the book, too frantic a pace for a solitary (again, in community solitude seems crowded and hopped up to me).

Everything has meaning, dire meanings, in solitude. And one can easily lose it all in following the habits one has brought out of common life (the daily round). One has to start over and receive (in meekness) a new awareness of work, time, prayer, oneself. A new tempo--it has to be in one's very system (and it is not in mine, I see).

And what I do not have I must pray for and wait for.

October 25 and 30, 1965, V.309-10

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - October 4

Needing the Angels and the Saints

(The Seven Storey Mountain is officially published on October 4, 1948)

I see more and more the fruitfulness of this life here with its struggles, its long hours of silence, the sun, the woods, the presence of invisible grace and help. It has to be a creative and humiliating life, a life of search and obedience, simple, direct, requiring strength (I don't have it, but it is "given"). There are moments of frightening disruption, then recovery. I am only just beginning to know what life really is--away from all the veils, cushions, and evasions of the common life. Yet I see my great need for the common life. Seriously, last night at supper, a deep awareness that I need the saints and angels with me in my loneliness (cf. Jacques Maritain on the Heavenly Church). Read Maritain's beautiful biographical note on Vera Oumansoff. This is the real dimension of Christian community. What could be more beautiful or more real? There is much of this in the monastery, in spite of everything.

The picture of Galla Placida in Herbert Read's Icon and Idea.

Byzantine medallion of her, her son and daughter. A most lovely and fascinating picture. The children are beautiful but dull. She is full of life and character. A fascinating face. How is it that this face is so contemporary to me, so ready to speak to me? As if she were someone I had always known. I can imagine it is Mother, perhaps, I see in her; there is some resemblance, the same kind of features. Anyway I am moved by the picture.

October 6, 1965, V.301