Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - November 30

On the Threshold of a Hard Winter

All day it has been deceptively like spring. Not only because of light and cool-warm air (warm with a slightly biting March-like wind) but because I fasted and it felt like Lent. Then in the evening (I had my meal about four instead of supper at five) it was suddenly much lighter, as thought it were March.

At noon, when I was not eating, I was out by St. Bernard's lake (which is surprisingly low) and the sky, hills, trees, kept taking on an air of clarity and freshness that took me back to springs twenty years ago when Lents were hard and I was new in the monastery.

Strange feeling! Recapturing the freshness of those days when my whole monastic life was ahead of me, when all was still open: but now it is all behind me, and the years have closed in upon their silly, unsatisfactory history, one by one. But the air is like spring and fresh as ever. And I was amazed at it. Had to stop to gaze and wonder: loblolly pines we planted ten or fifteen years ago are twenty feet high. The first tower shines in the sun like new--though it was up ten years ago (with what hopes, on my part!). Flashing water of the lake. A blue jay flying down as bright as metal. I went over to the wood where the Jonathan Daniel sculptures are now, and read some selections from Origen. And again stood amazed at the quiet, the bright sun, the spring-like light. The sharp outline of the pasture. Knolls, the brightness of bare trees in the hopeful sun. And yet it is not spring. We are the threshold of a hard winter.

November 25, 1967, VII.15

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - November 29

The Sin of Idolatry

The Christian faith enables, or should enable, a man to stand back from society and its institutions and realize that they all stand under the inscrutable judgment of God and that, therefore, we can never give an unreserved assent to the policies, the programs and the organizations of men, or to "official" interpretations of the historic process. To do so is idolatry, the same kind of idolatry that was refused by the early martyrs who would not burn incense to the emperor.

The policies of men contain within themselves the judgment and doom of God upon their society, and when the Church identifies her policies with theirs, she too is judged with them--for she has in this been unfaithful and is not truly "the Church." The power of "the Church" (who is not "the Church" if she is rich and powerful) contains the judgment that "begins at the house of God."

November 30, 1964, V.171

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - November 28

An American Mysticism

At midnight I woke up, and there was a great noise of wind and storm. Rain was rolling over the roof of the hermitage heavy as a freight train. The porch was covered with water and there was a lot of lightning. Now at dawn the sky is clean and all is cold again (yesterday warm). Yesterday I read some article on psychedelics. There is a regular fury of drug-mysticism in this country. I am in a way appalled. Mysticism has finally arrived in a characteristic American mode. One feels that this is certainly it. The definitive turn in the road taken by American religion. The turn I myself will not take (don't need to!). This leaves my own road quieter and more untroubled, I hope. Certainly the great thing, as I see it now, is to get out of all the traffic: peace movement traffic, political traffic, Church traffic. All of it! Big peace protest in Washington (against Vietnam War) today. I am fasting and praying for them, and offering no hosannas of my own.

November 27, 1965, V.318-19

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - November 27

One Small Miracle in a Day of Noise

A lovely afternoon but full of noise. Reading after dinner--snatches from the Dhammapada--I thought of this clear sky and how it must be like Mexican sky.

And now, noise everywhere. Hammers all over the roof of the east wing--the buzz saw cutting hickory for the smokehouses. Novices kicking pigs. A huge road-grader sent by the politicians, roaring up and down significantly on the day before elections. ("Get out the vote," says the Abbot. "Show them that we have power!")

Sick of writing, sick of letters, sick of self-expression.

Silence and solitude and peace.

Even if everything else is noise, I can be silent within my own house.

Read a little about the Indians who make lacquer at Patzcuaro. The Night of All Souls is a great night on the Island of Juntzio (Sibylle Akers's photographs of the Indian women sitting with candles on the graves, with food).

Hurray! The buzz saw has broken down!

November 2, 1959, III.338-39

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - November 26

The Community Is My Mother

Our Lady of Gethsemani. Mary is, in a certain sense, the community which is my Mother. It is her love that has brought us here and keeps the community together. It is her love I have known out under the cedars, and working in the fields and singing in choir. It is her love that has made me desire solitude, and she will fulfill that desire. She is my solitude and she is here. It seems I have to keep finding it out over and over again.

Maybe this time it is the end. I hope I have stopped asking questions. I have begged her for the grace to finish the course here and die as a holy monk in the monastery or in a solitude closely dependent on the monastery. I feel great peace and my heart has never been so free, so poor and empty.

November 29, 1952, III.2

Friday, November 25, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - November 25

Experiences of Seeing

At Mass, which was all before sunrise and without lights, the quality, the "spirituality" of the predawn light on the altar was extraordinary. Silence in the chapel and that pure, pearl light! What could be a more beautiful liturgical sign than to have such light as witness of the Mystery?

Wild grey kitten among the dead leaves in the garden, fleeing to the hole in the wall. Sun on the building work, the waterhouse. Dead leaves.

Hawk on the way up to the hermitage, over the cedars in the low bushy place where the quails were (were!!). He circled four or five times, spreading his tail, which shone rusty in the light, and he flashed silver like the dove in the psalm, when sun caught him under the wings.

November 25, 26, and 27, 1962, IV. 267-69

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - November 24

Sitting for a Portrait

Lovely, cold, lonely afternoon, winter afternoon, rich winter silence and loneliness and fullness into which I entered nearly twenty years ago! These afternoons contain all the inexplicable meaning of my vocation.

Victor Hammer came over. Brought the beginning of the woodcut for Hagia Sophia and some proofs of his new thing on Mnemosyne, which is excellent. (I finally apprehend the simple thing that Fiedler is getting at: that the work of art is to be seen--not imagined, worked over intellectually by the viewer. Central is the experience of seeing.)

Victor worked on a sketch for a portrait of me, and this (contrary to what one might say according prejudice) makes at least some sense. The patient, human work of sitting and talking and being understood on paper. How different from the camera! I am incurably camera shy! The awful instantaneous snapshot of pose, of falsity, eternalized. Like the pessimistic, anguished view of judgment that so many mad Christians have--the cruel candid shot of you when you have just done something transient but hateful. As if this could be truth. Judgment really a patient, organic, long-suffering understanding of the man's whole life, of everything in it, all in context.

November 17, 1961, IV.179

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - November 23

Suspended by God's Mercy

The annual retreat is ending. I was very deeply moved by Fr. Phelan's conference on the Sacred Heart. Great depth of theology in clear and simple terms. It showed me how there really is an abyss of light in the things the simplest faithful believe and love, and that sometimes seem trite to to the intellectuals. Indeed, perhaps it is the simplest and most popular truths that are also the deepest after all.

For my own part, I think much has been done to me in the course of this retreat--in emptiness and helplessness and humiliation. Aware that I might crack up at any moment, I find, nevertheless, that when I pray, I pray better than ever. I mean that I no longer have any special degree of prayer. Simple vocal prayer, and especially the office and the psalms, seems to have acquired a depth and simplicity I never knew in any prayer. I have nothing but faith and the love of God and confidence in the simple means He has given me for reaching Him. Suspended entirely from His mercy, I am content for anything to happen.

November 29, 1952, III.25

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - November 22

God in Search of Humanity

At the heart of Abraham Heschel's splendid book God in Search of Man, is the consistent emphasis on the importance of time, of the event in revealed religion, Biblical, prophetic religion.

Event, not process. The unique event, not repeated.

The realm of the event is the realm of the person. Liberation from the process by decisions, by free act, unique, irreplaceable. The encounter with God.

Heschel: "An event is a happening that cannot be reduced to a part of a process."

"To speak of events is to imply that there are happenings in the world that are beyond the reach of our explanation."

See early chapter of St. John--the encounter of the Apostles and of John with Jesus. Emphasis on the words to see, to find, and the naming of names, the designations of persons.

And Jacob's dream and his awakening: "This is the house of God." It became so by reason of the encounter, the ladder.

By virtue of great events--relived and remembered--the past becomes present and one transcends the process.

"Such understanding of time is not peculiar to historians. It is shared unknowingly by all men and is essential to civilized living."

November 15, 1960, IV.66

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - November 21


Riches! The comet. I went out and, though there was mist, I saw it as it first began to appear. Later it became more definite and quite bright (what I am seeing is the reflection of the comet's tail, for it is now past the sun). A most beautiful and moving thing, this great spear pointing down to the horizon where the sun will not appear yet for an hour and a half. As I watched, under the oaks, with acorns dropping around me, the bell rang in the Church for the Preface and the Consecration. Three meteorites flashed across the sky in fifteen minutes. Two army transports growled and blinked across the comet's path, and the stag cried out in the dark field behind my hedge. Riches! I recited Psalm 18, "The heavens proclaim," with joy.

November 5, 1965, V.312-13

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - November 20

Another Lost Customer

Reading Mabillon's wise and delightful book on monastic studies. Among other things, this beautiful quotation from Seneca: "If you will give yourself to study, you will ease every burden of life, you will neither wish for night to come or the light to fail; neither shall you be worried or preoccupied with other things."

Warm sun, quiet morning. Pigs bang the lids of their feeding troughs. Frater Placid madly at the honeysuckle. I sit on the very low bench under the cedars, outside the wall. Frater John of the Cross told a story about Brother Clement and "his men" trying to "capture" Brother Colman and a local farmer to whom Colman was selling pigs. They thought the farmer was stealing pigs because Brother Colman, zealous for poverty, did not put on the lights. One brother rushed upon Brother Colman in the dark crying, "This one's all for me!" Nobody was hurt, but the farmer was paralyzed and speechless for five minutes. He said he would never come here to buy pigs again.

November 10, 1958, III.229-30

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - November 19

Being a Teacher

Finishing William of Conche's Philosophia Mundi. Beautiful little chapter on the Teacher. I was very moved by it. I usually ignore this element in my own vocation, but obviously I am a writer, a student, and a teacher, as well as a contemplative of sorts, and my solitude, etc., is that of a writer and teacher, not a pure hermit. And the great thing is, or should be, love of truth. I know there is nothing more precious than the bond of charity created by communicating and sharing the truth. This really is my whole life.

Yesterday Aidan Nally came up to me by the woodshed and said, "Father, it seems the wars have ceased."

Later I conjectured he was referring to the cessation of atmospheric nuclear testing announced by Kennedy.

Today (a blacker day than usual and there have been many) Aidan Nally met me out by the greenhouse just before dinner and uttered some prophecies of doom according to something he had seen on TV. None of it was clear. Probably the Russians trying to make up for their loss of face over Cuba. Something on Germany? Berlin?

The problem is not to lose one's sense of perspective and seriousness. It is always "the end" and each time it gets closer. The students at the Oxford Union drank up their best wine in the Cuban crisis. They will not have any for this one, whatever it is--if it is a crisis, and not something imagined by Aidan. But Aidan's imagination is as good as any paper--only a little foggy.

November 13 and 17, 1962, IV.264-66

Friday, November 18, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - November 18

The Unaccountable Truth

Gelassenheit--letting go--not being encumbered by systems, words, projects. And yet being free in systems, projects. Not trying to get away from all action, all speech, but free, unencumbering Gelassen in this or that action. Error of self-conscious contemplatives: to get hung up on a certain kind of non-action which is an imprisonment, a stupor, the opposite of Gelassenheit. Actually quietism is incompatible with true inner freedom. The burden of this stupid and enforced "quiet"--the self sitting heavily on its own head.

Still thinking of K.C., who wrote from Cincinnati. From a certain point of view my letter to her was a scandal. I was in effect saying, "Don't listen for the voice of God, He will not speak to you." Yet this had to be said. Today, for a certain type of person, to "listen" is to be in a position where hearing is impossible--or deceptive. It is the wrong kind of listening: listening for a limited message, an objective sound, a sensible meaning. Actually one decides one's life by responding to a word that is not well defined, easily explicable, safely accounted for. Once decides to love in the face of an unaccountable void, and from the void comes an unaccountable truth. By this truth one's existence is sustained in peace--until the truth is too firmly grasped and too clearly accounted for. Then one is relying on words, i.e., on one's own understanding and one's own ingenuity in interpreting existence and its "signs." Then one is lost and has to be found once again in the patient Void.

November 13, 1966, VI.160-61

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - November 17

The Key to Peace

In the night, a rumpled thin skin of cloud over the sky, not totally darkening the moon. It has become thicker as the morning wears on. There is a feeling of snow in the air. Streaks of pale, lurid light over the dark hills of the south.

The SAC plane sailed low over the valley just after the bell for the Consecration at the conventual Mass, and an hour later another one went over even nearer, almost over the monastery. Enormous, perfect, ominous, great swooping weight, grey, full of Hiroshimas and the "key to peace."

How full the days are, full of quiet, ordered, occupied (sawing wood, sweeping, reading, taking notes, meditating, praying, tending to the fire, or just looking at the valley). Only here do I feel fully human. And only what is authentically human is fit to be offered to God.

It is good to know how cold it is, and not by looking at a thermometer. And to wear heavy clothes, and cut logs for the fire. I like washing in the small basin with the warm water left over from making coffee. And then walking down in the moonlight to say Mass, with the leaves growling under my feet. Not pulled at, not tense, nor waiting for what is to descend on me next, not looking for a place quiet enough to read in. Life here seems real.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - November 16

Through Faith and Fire

(Merton is baptized a Roman Catholic at Corpus Christi Church in New York City on November 16, 1938)

The chief thing that struck me today before the Blessed Sacrament: I have put my fingers too much in the running of my own life.

I put myself in God's hands, and take myself out again to read just everything to suit my own judgment. On that condition I abandon myself to Him.

Consequence? We seek the good and behold we find disturbance. We say "Peace! Peace!" and there is not Peace!

Jesus, I put myself in Your hands. I rest in Your wisdom, which has arranged all things for me. I promise to stop jumping out of Your arms to try and walk on my own feet, forgetting that I am no longer on the ground, or near it!

Now, at last, let me begin to live by faith. "Seek first, therefore, the kingdom of God."

November 16, 1947, II.134

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - November 15

Feast of Joy and Anguish

Feast of the Dedication of Gethsemani's Church. This always turns out to be a feast of anguish, as well as one of joy.

Nothing could be more beautiful, nothing could make me happier than the hymn Urbs Jerusalem--and to sing certain verses of that hymn in the evening looking at the sacramental flames of candles upon the wall where the building was touched and blessed by Christ and made into a sacrament of Himself.

"They shall stand forever within the sacred walls." I, too, "will stand forever," placed in a permanent position. I am glad, I am truly happy, I am really grateful to God, for it means eternal salvation.

And yet it raises again the unanswerable question: "What on earth am I doing here?" I have answered it a million times. "I belong here," and this is no answer. In the end, there is no answer like that. Any vocation is a mystery, and juggling with words does not make it any clearer.

It is a contradiction and must remain a contradiction.

November 15, 1957, III.137

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - November 14

Truth Is Formed in Silence, Work, and Suffering

We talk of God when He has gone far from us. (We are far from Him and His nearness remains to accuse us!) We live as if God existed for our sakes, figuring that we exist for Him. We use grace as if it were matter handed over to form according to our pleasure. We use the truth of God as material for the fabrication of idols. We forget that we are the matter and His grace is the form imposed upon us by His wisdom. Does the clay understand the work of the potter? Does it not allow itself to be formed into a vessel of election?

The truth is formed in silence and work and suffering--with which we become true. But we interfere with God's work by talking too much about ourselves--even telling Him what we ought to do--advising Him how to make us perfect and listening for His voice to answer us with approval. We soon grow impatient and turn aside from the silence that disturbs us (the silence in which His work can best be done), and we invent the answer and the approval which will never come.

Silence, then, is the adoration of His truth. Work is the expression of our humility, and suffering is born of the love that seeks one thing alone: that God's will be done.

November 12, 1952, III.24

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - November 13

A Decisive Clarity

Tomorrow is the last Sunday after Pentecost. "Let he who is in Judea flee to the hills." Always the same deep awe and compunction at this Gospel. It has been with me every year since my conversion, and its repetition has not robbed it of significance or turned it into a dead, routine affair. On the contrary, I see more and more how central this is in my life.

Yesterday afternoon at the hermitage, surely a decisive clarity came. That I must definitely commit myself to opposition to, and noncooperation with, nuclear war. This includes refusing to vote for those who favor the policy of deterrence, and going forward in trying to make this kind of position and its obligation increasingly clear. Not that I did not mean this before--but never so wholly and so definitely.

Last evening, a note from Louis Massignon about fasting for the Algerians recently slaughtered in Paris. I have often skipped breakfast but this time skipped my evening meal. Very good. Slept better, much more clarity at the night office and meditation. Also my Mass--too dark to read the Epistle and Gospel without light, but, after the Offertory, only the dawn light. Splendor of the first, dim, holy light of the day. Much meaning.

November 25, 1961, IV.182

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - November 12

The Coming Kingdom

Have mercy on our blindness and our poverty.

Our inability to grasp the infinite riches of God's mercy and His Kingdom. Immense sorrow for those who seek to alleviate man's misery by an earthly parody of the Kingdom. The vicious lie of communist messianism, which can still appeal to the hearts of so many great men. Pablo Neruda--wonderful poet--his faith in that lie breaks my heart. He and his poetry will, of course, be destroyed by what he has chosen to serve, for there is really in him nothing in common with Stalinism.

Inability above all of Christians, of priests, to realize the objective immensity and power of the Kingdom that is established, in mystery, and of the great unknown liturgy that goes up to God from the darkness of the world in which the Kingdom is denied. Its citizens perhaps do not even know for sure of what Kingdom they are citizens, yet they suffer for God, and the Word triumphs in them, and through them man will once again be, in Christ, the perfect ikon of God. (Man is, already, in Christ, that ikon, but even we, who should know it best and be overwhelmed by it, are constantly forgetting."

Subjective faith, personal spontaneity, ascetic goodwill, devotion to duty--these are not enough. Yet they, too, are necessary. But they are only the beginning.

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - November 11

The Struggle to Keep Awake

A long and good letter from Jaime Andrade from Quito. He speaks at length about my idea for a foundation in Quito and says I would be caught in the middle between an extremely reactionary clergy and ruling class and a red intelligentsia and would be fired at from both sides, which I think is true. And that is going to be necessarily a part of anything loving and useful I may do--because I cannot produce anything good if I identify myself too closely either with the Reds or with Capitalism. The vocation of a very good writer and spiritual man today lies neither with the one or the other, but beyond both. Heartily agree with Czeslaw Milosz's conclusions at the end of his very fine book The Captive Mind.

What matters is not to line up with the winning side but to be a true and revolutionary poet.

The struggle to keep awake on this island of Lotus Eaters.

November 13, 1958, III.231

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - November 10

Emblems in a Season of Fury

Jim Douglass sent a letter with a clipping in it about a pacifist who burned himself to death in front of the Pentagon--it must have been All Souls' Day! It was a protest against the Vietnam War. They will probably try to write him off as a nut, but he seems to have been a perfectly responsible person, a Quaker, very dedicated. What can one say of such a thing? Since I do not know the man, I do not know that his motives were necessarily wrong and confused--all I can say is that objectively it is a terrible thing. Certainly it is an awful sign, and perhaps there had to be such a sign. Certainly the sign was powerful because incontestable and final in itself (and how frightful!). It broke through the undifferentiated, uninterpretable noises, and it certainly must have hit many people hard. But in three days it becomes again contestable and in ten it is forgotten.

I went out on the porch before dawn to think of these things, and of the words of Ezekiel (22:30): "And I sought among them for a man that might set up a hedge and stand in the gap before me in favor of the land that I might not destroy it, and I found none." And while I was standing there, quails began to whistle all over the field and in the wood. I had not heard any for weeks and thought sure they were all dead, for there have been hunters everywhere. No, there they are! Signs of life, of gentleness, of helplessness, of providence, of love. They just keep on existing and loving and making more quails and whistling in the bushes.

November 7, 1965, V.313

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - November 9

Living in the Face of Death

Our great dignity is tested by death--I mean our freedom. When the "parting of the ways" comes--to set one's foot gladly on the way that leads out of this world. This is a great gift of ourselves, not to death but to life. For he who knows how to die not only lives longer in this life (as if it matters) but lives eternally because of his freedom.

Never has man's helplessness in the face of death been more pitiable than in this age when he can do everything except escape death. If he were unable to escape so many other things, man would face death better.

But our power has only strengthened our illusion that we can cling to life without taking away our unconscious fear of death. We are always holding death at arm's length, unconsciously trying to think ourselves out of its presence. This generates an intolerable tension that makes us all the more quickly its victims. It is he who does not fear death who is more ready not to escape it, and, when the time comes, he faces it well.

So he who faces death can be happy in this life and in the next, and he who does not face it has no happiness in either. This is a central and fundamental reality of life, whether one is or is not a "believer" --for this "facing" of death implies already a faith and an uprightness of heart and the presence of Christ, whether one thinks of it or not. (I do not refer to the desperateness of the tough guy, but only to the sincerity of an honest and sober and sensitive person, assuming responsibility for his whole life in gladness and freedom.)

November 25, 1958, III.232

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - November 8

The Gift of Fatherhood

On the night watch, hurrying by, I pushed open the door of the novice's scriptorium and flashed the light over all the empty desks. It was as if the empty room was wholly full of their hearts and their love, as if their goodness had made the place wholly good and rich in love. The loveliness of humanity which God has taken to Himself in love, and the wonder of each individual person among them. This is of final and eternal significance. To have been appointed by God to be their father, to have received them from God as my children, to have loved them and been loved by them with such simplicity and sincerity, without nonsense or flattery or sentimentality: this is completely wonderful and is a revelation, a parousia of the Lord of History.

From this kind of love necessarily springs hope, hope even for political action, for here, paradoxically, hope is most necessary. Hope is always most necessary precisely when everything, spiritually, seems hopeless. And this is precisely in the confusion of politics. Hope against hope that man can gradually disarm and cease preparing for destruction and learn at last that he must live at peace with his brother. Never have we been less disposed to do this. It must be learned, it must be done, and everything else is secondary to this supremely urgent need of man.

November 27, 1961, IV.183

Monday, November 7, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - November 7

Working for Peace

I must pray more and more for courage, as I certainly have neither the courage nor the strength to follow the path that is certainly my duty now.

With the fears and rages that possess so many confused people, if I say things that seem to threaten their interests or conflict with obsessions, then I will surely get it.

It is shocking that so many are convinced that the Communists are about to invade or destroy America: "Christians" who think the only remedy is to destroy them first. Who thinks seriously of disarming? For whom is it more than a pious wish, beyond the bounds of practicality?

I need patience to listen, to learn, to try to understand, and courage to take all the consequences and be really faithful. This alone is a full-time job. I dread it, but it must be done, and I don't quite know how. To save my soul by trying to be one of those who spoke and worked for peace, not for madness and destruction.

November 12, 1961, IV.179

Sunday, November 6, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - November 6

My Zen

Praying this morning during meditation to learn to read the meaning of events.

First of all, the meaning of what I myself do and bring upon myself and then the meaning of what all mankind does and brings upon itself. In the middle is this monastery--what it does and brings upon itself.

Before one knows the meaning of what happens, he must be able to see what happens. Most men do not even do that--they trust the newspapers to tell them.

My Zen is the slow swinging tops of sixteen pine trees.

One long thin pole of a tree fifty feet high swings in a wider arc than all the others and swings even when they are still.

Hundreds of little elms springing up out of the dry ground under the pines.

My watch lies among the oak leaves. My tee shirt hangs on a barbed wire fence, and the wind sings in the bare wood.

November 21 and 25, 1958, III.231-32

Saturday, November 5, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - November 5


In the afternoon, lots of pretty little myrtle warblers were playing and diving for insects in the low pine branches over my head, so close I could almost touch them. I was awed at their loveliness, their quick flight, their hissings and chirpings, the yellow spot on the back revealed in flight, etc. Sense of total kinship with them as if they and I were of the same nature, and as if that nature were nothing but love. And what else but love keeps us all together in being?

I am more and more convinced that Romans 9-11 (the chapters on the election of Israel) are the key to everything today. This is the point where we have to look, and press, and search, and listen to the word. For here we enter the understanding of Scripture, the wholeness of revelation and of the Church. Vatican II is still short of this awareness, it seems to me. The Chapter on the Jews has been woefully inadequate. It was naturally cautious, I will not say to the point of infidelity, but it was obtuse. It went nowhere. And in its inadequacy it is itself a providential sign, a "word." So we must look harder and further into this mystery. A "contemplation" that is wide of this is simply a waste of time, vanity and vexation of spirit.

November 4, 1964, V.162

Friday, November 4, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - November 4

Afraid of Mystery

This morning I was preparing for Mass in the woods, as usual. It was cold but the sun came up and melted the frost. It was quiet, except for the crows. I sat on an old chair under the skinny cedars, with my feet in the brown, frosty grass, and reflected on the errors of my monastic life. They are many and I am in the midst of them. I have never seen so many mistakes and illusions. It should be enough for me that God loves me. For His love is greater than anything else. It is the beginning and end of all. By it and for it all things were created. Yet, outside His love, I am tempted to erect a cold house of my own devising--a house that is small enough to contain my own self, and that is easier to understand than His incomprehensible love and His providence. Why is it we must be afraid of Mystery, as if the Mystery of God's love were not infinitely simple and infinitely clear? Why do we run away from Him into the dark, which, to us, is light? There is the other mystery of sin, which no one understands. Yet we act as if we understood sin and as if we were really aware of the love of God when we have never deeply experienced the meaning of either one.

November 7, 1952, III.23

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - November 3

The Importance of Self-Effacement

Necessity of the Bible. More and more of it.

A book like Guillet's. Thèmes bibliques fantastically rich and useful. Every line has something in it you do not want to miss. Opens up new roads in the Old Testament.

Extraordinary richness and delicacy of the varied Old Testament concepts of sin--very existential concepts, not at all mere moralism! For instance, sin as a "failure" to contact God. Peccavi tibi. "I have failed Thee--I have failed to reach Thee." And all that follows from that!

Importance of reading and thinking and keeping silent. Self-effacement, not in order to be left looking at oneself but to be "found in Christ" and lost to the rest.

Yet--not by refusing to take an interest in anything vital.

Politics vital--even for monks. But in this, due place and with right measure.

To live in a monastery as if the world had stopped turning in 1905--a fatal illusion.

November 12, 1957, III.135

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Year With Thomas Merton - November 2

Praying for the Dead

Abbé Jules Monchanin was convinced of the great importance of his prayer for "all the dead of India" as part of his mission to India, as part of the "convergence" of all mankind upon the Christ of the Day of Judgment.

Louis Massignon and Charles de Foucauld were both converted to Christianity by the witness of Islam to the one living God. Someone wrote of Foucauld (and his devotion to the dead of Islam): "For a mystic the souls of the dead count as much as those of the living; and his particular vocation was to sanctify the eternal Islam--for that which has been is forever--in helping to give a saint to Christianity" And again: "Asceticism is not a solitary luxury preparing us for God but the most profound act of mercy: that which heals broken hearts by its own breaks and wounds" (Massignon, Opera Minora III).

November 17, 1964, V.166-67