Friday, December 30, 2011
The Hope Faith Gives Us
(From Thomas Merton's letter to Tommie O'Callaghan upon the death of her mother)
It seems that we all have to face one sad thing after another. But let us not forget the hope our faith gives us. God is our strength and no amount of trouble should make us fail to realize it. On the contrary, trouble should help us deepen and confirm our trust. This is an old story, but as far as I am concerned, it is the one we always get back to. There is no other.
June 28, 1968
A Happy Ending
Last night, after a prayer vigil in the novitiate chapel (didn't do a good job--was somewhat disorganized and distracted), I went to bed late at the hermitage. All quiet. No lights at Boone's or Newton's. Cold. Lay in bed and realized that it was there, not as an "it" or object. It simply was. And I was that. And this morning, coming down, seeing the multitude of stars above the bare branches of the wood, I was suddenly hit, as it were, with the whole package of meaning of everything: that the immense mercy of God was upon me, that the Lord in infinite kindness had looked down on me and given me the vocation out of love, and that He had always intended this, and how foolish and trivial had been all my fears and desperation. And no matter what anyone else might do or say about it, however they might judge or evaluate it, all is irrelevant in the reality of my vocation to solitude, even though I am not a typical hermit. Quite the contrary, perhaps. It does not matter how I may or may not be classified. In the light of this simple fact of God's love and the form it has taken in the mystery of my life, classifications are ludicrous, and I have no further need to occupy my mind with them (if I ever did)--at least in this connection.
The only response is to go out from yourself with all that one is, which is nothing, and pour out that nothingness in gratitude that God is who He is. All speech is impertinent; it destroys the simplicity of that nothing before God by making it seem as if it had been "something."
December 9, 1964, V.178
Idolizing the Calendar
Incomparable richness of Ananda K. Coomaraswamy! His book on Hinduism and Buddhism. I am giving it a first reading, in which I do not expect to understand and appreciate everything.
One point--already familiar--driven home more: whatever is done naturally may be either sacred or profane, according to the degree of our awareness, but whatever is done unnaturally is essentially and irrevocably profane!
One of the great problems of monastic life here, today, with machines, noise, etc., and commercialism, is that the unnatural is taken for the supernatural. No concern at all for the natural or for natural process leads to perversion and degradation of the spiritual life.
End of 1960. The tree still decorated. The tinfoil bell, the cedar wreaths, the drying pine boughs, the colored lights. I was wondering at the beginning of morning meditation if it would be given me to see another twelve years--to come to New Year's, say 1973. The live to be fifty-seven or nearly fifty-eight. Can such an age be possible? What foolish perspectives we get onto, by believing in our calendars. As if numbers, good old numbers, faceless, voiceless, will surely be there with nothing to say.
What is likely to happen in twelve more years? Is the final war so feared and so expected that it cannot after all happen--as if what everyone expected was by that very fact excluded?
Is this inanity of man's world finally going to work itself out to its ultimate absurdity?
December 27 and 31, 1960, IV.80-81
Thursday, December 29, 2011
The Sense of a Journey Ended
After None--in the pretty pine wood of young pines by Saint Teresa's field (I still call it St. Teresa's wood)--where I have gone many times a week for four years, especially four summers, since 1957. The time has come for a kind of summing up of all this silence and sunlight and of those similar afternoons. Attached and at peace in this wood because it knows me so well now and I have no house there and nothing has ever been said or declared to indicate that I was there always. Nothing said it was "my place."
There I discovered Paraguay and for a while this wood was Paraguay (1957). I read a thing of Kierkegaard with a lovely paragraph on solitude--a bit of Henry Miller on Big Sur (in another place), much Suzuki, Vinoba Bhave. It is an oriental wood. I taught Nels Richardson (Frater Aelred) a little yoga there, walked and planned with Dom Gregorio anxiously there. There walked one afternoon after discovering some lyrics in the I Ching. Read The Leopard and Ungaretti there. Above all prayed and meditated there and will again.
St. Mary of Carmel after Vespers is tremendous: with the tall pines, the silence, the moon and stars above the pines as dark falls, the patterns of shadows, the vast valley and hills: everything speaks of a more mature and complete solitude. The pines are tall and not low. There is frankly a house, demanding not attachment but responsibility. A silence for dedication and not escape. Lit candles in the dusk. "This is my resting place forever"--the sense of a journey ended, of wandering at an end. The first time in my life I ever really felt I had come home and my waiting and looking were ended.
December 26, 1960, IV.79-80
Happy to Be Marginal
Yesterday I thought it would be snow--skies have been grey and even black for over a week. Clouds of birds gathered around the hermitage. Twenty robins or more, a dozen finches, jays, many juncos (including one I found dead on the porch), other small birds and even a couple of bluebirds--I had not seen them around in the winter. Yesterday morning about two I heard something scampering around in the house and found it was a little flying squirrel. I have no idea how he got in. I thought for a moment of keeping him and taming him, but opened the door and turned him loose. At least let the animals be free and be themselves! While they still can.
A man wrote an article in America magazine on the vernacular liturgy: "If the Church wants to sweep the world like the Beatles..." With this kind of mentality, what can you expect? But I am afraid that is the trouble. The Church is conscious of being inferior now not only to the Communists but to four English kids with mops of hair (and I like them OK). More and more I see the importance of not mopping the world with the mops, Beatle or liturgical. I am glad to be marginal. The best thing I can do for the "world" is stay out of it--in so far as one can.
December 14, 1966, VI.168-69
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Awakened in the Holy Spirit
The union of contemplation and eschatology is clear in the gift of the Holy Spirit. In Him we are awakened to know the Father because in Him we are refashioned in the likeness of the Son. And it is in this likeness that the Spirit will bring us at last to the clear vision of the invisible Father in the Son's glory, which will also be our glory. Meanwhile, it is the Spirit who awakens in our heart the faith and hope in which we cry for the eschatological fulfillment and vision. And in this hope there is already a beginning, an earnest of the fulfillment. This is our contemplation: the realization and "experience" of the life-giving Spirit in Whom the Father is present to us through the Son, our way, truth and life. The realization that we are on the way, that because we are on the way, we are in that Truth which is the end, and by which we are already fully and eternally alive. Contemplation is the loving sense of this life and this presence and this eternity.
December 22, 1964, V.182
I Heard and Believed
I am finally reading Vladimir Lossky's fine book La Vision de Dieu, which reminds me that the best thing that has come out of the Second Vatican Council is the Declaration on Ecumenism, particularly on oriental theology. If it were a matter of choosing between "contemplation" and "eschatology," there is no question that I am, and would always be, committed entirely to the latter. Here in the hermitage, returning necessarily to beginnings, I know where my beginning was, having the Name and the Godhead of Christ preached in Corpus Christi Church. I heard and believed. And I believe that He has called me freely, out of pure mercy, to His love and salvation, and that at the end (to which all is directed by Him) I shall see Him after I have put off my body in death and have risen together with Him. And that at the last day "all flesh shall see the salvation of God."
What this means is that my faith is an eschatological faith, not merely a means of penetrating the mystery of the divine presence, resting in Him now. Yet because my faith is eschatological it is also contemplative, for I am even now in the Kingdom and I can even now "see" something of the glory of the Kingdom and praise Him who is King. I would be foolish, then, if I lived blindly, putting all "seeing" off until some imagined fulfillment (for my present seeing is the beginning of a real and unimaginable fulfillment!). Thus contemplation and eschatology are one in Christian faith and in surrender to Christ. They complete each other and intensify each other. It is by contemplation and love that I can best prepare myself for the eschatological vision--and best help all the Church, and all men, to journey toward it.
December 22, 1964, V.181-82
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Raised from the Dead
Issac of Stella's Easter sermon--deep, deep intuition of faith as a resurrection because it is an act of obedience to God considered as supreme life. What matters is the act of submission to infinite life, to the authority of Creative and Redemptive Life, the Living God. Faith is this submission. The interior surrender of faith cannot have its full meaning except as an act of obedience, i.e., self-commitment in submission to God's truth in its power to give life, and to command one to live.
Hence Faith is not simply an act of choice, an option for a certain solution to the problem of existence, etc. It is a birth to a higher life, by obedience to the Giver of life, obedience to the source of life.
To believe is to consent to a creative command that raises us from the dead.
December 5, 1960, IV.72
Friday, December 23, 2011
Suspended over Nothingness and Yet in Life
A charming letter from Eleanor Shipley Duckett, who, on returning to Smith College from England (Cambridge), found some notes I had sent and is making them her "Advent reading." I am very attracted to her. She is a sweet person. She wrote part of her letter in Latin. Though I have so far not had much contact with her (it began when the University of Michigan Press sent proofs of her Carolingian Portraits), I feel we can be very good friends, that this friendship can be really precious to us both--with the autumn quality of detachment that comes from the sense that we are coming to the end of our lives (she must be quite older than I, in her sixties, I presume). This sense of being suspended over nothingness and yet in life, of being a fragile thing, a flame that may blow out and yet burns brightly, adds an inexpressible sweetness to the gift of life, for one sees it entirely and purely as a gift. A gift that one must treasure in great fidelity with a truly pure heart.
December 15, 1962, IV.275-76
Thursday, December 22, 2011
The Unknown Power of the Cross
Yesterday, day of recollection, realized again above all my need for profound and total humility--especially in any work I may do for peace. Humility is more important than zeal. Descent into nothingness and dependence on God. Otherwise I am just fighting the world with its own weapons and there the world is unbeatable. Indeed it does not even have to fight back, for I will exhaust myself and that will be the end of my stupid efforts.
To seek strength in God, especially in the Passion of Christ.
The mysterious, unknown power of the Cross. Preachers of the Cross hide its power and distort its meaning by their own image of the Crucified.
The crucifixion is literally the destruction of the "Image" of God.
An "image" is presented and then taken away from man (and restored if man follows into the night). There is no adequate image. Preachers preserve an image, often a very faulty one. Meaning of the stress on the Resurrection here.
But to descend into the Night of the Passion, the Night of Christ's death, baptism in His sufferings, without image.
December 11, 1961, IV.184-85
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Quiet, early morning, dark. Distress and confusion of this year. What will it bring? Yet I think the foolish business about bomb shelters, with all its enormous stupidities--down to the plastic burial suit for $50.00--has got people "roused," as the saying goes, and there is a lot of protest. The sane ones have been too passive, and they are beginning to be forced to react. But perhaps it is too late.
Life is madder and madder, except that the woods and fields are always a relief. Bright sun on the big sycamore by the mill yesterday and light snow underfoot. And silence. Silence now also, and the night.
I still haven't ploughed through all the pile of Christmas mail, not all of it. It appalls me. I haven't read enough of the things I should be reading and want to read: Clement, Gregory of Nyssa. Then again I have worked myself into an equivocal and silly position with curiositas. By now that should be familiar. Yet one must speak and act now. But I pray I may someday learn how rightly. I feel there is not much time left for one to be learning the most important things, and I will have to trust to God for all that I lack and will continue to lack.
December 31, 1961, IV.190
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Prayer Is Always First
White smoke rising up the valley, against the light, slowly taking animal forms, with a dark background of wooded hills behind. Menacing and peaceful, probably brush fires, maybe a house, probably not a house. Cold, quiet morning, watch ticks on the desk. Produce nothing.
Perhaps I am stronger than I think. Perhaps I am afraid of my own strength and turn it against myself to make myself weak. Perhaps I am most afraid of the strength of God in me.
It is simply time that I must pray intently for the needs of the whole world and not be concerned with other, seemingly "more effective" forms of action. For me, prayer comes first, the other forms of action follow, if they have their place. And they no doubt do to some extent. Prayer (yesterday's Mass) for Latin America, all of America, for this hemisphere--sorrow for the dolts, for the idiot civilization that is going down to ruin and dragging everything with it.
December 13, 1960, IV.73
Monday, December 19, 2011
In the End, Grace Alone
I have to admit the truth that the particular frustrations of this life here are first of all not intrinsic to monasticism as such, and not essential to my own "way" by any means. They are the product of social background and involvement in the economic and cultural pattern of the country (unavoidable). We are much more involved than we think, and my assessments of the Abbot are based mostly on this: that he is through and through a businessman, and indeed even prides himself on his practicality and shrewdness, and yet he "gets away" with this by a formal unworldliness in certain spheres--discouraging correspondence, visits, recreations, etc. (He resents my involvement in the intellectual world. My frustrations are to some extent those of all intellectuals in a society of businessmen and squares.)
The great fault of my own spirituality is a negativism which is related to bourgeois sterility. What Jean-Paul Sartre calls "right-wing existentialism." Regarding angst as an ordinary, universal element in all life...(maybe this is to some extent true, however). Projecting my own frustrations and incapacities on the whole world. The fact remains that I here suffer from the sterility of my culture, and its general impotence. The optimism I reject is the optimism that denies this sterility. But where is the real optimism I should have as a Christian?
"The simplicity of the adult," says Emmanuel Mounier, "is won by long effort, without miracles." Grace alone, the grace of the heights, sets the final grace upon the rejuvenation of the new man!
December, 26, 1963, V.50
Sunday, December 18, 2011
Praying for a Wise Heart
This morning I was praying much for a wise heart. I think the gift of this Christmas has been the real discovery of Julian of Norwich. I have long been around and hovered at her door and known that she was one of my best friends, and just because I was so sure of her wise friendship, I did not make haste to seek what I now find.
She seems to me a true theologian with a greater clarity and organization and depth even than St. Teresa of Avila. I mean she really elaborates the content of revelation as deeply experienced. It is first experienced, then thought, and the thought deepens again into life, so that all her life the content of her vision was penetrating her through and through.
One of the central convictions is her eschatological orientation to the central, dynamic secret act "by which all shall be made well" at the last day, the "great deed" ordained by our Lord from without beginning.
Especially the first paradox--she must "believe"and accept the doctrine that there are some damned, yet also the "word" of Christ shall be "saved in all things" and "all manner of thing shall be well." The heart of her theology is this apparent contradiction in which she must remain steadfastly. I believe that this "wise heart" that I have prayed for is precisely this--to stay in this hope and this contradiction, fixed on the certainty of the "great deed," which alone gives the Christian and spiritual life its true, full dimension.
December 27, 1961, IV.189-90
Saturday, December 17, 2011
In the Company of Friends
Bob Lax's circus book--Circus of the Sun--is a tremendous poem, an Isaias-like prophecy that has a quality you just don't find in poetry today. A completely unique simplicity and purity of love that is not afraid to express itself. The circus as symbol and sacrament, cosmos, and church--the mystery of the primitive world, of paradise in which men have wonderful and happy skills, which they exercise freely as at play. Also a sacrament of the eschaton--the last things--our heavenly Jerusalem. The importance of human love in the circus--for doing things well. It is one of the few poems that has anything whatever to say. I want to write an article about it.
Victor and Carolyn Hammer came over yesterday. We ate sandwiches in the jeep, in a sunny field near the shallow lake, drank coffee, ate apples and ginger. I lost a filling from a tooth. He came back to see the chapel--I have hopes that he will make a tabernacle for us and candlesticks. He looked at the chapel without inspiration, and said, "This is an awful place." A prophetic utterance, quite unlike the words of Jacob used as Introit for the Feast of the Dedication of a Church. But he offered to lend us one of his painted crucifixes--one of those he did for Kolbsheim.
He gave me one of his little Japanese knives. I cleaned up the room in its honor.
Went out alone to get three large trees and a small one in the wasteland along by Andy Boone's.
A sunny, happy day, yesterday.
Friday, December 16, 2011
Transfiguring the Ordinary
Yesterday I selected poems for a paperback collection, to be issued by New Directions. Saw that my best ones were the early ones, and that I cannot go back to that.
The fervor of those days was special and young. It can inspire me to seek a new and different kind of fervor, which is older and deeper. This I must find. but I cannot go back to the earlier fervor or to the asceticism but in humanism. What has begun now must grow but must never seek to become spectacular or draw attention to itself--which is what I unconsciously did in those days, proclaiming that I was a poet and a mystic. Both are probably true, but not deep enough, because then it was too conscious. I have to write and speak not as an individual who has cut himself off from the world and wants the world to know it, but as the person who has lost himself in the service of the vast wisdom of God's plan to reveal Himself in the world and in man. How much greater, deeper, nobler, truer, and more hidden. A mysticism that appears no longer transcendent but ordinary.
December 11, 1958, III.237-38
Thursday, December 15, 2011
Love Is the Only Answer
"My responsibility is to be in all reality a peacemaker in the world, an apostle, to bring people to truth, to make my whole life a true and effective witness to God's truth."
Moving words of Albert Einstein (with whom I agree that Gandhi has been in reality the most effective and trustworthy political thinker of our time): "We must revolutionize our thinking, revolutionize our actions, and must have the courage to revolutionize our relations among the nations of the world. Clichés of yesterday will no longer do....To bring this home to men all over the world is the most important and fateful function intellectuals have ever had to shoulder. Will they have enough courage to overcome their own nationalities to the extent that is necessary to induce the peoples of the world to change their deep-rooted national traditions in a most radical fashion?"
Love is the only answer. But medieval talk about love does nothing. What does love mean today? What is its place in the enormous dimensions of the modern world? We have to love in a new way and with a new attitude, and I suppose perhaps the first thing to do is admit that I do not know the meaning of love in any context--ancient or new.
December 27, 1957, III.149-50
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Arriving at the Place God Destined for Me
Yesterday, went down to the monastery only for my own Mass and dinner. Cooked supper at the hermitage, in fact, cooked too much rice, having miscalculated, and sat half an hour consuming it, with tea. But it was a splendid supper (looking out at the hills in the clear evening light). After that, washing dishes--the bowl, the pot, the cup, the knife (for oleo), the spoon--looked up and set a jet like a small rapid jewel traveling north between the moon and the evening star--the moon being nearly full. Then I went out for a little walk down to my gate (about a hundred yards) and looked out over the valley. Incredibly beautiful and peaceful. Blue hills, blue sky, woods, empty fields, lights going on in the Abbey, to the right, through the screen of trees, hidden from the hermitage. And out there, light on the three farms I can see. One at Newton's and two others out there in the hills behind Gethsemani station.
Everything that the Fathers say about the solitary life is exactly true. The temptations and the joys, above all, the tears and the ineffable peace and happiness. The happiness that is so pure because it is simply not one's own making, but sheer mercy and gift! And the sense of having arrived at last in the place destined for me by God, and for which I was brought here twenty-three years ago!
December 16, 1964, V.179-80
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
All My Fathers
(Thomas Merton becomes a postulant at Gethsemani on December 13, 1941)
In the cemetery I looked up at the sky and thought of the great sea of graces that was flowing down on Gethsemani as her hundredth year was ending. All the crosses stood up and spoke to me for fair this time. It was as if the earth were shaking under my feet and as if the jubilant dead were just about to sit up and sing.
And I got some taste of how much there is to be glad for in the world because of Gethsemani. Not that I am looking for any such taste anymore: only how to serve God better and belong more completely to Him.
Father Amadeus was speaking today of the need for a concrete spiritual ideal. What strikes me is the need of something absolutely concrete and definite--poverty, humility: not something abstract, off in the heavens, but here, at Gethsemani. Not for other people first, but for myself first. To make it a real ideal you work for, not just one you occasionally think and preach about. To ask God somehow to make me the quietest and meekest and most unobtrusive man in the whole house, the poorest man, the one with nothing. I am right at the other end of the pole from that--but in the circumstances God has given me to work with, there are still graces--and all the Fathers of Gethsemani, who I love, will all pray for me.
December 20, 1948, II.256-57
Monday, December 12, 2011
A Simple Benedictine Life
Benedictine life is perfectly simple--it is the Gospel pure and simple--it liberates us from ourselves by enabling us to give ourselves entirely to God.
I give myself completely to God. He draws me more and more to that. I cannot know what lies ahead for me, for us, but more and more I realize God wants me to put myself in His hands, and let Him take me through the things that are to come, and I must learn to trust Him without fear, or questions, or hesitations, or withdrawal.
Yesterday, in the infirmary, old Brother Gregory lay dying.
And today it was very beautiful, warmish with the sun out and little neat clouds high up in the sky and the brown dirt piled high on top of Brother Gregory, who turns out to have been Swiss. And one day here a bull got playful and tossed him over a stone wall and that was why he always limped.
I asked Reverend Father what made Brother so saintly, and he said, "He was always working, never idle. When he was out tending the cows in the pasture, he would come back with a bucket of blackberries. He couldn't be idle." I might have known what kind of answer I would get!
December 14, 16, and 18, 1947, II.145-47
Sunday, December 11, 2011
Wanting to Start Over
While I was saying Mass, at my Communion, I heard the bells ring for an agony--one of the monks is dying--and guessed they were for Brother Gerard (they rang for thee!), and he died about an hour later. Another of the old brothers, the past dying.
A distant relative sent an old snapshot taken when he and his wife visited Douglaston--where I lived with my grandparents--thirty years ago. It shows them with Bonnemaman and myself--and the back porch of the house, and the birch tree. There is Bonnemaman as I remember her--within two years of her dying. And there am I: it shakes me! I am the young rugby player, the lad from Cambridge, vigorous, light, vain, alive, obviously making a joke of some sort. The thing shakes me. I can see that that was a different body from the one I have now--one entirely young and healthy, one that did not know sickness, weakness, anguish, tension, fatigue--a body totally assured of itself and with care, perfectly relaxed, ready for enjoyment. What a change since that day! If I were wiser, I would not mind, but I am not so sure I am wiser. I have been through more, I have endured a lot of things, perhaps fruitlessly. I do not entirely think that--but it is possible. What shakes me is that--I wish I were that rugby player, vain, vigorous, etc., and could start over again! And yet how absurd. What would I ever do? Those were, no matter how you look at it, better times! There things we had not heard of--Auschwitz, the Bomb, etc. (Yet it was all beginning, nevertheless).
December 21, 1965, V.325-26
Saturday, December 10, 2011
Dying and Being Reborn in Christ
(Thomas Merton enters Gethsemani on December 10, 1941; he dies by accident while attending a monastic conference in Bangkok, Thailand, on December 10, 1968)
I come into solitude to die and love. I come here to be created by the Spirit in Christ.
I am called here to grow. "Death" is a critical point of growth, or transition to a new mode of being; to a maturity and fruitfulness that I do not know (they are in Christ and in His Kingdom). The child in the womb does not know what will come after birth. He must be born in order to live. I am here to learn to face death as my birth.
This solitude--a refuge under His wings, a place to hide myself in His Name, therefore, a sanctuary where the grace of Baptism remains a conscious, living, active reality valid not only for me but for the whole Church. Here, planted as a seed in the cosmos, I will be a Christ seed, and bring fruit for other men. Death and rising in Christ.
I need to be "confirmed" in my vocation by the Spirit (speaking through the Church, i.e., the abbot and the community). This ordains me to be the person I am and to have the particular place and function I have, to be myself in the sense of choosing to tend toward what God wants me to be, and to orient my whole life to being the person He loves. (We are all "loved in general," but we have to personally accept a special love of God for ourselves.)
December 1, 1965, V.333-34
Friday, December 9, 2011
The Complexity of Our Real "I"
When I got up it was about thirty degrees on the porch and now at dawn it is down to twenty-one. These are the coldest hours--meditation, lectio (spiritual reading), and hot tea with lemon and a good fire. I am reading Paul Evdokimov's La Femme et le salut du monde (Woman and the Salvation of the World)--after tea--and then Rilke's Duino Elegies.
"The cross is made up of our weaknesses and failures, it is constructed by our ego and above all by our profound gloom and unspeakable and culpable ugliness, in short, by all the complexity that is at this time the real I."
I experience the truth of this very real and exact insight of Evdokimov. Still, in regard to the Catholic Peace Fellowship--about which nothing is settled--I see how much there was that was inauthentic (i.e., false, spurious) in my own initial enthusiasm for identification with peace activities, The Catholic Worker, etc. It was in reality selfish and naive at the same time. And I did not foresee that necessarily they and I could hardly go along forever in agreement, living in totally different circumstances. Yet I do agree with their ideal in general--not with all its particular implementations. One could go on analyzing interminably. I must accept this result of my own inner contradictions and trust God to bring a solution in which His will may be done by me and all of them too. And I don't know what to do next--hence I must be content not to act at all, when I would very much like to settle everything in a big sweep.
Thursday, December 8, 2011
The Old Man in a Thousand Wrappings
Evening: The heart is deceitful above all things
The heart is deep and full of windings
The old man is covered up in a thousand wrappings
(Lancelot Andrewes, Preces)
True sad words, and I would not have felt the truth of them so much if I had not had so much solitude these days, with rain coming down on the roof and hiding the valley. Rain in the night, the nuisance of water in the buckets. Or cutting wood behind the house, and a faint smell of hickory smoke from the chimney--while I taste and see that I am deceitful and that most of my troubles are rooted in my own bitterness. Is this what solitude is for? Then it is good, but I must pray for the strength to bear it! (The heart is deceitful and does not want this--but God is greater than my heart!)
I will acknowledge my faults, O Lord.
O who will give scourges to my mind
That they spare not my sins?
December 3, 1964, V.173
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
One Prays to Pray
In the hermitage, one must pray or go to seed. The pretense of prayer will not suffice. Just sitting will not suffice. It has to be real--yet what can one do? Solitude puts your back to the wall (or your face to it!) and this is good. One prays to pray. And the reality of death. John Donne's poems and Lancelot Andrewes.
Then it becomes very important to remember that the quality of one's night depends on the thoughts of the day, on the sanity of the day. I bring there the sins of the day into the light and darkness of truth to be adored without disguise--then I want to fly back to the disguises. Who ever said that the solitary life is one of pretense and deception? As if pretense were easy in solitude!!! It is easier in the community, for there one can have the support of a common illusion or a common agreement in forms that take the place of truth. One can pretend in the solitude of an afternoon walk, but the night destroys all pretences: one is reduced to nothing and compelled to begin laboriously the long return to truth.
Tonight it is cold again and, as I came up in the dark, a few small snowflakes were flying in the beam of the flashlight. The end of an oak log was still burning with small flames in the fireplace. Came up with candles, and sugar for coffee, and jar to urinate in so that I won't have to go out in the snow in the middle of the night. What greater comforts could a man want?
December 5, 1964, V.175-76
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
This Precious Poverty
I think more and more in terms of self-emptying and self-forgetfulness--but not in order merely to drown in a communal superstition and hopelessness. To renounce myself to serve truth and patiently to minister to individuals who, one by one, come needing help. To see their need, and try to minister to it, and not worry about results, or rewards. Ecce!--Behold!
Evening: rain, silence, joy.
I am certain that where the Lord sees the small point of poverty and extenuation and helplessness to which the monk is reduced, the solitary and the man of tears, then He must come down and be born there in this anguish, and make it constantly a point of infinite joy, a seed of peace in the world. And this is, and always has been, my mission. There is for me no truth and no sense in anything that conceals from me this precious poverty, this seed of tears and joy. I have a right to speak to others in so far as I speak to the same truth in them, and assuage their doubts, and make them strong in this small point of exhaustion in which the Lord becomes their wisdom and their life everlasting. What do the Psalms say but this?
"Be firm, you will see the help of the Lord upon you!"
How deep is this truth, how tremendously important!
December 25, 1962, IV.280-81
Monday, December 5, 2011
Resolve to Die in Christ
"Resolve to die rather than abandon this life-giving search." Read slowly, in the lamplight, early cold morning. Simeon the New Theologian is a man of burning words indeed. In the comfort of the monastery it is easier to neglect him as an extremist. "To have no thought of oneself for an earthly end, but to have one's whole mind centered on Christ. What measure, think you, will this procure of heavenly good, and of angelic condition?" (Catechism, II).
How clearly I see and experience this morning the difference and distance between my own inertia, weakness, sensitivity, stupidity, and the love of Christ, which instantly pulls all things in me together so that there is no longer any uncertainty or misdirection or lassitude. What a shame and dishonor to Christ if I let my life be such a mess of trivialities and silly concerns (that are in reality only a mask for despair!).
I will not easily forget the thin sickle of old moon rising this morning just before dawn, when I went down to say Mass. Cold sky, hard brightness of stars through the pines, snow and frost, exaltation on the bright darkness of morning. In the cold of Advent I recapture the lostness and wonder of the first days when I came here twenty-three years ago, abandoned to God, with everything left behind. I have not felt this for a long time here. Breaking off and living (to a great extent) in the woods brings me back face to face with the loneliness and poverty of the cold hills and the Kentucky winter--incomparable, and the reality of my own life!
December 1, 1964, V.172
My Old Life Slowly Breaks Loose
Last evening at supper I began Jacques Ellul's L'illusion politque. It is some comfort to find someone who agrees with my position. I must be resolutely non-political, provided I remain ready to speak out when it is needed. However, I think this book, too, may turn our insufficient and naive (philosophically weak perhaps, I am not far into it). But he is basically right in attacking the modern superstition that "what has no political value has no value at all"--"A man who does not read the newspapers is not a man." And to be apolitical is to be excommunicated as a sorcerer. That the deepest communion on man with man is in political declarations.
What is primary? God's revelation of Himself to me in Christ and my response in faith. In the concrete, this means for me my present life of solitude, acceptance of its true perspectives and demands, and the work of slow orientation that goes on. Each day, a little, I realize that my old life is breaking loose and will eventually fall, in pieces, gradually. What then? My solitude is not like the German poet Rilke's: ordered to a poetic explosion. Nor is it a mere deepening of religious consciousness. What is it then? What has been so far only a theological conception, or an image, has to be sought and loved: "Union with God!" So mysterious that in the end man would perhaps do anything to evade it, once he realizes it means the end of his own Ego self-realization, once for all. Am I ready? Of course not. Yet the course of my life is set in this direction.
December 5 and 7, 1965, V.322
Saturday, December 3, 2011
A Brush with the Angel of Death
How often in the last years I have thought of death. It has been present to me and I have "understood" it, and know that I must die. Yet last night, only for a moment, in passing, and so to speak without grimness or drama, I momentarily experienced the fact that I, this self, will soon simply not exist. A flash of "not-thereness," of being dead. Without fear or grief, without anything. Just not there. And this I supposed is one of the first tastes of the fruits of solitude. So the angel passed along, thinking aloud to himself, doing his business, and barely taking note of me. But taking note of me nevertheless. We recognized one another. And of course the other thing is that this "I" is not "I," and I am not this body, this "self," and I am not just my individual nature. But yet I might as well be, so firmly am I rooted in it and identified with it--with this that will cease utterly to exist, in its natural individuality.
In the hermitage--I see how quickly I can fall apart. I talk to myself, I dance around the hermitage, I sing. This is all very well but it is not serious, it is a manifestation of weakness, of dizziness. And again I feel within this individual self the nearness of disintegration. (Yet I also realize that this exterior self can fall apart and be reintegrated too. This is like losing dry skin that peels off while the new skin forms underneath.)
December 4, 1964, V.173-74
Friday, December 2, 2011
Love Born Out of Prayer in Seclusion
"Love comes from prayer and prayer from remaining in seclusion" (Isaac of Syria). Certainly the break in my more solitary routine (going down to the monastery earlier without the long meditation, spending most of the day there, ceremonies, lectures, etc.) has created a kind of confusion, disturbance and laxity. Solitude is not something to play with from time to time. And yet of course I still need a good part of the common life, and will always need to maintain very definite contacts. But it is hard and confusing to be uprooted from peace every time you begin barely to get into it--or rather, not to be able to sink completely into unity and simplicity. There is peace too in community, of course, but it has a different and more active rhythm.
Yet, in this solitude there must be, with the fiery substance of the eternal prophets, also the terse anger and irony and humor of the Latin American poets with whom I am united in bonds of warmth and empathy, for instance, the Peruvian Blanca Varela (I must translate her, a poem or two), or Jorge Eduardo Eielson!
At last there is light again. First there were some stars here and there, when I first got up at 2:15. Then a surprise--in an unexpected corner of woods, the thin last slice of leftover moon. The sun came up at 8:05 (our time here is unnatural, as we are on Eastern standard). Then there was the extraordinary purity and stillness and calm of that moment of surprise and renewal. Peace of the woods and the valley, but then somewhere a heifer salutes the morning with enthusiastic lowing.
December 29, 1964, V.184-85
Thursday, December 1, 2011
It is beautiful Advent weather, greyish and cold, with clouds of light snow howling across the valley, and I see it is really winter. I put some bread out for the birds.
I feel closer to my beginning than ever, and perhaps I am near my end. The Advent hymns sound as they first did, as if they were the nearest things to me that ever were, as if they had been decisive in shaping my heart and my life, as if I had received their form, as if there could never be any other melodies so deeply connatural to me. They are myself, words and melody and everything. So also the Rorate Coeli that brought me here to pray for peace. I have not prayed for it well enough, or been pure enough in heart, or wise enough. And today, before the Blessed Sacrament, I was ashamed of my impertinences and the deep infidelities of my life, rooted in weakness and confusion.
Yesterday, I celebrated my Mass for the new generation, the new poets, the fighters for peace, and my novices. There is in many of them a peculiar quality of truth that older squares have driven out of themselves in a days of rigidity and secure right thinking. May God keep us from being "right thinking" men, who think, that is, with their own police (and since the police don't think, neither do these others).
December 9, 1962, IV.272-73