Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Year With Thomas Merton - January 31

The Gift of My Life

(Thomas Merton's birthday; born in 1915 in Prades, France)

A lovely little icon arrived that Bob Rambusch got for us in Salonika, I believe. He had it cleaned in New York and here it is--not astonishingly beautiful but simple and holy and joyous. It radiates a kind of joy and strength that one would not look for or see, if one looked only superficially. I blessed this icon today (it had been sold and lost its consecration by the defiling touch of commerce) and I prayed aloud before it an Eastern prayer and hymn to the icon of Our Lady of Kazan. Her coming is such a great grace--her presence a great comfort. I have placed the icon over the altar of Our Lady in the novitiate chapel.

Why was I always half-convinced I would die young? Perhaps a kind of superstition--the fear of admitting a hope of life which, if admitted, might have to be dashed. But now "I have lived" a fair span of life and, whether or not the fact be important, nothing can alter it. It is certain, infallible--even though that too is only a kind of dream. If I don't make it to sixty-five, it matters less. I can relax. But life is a gift I am glad of, and I do not curse the day when I was born. On the contrary, if I had never been born I would never have friends to love and be loved by, never have made mistakes to learn from, never have seen new countries, and, as for what I may have suffered, it is inconsequential and indeed part of the great good which life has been and will, I hope, continue to be.

January 31, 1960, III.372-73

Monday, January 30, 2012

A Year With Thomas Merton - January 30

On the Eve of a Birthday

Snow, silence, the talking fire, the watch on the table. Sorrow. I will get cleaned up (my hands are dirty). I will sing the psalms of my birthday.

No matter what mistakes and illusions have marked my life, most of it I think has been happiness and, as far as I can tell, truth. There were whole seasons of insincerity, largely when I was under twenty-one and followed friends that were not my own kind. But after my senior year at Columbia things got straight. I can remember many happy and illumined days and whole blocks of time. There were a few nightmare times in childhood. But at Saint Antonin, with Father, life was a revelation. Then again, at so many various times and places, in Sussex (at Rye and in the country), at Oakham, at Strasbourg, at Rome above all, in New York, especially upstate Olean and St. Bonaventure's. I remember one wonderful winter morning arriving at Olean to spend Christmas with Bob Lax. Arrivals and departures on the Erie were generally great. The cottage on the hill, too--then Cuba: wonderful days there. All this I have said before and the whole world knows it.

The profoundest and happiest times of my life have been in and around Gethsemani, and also some of the most terrible. Mostly the happy moments were in the woods and fields, alone, with the sky and the sun, and up here at the hermitage. And with the novices (afternoons at work).

January 30, 1965, V.198-99

Sunday, January 29, 2012

A Year With Thomas Merton - January 29

Going Nowhere, Having Nothing to Do

It is useless to simply substitute the "experience" of oneself as a hermit for the "experience" of oneself as active, as a "monk," as a "writer," etc. The same error is repeated in a new way. In reality the hermit life does imply a certain attrition of one's identity. In context a word that implies "loss of" identity. This must also be resisted: one does not live alone in order to become a vegetable. Yet the resistance does not take the form of asserting a social and evident identity of one who is going somewhere or doing something special. A curious kind of identity, then: "in God."

Merely living alone but continuing to engage in a lot of projects is not yet an authentic hermit life. The projects must go. Solitude demands an emptiness, an aimlessness, a going nowhere, a certain "having nothing to do," especially nothing that involves the growth and assertion of one's "image" and one's "career."

Distraction: the illusory expectation of some fulfillment, which in the end is only a human loneliness.

Were you not forever distracted by expectation, as if everything were announcing to you some (coming) beloved?

(Rainer Maria Rilke, 1st
Duino Elegy)

January 29, 1966, VI.356-57

Saturday, January 28, 2012

A Year With Thomas Merton - January 28

Seeing the Center from Somewhere Else

The year of the dragon has so far distinguished itself by strong, lusty winds--great windstorm the other night, some trees blew down in the woods near the hermitage (one across the path going up). Pine cones and bits of branches all over the lawn.

The need for constant self-revision, growth, leaving behind, a renunciation of yesterday, yet in continuity with all yesterdays (to cling to the past is to lose one's identity with it, for this means clinging to what was not there). My ideas are always changing, always moving around one center, always seeing the center from somewhere else. I will always be accused of inconsistencies--and will no longer be there to hear the accusation.

"What makes us afraid is our great freedom in face of the emptiness that has still to be filled" (Karl Jaspers). And again these concluding words from the arresting little pamphlet on The European Spirit: "The philosophically serious European is faced today with the choice between opposed philosophical possibilities. Will he enter the limited field of fixed truth which in the end has only to be obeyed; or will he go into the limitless open truth?...Will he win this perilous independence in perilous openness, as in existential philosophy, the philosophy of communication in which the individual becomes himself on condition that others become themselves, in which there is no solitary peace but constant dissatisfaction and in which a man exposes his soul to suffering?"

January 25 and 26, 1964, V.67-68

Friday, January 27, 2012

A Year With Thomas Merton - January 27

The Necessity of Adoration

"Nothing is more necessary than to adore the living God," says the Rule for Recluses. It seems a platitude--really it is a deep, mysterious, unfathomable, living need--an imperative for one's whole life, a demand that is often forgotten and not met. I am in solitude precisely to confront this demand and other like it (in Zen terms, for example). I recognize I do not cope with the others really. Yet I must keep on with it, however much I fumble around. No one else can tell me what to do now: I have to try to find out for myself (of course people will come at the right time with the right word--books, too--but I have no one to rely on. This is my life and I don't pretend to understand it. Only, the mere playing of a role would be intolerable and mere living is also not enough, although at times it seems to resolve itself into that. There is living and then there is living.

January 15, 1966, VI.7

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Year With Thomas Merton - January 26

Faithful to the Truth

In concluding the retreat:

1. There can be no doubt, no compromise, in my decision to be completely faithful to God's will and truth, and hence I must seek always and in everything to act for His will and in His truth, and thus to seek with His grace to be "a saint."

2. There must be no doubt, no compromise in my efforts to avoid falsifying this work of truth by considering too much what others approve of and regard as "holy." In a word, it may happen (or may not) that what God demands of me may make me look less perfect to others, and that it may rob me of their support, their affection, their respect. To become a saint therefore may mean the anguish of looking like, and in a real sense "being," a sinner, an outcast. It may mean apparent conflict with certain standards that may be wrongly understood by me or by others or by all of us.

3. The thing is to cling to God's will and truth in their purity and try to be sincere and to act in all things out of genuine love, in so far as I can.

January 25, 1962, IV.198

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Year With Thomas Merton - January 25

I Begin to Awaken

There is an element of emptiness and anguish from the concentration of the annual retreat, but not so much. Actually I feel more sure than I ever have in my life that I am obeying the Lord and am on the way He wills for me, though at the same time I am struck and appalled (more than ever!) by the shoddiness of my response. I am just beginning to awaken and to realize how much more awakening is to come. And how much is to be faced. How much I must admit and renounce ambition and agitated self-seeking in my work and contacts (I am so tied up in all this that I don't know where to start getting free!). But God will take care of me, for in my confusion and helplessness I nevertheless feel (believe in) His closeness and strength. I don't have to know and see how it will all come out.

My intention is, in fact, simply to "die" to the past somehow. To live more abandoned to God's will and less concerned with projects and initiatives. More detached from work and events, more solitary. To be one of those who entirely practices contemplation simply in order to follow Christ.

January 25, 1965, V.195

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Year With Thomas Merton - January 24

Moments of Angelic Lucidity

I went down to the spring that feeds the stream running through Edelin's pasture. Wonderful clear water pouring strongly out of a cleft in the mossy rock. I drank from it in my cupped hands and suddenly realized it was years, perhaps twenty-five or thirty years since I had tasted such water, no chemicals!! I looked up at the clear sky and the tops of the leafless trees shining in the sun: it was a moment of angelic lucidity. Said Tierce with great joy, overflowing joy, as if the land and woods and spring were all praising God through me. The sense of angelic transparency of everything, and of pure, simple, and total light. The word that comes closest to pointing to it is simple. It was all simple. But a simplicity to which one seems to aspire, only seldom to attain. A simplicity, that is, that has and says everything just because it is simple.

January 6, 1965, V.187

Monday, January 23, 2012

A Year With Thomas Merton - January 23

Unveiling the Heart

Deep snow. A marvelous morning (early in the night hours) in which, among other things, I suddenly wrote a French poem.

Curious dimension of time: in four hours (besides writing this poem, getting breakfast and cleaning up) I reread a few pages of Burtt's book and perhaps twenty pages of Kitaro Nishida. That was all. But the time was most fruitful in depth and awareness, and I did not know what happened to all these hours.

Later I could see by the deer tracks that sometime in the dark before dawn a couple of deer had jumped the fence right out in front of the hermitage--but I did not notice them. (Too dark, and with my desk light in front of me I do not see out when it is dark.)

As regards prayer--in the hermitage. To be snowed in is to be reminded that this is a place apart, from which praise goes up to God, and that my honor and responsibility are that praise. This is my joy, my only "importance." For it is important! To be chosen for this! And then the realization that the Spirit is given to me, the veil is removed from my heart, that I reflect "with open face" the glory of Christ (II Corinthians 3:12-18). It would be easy to remain with one's heart veiled, and it is not by any wisdom of my own, but by God's gift, that it is unveiled.

January 23, 1966, VI.10-11

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Year With Thomas Merton - January 22

Out to Sea Without Restraints

What more do I seek than this silence, this simplicity, this "living together with wisdom"? For me there is nothing else. Last night, before going to bed, realized momentarily what solitude really means: when the ropes are cast off and the skiff is no longer tied to land, but heads out to sea without ties, without restraints! Not the sea of passion, on the contrary, the sea of purity and love that is without care, that loves God alone immediately and directly in Himself as the All (and the seeming Nothing that is all). The unutterable confusion of those who think that God is a mental object and that to love "God alone" is to exclude all other objects to concentrate on this one! Fatal. Yet that is why so many misunderstand the meaning of contemplation and solitude, and condemn it. But I see too that I no longer have the slightest need to argue with them. I have nothing to justify and nothing to defend: I need only defend this vast simple emptiness from my own self, and the rest is clear. (Through the cold and darkness I hear the Angelus ringing at the monastery.) The beautiful jeweled shining of honey in the lamplight. Festival!

January 31, 1965, V.200

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Year With Thomas Merton - January 21

My Deep Youthful Shyness

A bright, snowy afternoon, delicate blue clouds of snow blowing down off the frozen trees. Forcibly restrained myself from much work around the hermitage, made sure of my hour's meditation and will do more later. How badly I need it. I realize how great is the tempo and pressure of work I have been in down in the community--with many irons in the fire. True, I have in the community gained the knack of dropping everything and completely relaxing my attention and forgetting the work by going out and looking at the hills. Good that the novitiate work is not exceedingly absorbing. (Biggest trouble now is letter writing.)

Shall I look at the past as if it were something to analyze and think about? Rather, I thank God for the present, but for the present that is His and in Him. The past: I am inarticulate about it now. I remember irrelevant moments of embarrassment, and my joys are seen to have been largely meaningless. Yet, as I sit here in this wintry and lonely and quiet place, I suppose I am the same person as the eighteen-year-old riding back alone into Bournemouth on a bus out of the New Forest, where I had camped a couple of days and nights. I suppose I regret most my lack of love, my selfishness and glibness (covering a deep shyness and need of love) with girls who, after all, did love me, I think, for a time. My great fault was my inability really to believe it, and my efforts to get complete assurance and perfect fulfillment.

January 30, 1965, V.197-98

Friday, January 20, 2012

A Year With Thomas Merton - January 20

Rediscovering Jesus

Today, in a moment of trial, I rediscovered Jesus, or perhaps discovered Him for the first time. But then, in a monastery you are always rediscovering Jesus for the first time.

His eyes, which are the eyes of Truth, are fixed upon my heart. Where His glance falls, there is peace: for the light of His Face, which is the Truth, produces truth wherever it shines. His eyes are always on us in choir and everywhere and in all times. No grace comes to us from heaven except He looks upon our hearts.

The grace of this gaze of Christ upon my heart transfigured this day like a miracle. It seems to me that I have discovered a freedom that I never knew before in my life and with this freedom a recollection that is no impediment to moderate action. I have felt that the Spirit of God was upon me, and after dinner, walking along the road beyond the orchard by myself under a cobalt blue sky (in which the moon was already visible), I thought that, if I only turned my head a little, I would see a tremendous host of angels in silver armor advancing behind me through the sky, coming at last to sweep the whole world clean. I did not have to mortify this fantasy as it did not arouse my emotions but carried me along on a vivid ocean of peace. And the whole world and the whole sky was filled with wonderful music, as it has often been for me in these days. But sitting alone in the attic of the garden house and looking at the stream shining in the bare willows and at the distant hills, I think I have never been so near to Adam's, my father's, Eden. Our Eden is the Heart of Christ.

January 27 and 30, 1950, II.403-4

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Year With Thomas Merton - January 19

Reality and the Ordinary

Still very cold and bright.

The best thing about the retreat has been working in the pig barn and then walking back alone, a mile and a half, through the snow.

I think I have come to see more clearly and more seriously the meaning, or lack of meaning, in my life. How much I am still the same self-willed and volatile person who made such a mess of Cambridge. That I have not changed yet, down in the depths, or, perhaps yes, I have changed radically somewhere, yet I have still kept some of the old, vain, inconstant, self-centered ways of looking at things. And that the situation I am in now has been given me to change me, if I will only surrender completely to reality as it is given me by God and no longer seek in any way to evade it, even by interior reservations.

Here at the hermitage, in deep snow, everything is ordinary and silent. Return to reality and to the ordinary, in silence. It is always there, if you know enough to return to it.

What is not ordinary--the tension of meeting people, discussion, ideas. This too is good and real, but illusion gets into it. The unimportant becomes important. Words and images become more important than life.

One travels all over vast areas, sitting still in a room, and one is soon tired of so much traveling.

I need very much this silence and this snow. Here alone can I find my way because here alone the way is right in front of my face and it is God's way for me--there really is no other.

January 25 and 28, 1963, IV.293-95

A Year With Thomas Merton - January 18

An Ecology of Silence

The new bells sound wonderful from the woods.

St. John's day--Frater Tarcisius and I walked all the way to Hanekamp's in the afternoon. Wonderful, quiet little valley! The silent house, the goats in the red sage grass, the dry creek, and Hanekamp's vineyard. The beautiful silence of the woods on every side! Frater Tarcisius looked about with such reverence that you would have thought he was seeing angels. Later we separated to pray apart in the thinned pine grove on the southeastern hillside. And I could see how simple it is to find God in solitude. There is no one else, nothing else. He is all there to find there. Everything is in Him. And what could be more pleasing to Him than that we should leave all things and all company to be with Him and think only of Him and know Him alone, in order to give Him our love?

To be alone by being part of the universe--fitting in completely to an environment of woods and silence and peace. Everything you do becomes a unity and a prayer. Unity within and without. Unity with all living things--without effort or contention. My silence is part of the whole world's silence and builds the temple of God without the noise of hammers.

December 29 and January 28, 1953, III.27, 29

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Year With Thomas Merton - January 17

Weary of Words

Zero weather. Good work yesterday afternoon with the novices, cutting wood at the hermitage. Bright and cold. I went over to the Methodist Seminary at Asbury.

On the way over and back, stopped to take pictures at Shakertown. Marvelous, silent, vast spaces around the old buildings. Cold, pure light, and some grand trees. So cold my finger could no longer feel the shutter release. Some marvelous subjects. How the blank side of a frame house can be so completely beautiful I cannot imagine. A completely miraculous achievement of forms.

The moments of eloquent silent and emptiness in Shakertown stayed with me more than anything else--like a vision.

Tired of war, tired of letters, tired of books. Shaving today, saw new lines under the eyes, a new hollowness, a beginning of weariness. So it is good.

What matters most is secret, not said. This begins to be the most real and the most certain dimension.

I had been secretly worried about my writing, especially on peace, getting condemned. Nothing to worry about. Whenever I am really wrong, it will be easy enough to change. But it is strange that such things should be regarded with suspicion. I know this is wrong. Weary of blindness, of this blindness that afflicts all men, but most of all of the blindness afflicting those who ought to see.

January 12 and 19, 1962, IV.194-95

Monday, January 16, 2012

A Year With Thomas Merton - January 16

Content to Be Happy

You can make your life what you want. There are various ways of being happy. Why do we drive ourselves on with illusory demands? Happy only when we conform to something that is said to be a legitimate happiness? An approved happiness?

God gives us the freedom to create our own lives, according to His will, that is to say in the circumstances in which He has placed us. But we refuse to be content unless we realize in ourselves a "universal" standard, a happiness hypothetically prescribed and approved for all men of all time, and not just our own happiness. This, at least, is what I do. I am a happy person, and God has given me happiness, but I am guilty about it--as if being happy were not quite allowed, as if everybody didn't have it within reach somehow or other--and as if I had to justify God Himself by being zealous for something I do not and cannot have--because I am not happy in the same way as Pericles--or Kruschev.

January 21, 1961, IV.89

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Year With Thomas Merton - January 15

One Dog's Good Afternoon

This afternoon--a quiet walk in the sun: again down by St. Bernard's pond. The Gannons' dog tagged along--the pretty collie bitch with a feathery tail--running busily into everything, immense interest in all kinds of smells, mysteries, secrets in the bushes and in the grass. She ran on the melting ice, rolled in the manure spread over the pasture (rolled twice!), came out of the brush with her tail full of dead leaves, and, in a final paroxysm of energy, chased a cat into the cow barn. A completely successful afternoon for her anyway!!

I had Martin Buber's Ten Rungs in my pocket and couldn't read a line of it, only looked at the sun, the dead grass, the green soft ice, the blue sky, and felt utterly blank. Will there never be any peace on earth in our lifetime? Will they never do anything but kill, and then kill some more? Apparently they are caught in that impasse: the system is completely violent and involved in violence, and there is no way out but violence, and that leads only to more violence. Really--what is ahead but the apocalypse?

January 26, 1968, VII.47

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A Year With Thomas Merton - January 14

Thrown into Contradiction

God reveals Himself in the middle of conflict and contradiction--and we want to find Him outside all contradiction.

Importance of contradiction: the contradiction essential to my existence is the expression of the world's present: it is my contribution to the whole. They are my "place." It is in my insight and acceptance of contradiction that the world creates itself anew in and through my liberty--I permit God to act in and through me, making His world (in which all are judged and redeemed). I am thrown into contradiction: to realize it is mercy, to accept it is love, and to help others do the same is compassion. All this seems like nothing, but it is creation. The contradiction is precisely that we cannot "be creative" in some other way we would prefer (in which there is no contradiction).

January 20, 1966, VI.354-55

Friday, January 13, 2012

A Year With Thomas Merton - January 13

Unlearning All Tension in Solitude

There is one thing I must do here at my woodshed hermitage, St. Anne's (and may I one day live here and do it all day long), and that is to prepare for my death. But that means a preparation in gentleness. A gentleness, a silence, a humility that I have never had before--which seems impossible in the community, where even my compassion is tinged with force and strain.

But if I am called to solitude, it is, I think, to unlearn all tension, and get rid of the strain that has always falsified me in the presence of others and put harshness into the words of my mind. If I have needed solitude, it is because I have always so much needed the mercy of Christ and needed his humility and His charity. How can I give love unless I have much more than I have ever had?

Fine ideas in Max Picard's World of Silence. (A train whistle, like of the old time, sings in my present silence at St. Anne's where the watch without a crystal ticks on the little desk.)

Foolish to expect a man "to develop all the possibilities that are within him." "The possibilities that are not fully realized nourish the substance of silence. Silence is strengthened by them and gives of this additional strength to the other potentialities that are fully realized."

"There is room for contradictions within the substance of silence....A man who still has the substance of silence within him does not always need to be watching the movements of his inmost being."

January 14 and 28, 1953, III.28-29

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Year With Thomas Merton - January 12

The Peace of Being Nothing Special

It seems to me that I have greater peace and am close to God when I am not "trying to be contemplative," or trying to be anything special, but simply orienting my life fully and completely towards what seems to be required of a man like me at a time like this.

I am obscurely convinced that there is a need in the world for something I can provide and that there is a need for me to provide it. True, someone else can do it, God does not need me. But I feel He is asking me to provide it.

At the consecration of my Mass I suddenly thought of the words: "If you love me, feed my sheep!"

The wonder of being brought, by God, around a corner and to realize a new road is opening up, perhaps--which He alone knows. And that there is no way of traveling it but in Christ and with Him. This is joy and peace--whatever happens. The result does not matter. I have something to do for Him and, if I do that, everything else will follow. For the moment, it consists of prayer--thought--study, and above all care to form the South American postulants as He brings them to Gethsemani.

January 23 and 24, 1958, III.159-60

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Year With Thomas Merton - January 11

With a Pure and Empty Heart

My great obligation is to obey God, and to seek His will carefully with a pure and empty heart. Not to try to impose my own order on my life but let God impose His. To serve His will and His order by realizing them in my own life. This means certainly a deep consent to all that is actually and manifestly His will for me.

After dinner--read the Prometheus Bound of Aeschylus. Shattered by it. I do not know when I have read anything so stupendous and so completely contemporary. I felt like throwing away everything and reading nothing but Aeschylus for six months. Like discovering a mountain full of diamond mines. It is like Zen--like Dostoevsky--like existentialism--like Francis--like the New Testament. It is inconceivably rich. I consider this a great grace. A great religious experience. Prometheus, archetypal representation of the suffering Christ. But we must go deep into this. Prometheus startles us by being more fully Christ than the Lord of our own clichés--I mean, he is free from all the falsifications and limitations of our hackneyed vision which has slowly emptied itself of reality.

January 17 and 19, 1960, III.370

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Year With Thomas Merton - January 10

God Is the Room I Rest In

God's love takes care of everything I do. He guides me in all my work and in my reading, at least until I get greedy and start rushing from page to page. It is really illogical that I should get temptations to run off to another monastery and to another Order of monks. God has put me in a place where I can spend hour after hour, each day, in occupations that are always on the borderline of prayer. There is always a chance to step over the line and enter into simple and contemplative union with God. I get plenty of time alone before the Blessed Sacrament. I have gotten into the habit of walking up and down under the trees, or along the way of the cemetery, in the presence of God. And yet I am such a fool that I can consent to imagine that in some other situation I would quickly advance to a high degree of prayer. If I went anywhere else, I would almost certainly be much worse off than here. And, anyway, I did not come to Gethsemani for myself but for God. God is my order and my cell. He is my religious life and my rule. He has disposed everything in my life in order to draw me inward, where I can see Him and rest in Him. He has put me in this place because He wants me in this place, and if He ever wants to put me anywhere else, He will do so in a way that will leave no doubt as to who is doing it.

January 14, 1947, II.36

Monday, January 9, 2012

A Year With Thomas Merton - January 9

Deepening the Present

I have entered the new and holy year with the feeling that I have somehow, secretly, been granted a new life and a new hope--or a return of the old life and hope I used to have.

The contemplative life becomes awfully thin and drab if you go for several days at a time without thinking explicitly of the Passion of Christ. I do not mean, necessarily, meditation, but at least attending with love and humility to Christ on the Cross. For His Cross is the source of all our life, and without it prayer dries up and everything goes dead.

A saint is not so much a man who realizes that he possesses virtues and sanctity as one who is overwhelmed by the sanctity of God. God is holiness. And therefore things are holy in proportion as they share Who He is. All creatures are holy in so far as they share in His being, but we are called to be holy in a far superior way--by somehow sharing His transcendance and rising above the level of everything that is not God.

Solitude is not found so much by looking outside the boundaries of your dwelling, as by staying within. Solitude is not something you must hope for in the future. Rather, it is a deepening of the present, and unless you look for solitude in the present, you will never find it.

January 2-3, 1950, II.391-92

A Year With Thomas Merton - January 8

Solitude and Gentleness

It is in deep solitude that I find the gentleness with which I can truly love my brothers. The more solitary I am, the more affection I have for them. It is pure affection, and filled with reverence for the solitude of others. Solitude and silence teach me to love my brothers for what they are, not for what they say. It is no longer a question of dishonoring them by accepting their fictions, believing in their image of themselves, which their weakness obliges them to compose, the wan work of communication. Yet there will, it is true, always remain a dialectic between the words of men and their being. This will tell something about them we would not have realized if the words had not been there.

Solitude is not merely a negative relationship. It is not merely the absence of people or of presence with people. True solitude is a participation in the solitariness of God--Who is in all things. Solitude is not a matter of being something more than other men, except by accident: for those who cannot be alone cannot find their true being and they are less than themselves. Solitude means withdrawal from an artificial and fictional level of being which mean, divided by original sin, have fabricated in order to keep peace with concupiscence and death. But by that very fact the solitary finds himself on the level of a more perfect spiritual society--the city of those who have become real enough to confess and glorify God (that is, life) in the teeth of death. Solitude and society are formed and perfect in the Sacrifice of the Mass.

January 12, 1950, II.398-99

Sunday, January 8, 2012

A Year With Thomas Merton - January 7

The Sin of Wanting to Be Heard

The question of writing: definitely it has to be cut down, or changed.

Someone accused me of being a "high priest" of creativity. Or, at least, of allowing people to regard me as one. This is perhaps true.

The sin of wanting to be a pontiff, of wanting to be heard, of wanting converts, disciples. Being in a cloister, I thought I did not want this. Of course I did, and everyone knows it.

St. William, says the Breviary this night, when death approached, took off his pontifical vestments (what he was doing with them on in bed I can't imagine) and by his own efforts got to the floor and died.

So I am like him, in bed with a miter on. What am I going to do about it?

I have got to face the fact that there is in me a desire for survival as a pontiff, prophet, and writer, and this has to be renounced before I can be myself at last.

January 19, 1961, IV.87

Friday, January 6, 2012

A Year With Thomas Merton - January 6

Winter Hermitage Under Black Pines

It is turning into the most brilliant of winters.

At 6:45--stepped out into the zero cold for a breath of air. Brilliance of Venus hanging as it were on one of the dim horns of Scorpio. Frozen snow. Deep wide blue-brown tracks of the tractor that came to get my gas tank the other day when everything was mucky. Bright hermitage settled quietly under black pines I came in from saying the psalms of the Little Hours and the Rosary in the snow with my nose in pain and sinuses aching. Ears burn now in the silent sunlit room. Whisper of the gas fire. Blue shadows where feet have left frozen prints out there in the snow. I drank a glass of dry sherry and am warm! Lovely morning! How lovely life can be!

January 5, 1968, VII. 33-34

A Year With Thomas Merton - January 5

Her Presence Demands My Love

A cold night. Woke up to find the night filled with the depth and silence of snow. Stayed up here in the hermitage for supper last night, but having cooked soup and cut up a pear and a banana for dessert, and made toast, finally came to the conclusion that is all too elaborate. If there were no better reason for fasting, the mere fact of saving time would be a good enough reason. For the bowl and the saucepan have to be washed, and I have only a bucket of rainwater for washing, etc., etc. Taking only coffee for breakfast makes a lot of sense, because I can read quietly and sip my two mugs of coffee at leisure, and it really suffices for the morning.

There is a great need for discipline in meditation. Reading helps. The early morning hours are good, though in the morning meditation (one hour) I am easily distracted by the fire. An hour is not much, but I can be more meditative in the hour of reading that follows (and which goes much too fast). The presence of Our Lady is important to me. Elusive but I think a reality in this hermitage. Her influence is a demand of love, and no amount of talking will explain it. I need her and she is there. I should perhaps think of it explicitly more often.

In the afternoon, work takes up so much time, and there can be so much. Just keeping the place clean is already a big task. Then there is wood to be chopped, etc. The fire is voracious--but pleasant company.

January 30, 1965, V.196-97

Thursday, January 5, 2012

A Year With Thomas Merton - January 4

The Speech of God Is Silence

For the first time in my life I am finding you, O Solitude. I can count on the fingers of one hand the few short moments of purity, of neutrality, in which I have found you. Now I know I am coming to the day in which I will be able to live without words, even outside my prayer. For I still need to go out into the no-man's-land of language, which does not quite join me to others and which throws a veil over my own solitude. I say "live without words." By words I mean the half-helpless and half-wise looks by which we seek one another's thoughts. But I do not abdicate all language, for there is the Word of God. This I proclaim and I live to proclaim it. I live to utter the Mass, the Canon, which implicitly contains all words, all revelation, and teaches everything. It is at the Canon and at the words of Consecration that all solitudes come into a single focus. There is the City of God gathered together in that one Word spoken in silence. The speech of God is silence. His Word is solitude. Him I will never deny, by His grace! Everything else is fiction, half-hiding the truth it tries to reveal. We are travelers from the half-world of language into solitude and infinity. We are strangers. Paper, I have not in you a lasting city. Yet, there is a return from solitude to make manifest His Name to them who have not known it. And then to re-enter solitude again and dwell in silence.

January 11, 1950, II.158

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Year With Thomas Merton - January 3

New Year's Darkness

The year struggles with its own blackness.

Dark, wet mush of snow under frozen rain for two days. Everything is curtained in purple greyness and ice. Fog gets in the throat. A desolation of wetness and waste, turning to mud.

Only New Year's Day was bright. Very cold. Everything hard and sparkling, trees heavy with snow. I went for a walk up the side of the Vineyard Knob, on the road to the fire tower, in secret hope of "raising the sparks" (as the Hassidim say), and they rose a little. It was quiet, but too bright, as if this celebration belonged not to the New Year or to any year.

More germane to this new year is darkness, wetness, ice and cold, the scent of illness.

But maybe this is good. Who can tell?

The morning was dark, with a harder bluer darkness than yesterday. The hills stood out stark and black, the pines were black over thin pale sheets of snow. A more interesting and tougher murkiness. Snowflakes began to blow when I went down to the monastery from the hermitage, but by 10:30 the sun was fairly out and it was rapidly getting colder.

Evening--new moon--snow hard crackling and squealing under my rubber boots. The dark pines over the hermitage. The graceful black fans and branches of the tall oaks between my field and the monastery. I said Compline and looked at the cold valley and tasted its peace. Who is entitled to such peace? I don't know. But I would be foolish to leave it for no reason.

January 3 and 4, 1968, VII.32-33

Monday, January 2, 2012

A Year With Thomas Merton - January 2 [32nd birthday of Marie Claire Chateau Allen]

The Silence in Yourself

Yesterday it looked like snow. Today there is deep snow, and the sun is out, and the cedars full of snow stand up against a bright blue sky and the white hills are in a sort of haze and the abbey buildings are golden. That is the way Gethsemani looks in winter and Frater Linus's box of Kodachromes is full of just such pictures.

Yesterday, when I was reading in the cemetery, I thought how the silence you find in yourself, when you enter in and rest in God, is always the same and always new, even though it is unchanging. For that silence is true life and, even though your body moves around (as mine did vigorously, being cold), your soul stays in the same place, resting in its life Who is God, now in winter just as it did before in summer, without any apparent difference, as if nothing had changed at all, and the passage of seasons had only been an illusion.

For the first time since the beginning of December, I went out to work to let some fresh air into my stuffy head and let a few phantasms fly away into the trees. We broke rock down on the road to the lower bottom, outside the enclosure, past the horse barn. How good it was to be out working with my brothers! and I felt this even about those who ordinarily rub me the wrong way! How good it is to have a rule in which simplicity and poverty and hardship play so large a part so that you can give yourself up to God by it!

January 17 and 21, 1948, II.158-59

Test Post

Testing to see if a non-Merton post will be blocked from FB.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A Year With Thomas Merton - January 1

A Breath of Zen

Fidelity to grace in my life is fidelity to simplicity, rejecting ambition and analysis and elaborate thought, or even elaborate concern.

A breath of Zen blows all these cobwebs out the window.

It is certainly true that what is needed is to get back to the "original face" and drop off all the piled-up garments of thought that do not fit me and are not "mine"--but to take only what is nameless.

I have been absurdly burdened since the beginning of the year with the illusions of "great responsibility" and of a task to be done. Actually whatever work is to be done is God's work and not mine, and I will not help matters, only hinder them, by too much care.

Sunrise--an event that calls forth solemn music in the very depths of one's being, as if one's whole being had to attune itself to the cosmos and praise God for a new day, praise Him in the name of all the beings that ever were or ever will be--as though now upon me falls the responsibility of seeing what all my ancestors have seen, and acknowledging it, and praising God, so that, whether or not they praised God back then, themselves, they can do so now in me.

Sunrise demands this rightness, this order, this true disposition of one's whole being.

January 20-21, 1963, IV.291-92