Wednesday, February 29, 2012
A Bleak Extra Day
Bleak leap-year extra day. Black, with a few snowflakes, like yesterday when no snow stayed on the ground but there was sleet and the rain-buckets nearly filled. All the grass is white with, not snow, death.
A magazine in English--in Burma or somewhere (India?)--has an article by a Buddhist laywoman of her practice of meditation--emphasizing mindfulness of suffering in its existential reality, not escaping into ecstasy, etc. On one of the pages with this article, the following advertisement:
If you use Balm
use only the strongest Balm
de Songa's Dali Brand
BURMA BALM (picture of jar--radiating light)
So powerful yet only K1 a jar
Relieves all pain--and quickly!
From de Songa's of course.
Though it is still cold (with a bitterly biting wind) there were a few moments this afternoon when the coming of spring might almost be credible--perhaps because I so desire it after this cold winter. Out in St. Bernard's field, just as the clock was striking two, the sound of the bells came clear in a lull of the wind, and, with the wind down, the sun was suddenly warm. Fern-like walnut trees in the hollow stood as if ready for summer, and I looked at the distant valley and at the slight haze in the sky. Perhaps warm weather will once again be possible.
February 24, 25, & 29, 1968, VII.57-58, 60
A Life of Clashes and Discoveries
I begin my jubilee year not exactly clear what I am doing, for everything is always beginning again. If everything in my life remains indefinite to some extent (though it is superficially definite), I accept this as a good thing. As a serious and perhaps troubling thing, always faced with possibilities, I must recognize that many of the "possibilities" are so illusory or so impossible as not to be worth considering. And at times I will not know which to consider, which not.
Coming to grips with my reality--(as if this were not going on all the time) coordinating, incorporating in a living regime all that I can reach to make relevant my presence here, on its way to ending. The religious depth of Ammonias, the perspicacity of Merleau-Ponty, even the tedious subtleties of Sartre, and always the Bible. Meetings of opposites, not carefully planned exclusions and mere inclusion of the familiar. A life of clashes and discoveries, not of repetitions: and yet also deep dread before God, and not trivial excitement.
January 31 and February 2, 1964, V.68-69
Monday, February 27, 2012
Clinging to God
Yesterday in the morning, when I went out for a breath of air before my novice conference, I saw men working on the hillside beyond the sheep barn. At last the electric line is coming to my hermitage! All day they were working on the holes, digging and blasting the rock with small charges, young men in yellow helmets, good, eager, hardworking guys with machines. I was glad of them and of American technology, pitching in to bring me light, as they would for any farmer in the district. It was good to feel part of this, which is not to be despised, but is admirable. (Which does not mean that I hold any brief for the excess of useless developments in technology.) Galley proofs of the little Gandhi book for New Directions came and I finished them in a couple of hours. A good letter from Morcelliana, and an architect in Madrid who will use two essays on art from Disputed Questions, etc., etc. Drawings from Lax. And a couple of the usual letters from crazy people. It is good to be part of that too! Vanity. But that is the thing about solitude. To realize how desperately we depend on the "existence" that recognition by others gives us, and how hopeless we are without it until God gives us feet to stand alone on. I have those feet sometimes, but once again, let me realize that there is no absolute "standing alone"--only awful poverty and insecurity and clinging to God in one's need of others, and greater appreciation of the smallest and most insignificant of communal verities. February 16, 1965, V.206-7
Sunday, February 26, 2012
Although it is almost unbelievable to imagine this country being laid to waste, yet that is very probably what is going to happen.
Without serious reason, without people "wanting" it, and without them being able to prevent it, because of their incapacity to use the power they have acquired, they must be used by it.
Hence the absolute necessity of taking this fact soberly into account and living in the perspectives that it establishes--an almost impossible task.
1. Preeminence of meditation and prayer, of self-emptying, cleaning out, getting rid of the self that blocks the view of truth. The self that says it will be here and then that it will not be here.
2. Preeminence of compassion for every living thing, for life, for the defenseless and simple beings, for the human race in its blindness. For Christ, crucified in His image. Eucharistic sacrifice, without justification.
3. Weariness of words, except in friendship, and in the simplest and most direct kind of communication, by word of mouth or letter.
4. Preeminence of the silent and inconclusive action--if any presents itself. And meaningful suffering, accepted in complete silence, without justification.
February 27, 1962, IV.205-6
Saturday, February 25, 2012
Christ Has Known Our Exile
At the end of the first Epistle of Saint Paul to the Corinthians; "I shall know even as I have been known."
It is in the passion of Christ that God has proved to us that He has "known" us. That He recognized us in our misery. That He has found His lost image in our fallen state and reclaimed it for His own, cleansed in the charity of His Divine Son.
It is on the Cross that God has known us: that He has searched our souls with His compassion and experienced the full extent of capacity for wickedness: it is on the Cross that He has known our exile, and ended it, and brought us home to Him.
We have to return to Him through the same gate of charity by which He came to us. If we had to open the gate ourselves, we could never do it. He has done the work. It is for us to follow Him and enter in by all those things that go together to fulfill in us the law of charity, in which all virtues are complete.
February 14, 1953, II. 31-32
He Made the Desert Holy
The song of my Beloved beside the stream. The birds descanting in their clerestories. His skies have sanctified my eyes, His woods are clearer than the King's palace. But the air and I will never tell our secret.
The first Sunday of Lent, as I now know, is a great feast. Christ has sanctified the desert, and in the desert I discovered it. The woods have all become young in the discipline of spring, but it is the discipline of expectancy only. Which one cuts more keenly? The February sunlight or the air? There are no buds. Buds are not guessed at or even thought of this early in Lent. But the wilderness shines with promise. The land is first in simplicity and strength. Everything foretells the coming of the holy spring. I had never before spoken so freely or so intimately with woods, hills, buds, water, and sky. On this great day, however, they understood their position and they remained mute in the presence of the Beloved. Only His light was obvious and eloquent. My brother and sister, the light and the water. The stump and the stone. The tables of rock. The blue, naked sky. Tractor tracks, a little waterfall. And Mediterranean solitude. I thought of Italy after my Beloved had spoken and was gone.
February 27, 1950, II.412
Thursday, February 23, 2012
Belonging Entirely to God
Certainly the solitary life makes sense only when it is centered on one thing: the perfect love of God. Without this, everything is triviality. Love of God in Himself, for Himself, sought only in His will, in total surrender. Anything but this, in solitude, is nausea and absurdity. But outside of solitude, one can be occupied in many things that seem to have and do have a meaning of their own. And their meaning can be and is accepted, at least provisionally, as something that must be reckoned with until such time as one can come to love God alone perfectly, etc. This is all right in a way, except that, while doing things theoretically "for the love of God," one falls in practice into complete forgetfulness and ignorance and torpor. This happens in solitude, too, of course, but in solitude, while distraction is evidently vain, forgetfulness brings nausea. But in society, forgetfulness brings comfort of a kind.
It is therefore a great thing to be completely vulnerable and to feel at once, with every weakening of faith, a total loss. Things that in community are legitimate concerns are seen in solitude to be also temptations, test, questionings: for instance, the skin trouble on my hands.
February 27, 1965, V.211-12
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
The Wonder of God's Mercy
(Merton becomes a novice at Gethsemani on February 22, 1942)
Once again the 22nd--the day I received the habit of novice--comes around on the First Sunday of Lent. I received a Lenten book from the hands of my spiritual children, and in a short time I have become the spiritual father of many. Once again I am aware of the mystery of my vocation.
The greatest mystery is here at St. Anne's, my toolshed hermitage. Just as Baptism makes us potential martyrs, so also it makes us potential priests, potential monks, potential hermits.
I was clothed in this hermitage, when I received the habit of novice, without even knowing it. The black and white house indeed is a kind of religious habit--and a warm enough one when the stove is going.
All this is to say that this silence is Christ's love for me and bought by His death, and it purifies me in His sufferings and His Blood. I must receive it with compunction and love and reverence, lest His love be in vain.
When I am most quiet and most myself, God's grace is clear, and then I see nothing else under the sun. What else is there for us but to be tranquil and at peace in the all-enchanting wonder of God's mercy to us? If falls upon this paper more quietly than the morning sun, and then I know that all things, without His love, are useless, and in His love, having nothing, I can possess all things.
February 22, 1953, III.34-35
Where Your Treasure Is
Tremendous discovery. The Brihad-Aranyaka Upanishad!
Kairos! Everything for a long time has been slowly leading up to this, and with this reading a sudden convergence of roads, tendencies, lights, in unity!
A new door. (Looked at it without comprehension nine months ago.)
Yesterday's disgust with the trivial, shallow, contemporary stuff I am tempted to read! No time for that.
Scriptures. Greek patrology. Oriental thought. This is enough to fill every free corner of the day not given to prayer, meditation, duties.
This morning, the splendor of my Mass! Sun pouring in on the altar and in glory of reflected lights from the hammered silver chalice splashed all over the corporal and all around the Host. Deep quiet. The Gospel--"Do not fear, little flock." Where your treasure is, there your heart is also. May I learn the lessons of detachment, even from the little white house of St. Mary of Carmel. But no nonsense about not desiring solitude. On the contrary, to desire it in perfection and in truth. Interior and exterior.
February 4 and 14, 1961, IV.92-93
Monday, February 20, 2012
Solitude Is a Stern Mother
I see more and more that solitude is not something to play with. It is deadly serious. And much as I have wanted it, I have not been serious enough. It is not enough to "like solitude," or love it even. Even if you "like" it, it can wreck you, I believe, if you desire it only for your own sake. So I go forward (I don't believe I would go back. Even interiorly I have reached, at least relatively, a point of no return), but I go in fear and trembling, and often with a sense of lostness, and trying to be careful what I do because I am beginning to see that every false step is paid for dearly. Hence I fall back on prayer, or try to. Yet no matter, there is great beauty and peace in this life of silence and emptiness. But to fool around brings awful desolation. When one is trifling, even the beauty of the solitary life becomes implacable. Solitude is a stern mother who brooks no nonsense. The question arises: am I so full of nonsense that she will cast me out? I pray not, and think it is going to take much prayer. February 26, 1965, V.211
Healing Our Flesh
Lent is a sunlit season.
Carnivale--farewell to the flesh. It is a poor joke to be merry about leaving the flesh, as if we were to return to it once again. What would be the good of Lent, if it were only temporary?
Jesus nevertheless died in order to return to His flesh; in order to raise His own body glorious from the dead, and in order to raise our bodies with Him. "Unless the grain of wheat, falling into the ground, dies, itself remains alone." So we cast off the flesh, not out of contempt, but in order to heal the flesh in the mercy of penance and restore it to the Spirit to which it belongs. And all creation waits in anguish for our victory and our bodies' glory.
God wills us to recover all the joys of His created world in the Spirit, by denying ourselves what is really no joy--what only ends in the flesh. "The flesh profits nothing."
February 17, 1953, III.33
Saturday, February 18, 2012
In the Darkness of My Empty Mind
The blue elm tree near at hand and the light blue hills in the distance: the red bare clay where I am supposed to plant some shade trees: these are before me as I sit in the sun for a free half hour between spiritual direction and work. Today, as I sit in the sun, big blue and purple fish swim past me in the darkness of my empty mind, the sea which opens within me as soon as I close my eyes. Delightful darkness, delightful sun, shining on a world which, for all I care, has already ended.
It does not occur to me to wonder whether we will ever transplant the young maples from the wood, yonder, to this bare leveled patch--the place where the old horse barn once stood. It does not occur to me to wonder how everything came to be transformed. I sit on a cedar log half chewed by some novice's blunt axe, and do not reflect on plans I have made for this place of prayer, because they do not matter. They will happen when they happen.
The hills are pure as jade in the distance. God is in His transparent world, but He is too sacred to be mentioned, too holy to be observed. I sit in silence. The big deep fish are purple in my sea.
February 26, 1952, II.467
Friday, February 17, 2012
Absent from the Wedding Feast
Today was the prophetic day, the first of the real shining spring: not that there was not warm weather last week, not that there will not be cold weather again. But this was the day of the year when spring became truly credible.
The morning got more and more brilliant and I could feel the brilliancy of it getting into my own blood. Living so close to the cold, you feel the spring. And this is man's mission! The earth cannot feel all this. We must. But living away from the earth and the trees, we fail them. We are absent from the wedding feast.
There are moments of great loneliness and lostness in this solitude, but often then come other, deeper moments of hope and understanding, and I realize that these would not be possible in their purity, their simple, secret directions anywhere but in solitude. I hope to be worthy of them.
After dinner, when I came back to the hermitage, the whole hillside was so bright and new that I wanted to cry out, and I got tears in my eyes from it!
With the new comes also memory: as if that which was once so fresh in the past (days of discovery when I was nineteen or twenty) were very close again, and as if one were beginning to live again from the beginning. One must experience spring like that. A whole new chance! A complete renewal!
February 17, 1966, VI.18-19
Thursday, February 16, 2012
Hidden Movements of Christ's Grace
I don't know what I have written that I could really call mine, or what I have prayed or done that was good that came from my own will. Whose prayer made me pray again to God to give me grace to pray? I could have fought for years by myself to reduce my life to some order (for that was what I was trying to do--even to ridiculous extremes and the most eccentric disciplines, keeping records of what I drank, trying to cut out smoking by reducing the number of cigarettes every day, noting down the numbers in a book...weighing myself every few days, etc.!), yet I would have slowly eaten myself out, I think. But someone must have mentioned me in some prayer; perhaps the soul of some person I hardly remember--perhaps some stranger in a subway, or some child--or maybe the fact that someone as good as Lilly Reilly happened to think I was a good guy served as a prayer--or the fact that Nanny might have said my name in her prayers moved the Lord God to send me a little grace to pray again or, first, to begin reading books that led me there again--and how much of it was brought on by the war? Or maybe Brahmachari in some word to the Lord in his strange language moved the Lord to help me pray again! These things are inscrutable and I begin to know them better when I can write them down. How many people have become Christians through the prayers of Jews and Hindus who themselves find Christianity terribly hard? We cannot know all the movements of Christ's grace.
February 2, 1941, I.304-5
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
On Not Going Crazy for Christ
I have been reading about de Rancé, that old Trappist business of trying to starve and beat your way to sanctity and of assuming that your own efforts and energy are practically everything--beating your head against a brick wall at the end of the dead end in order to fulfill some particular negative ideal. Our Cistercian Fathers and St. Benedict knew better. So did the Little Flower. So did our Lord.
I don't know any universal solution to the problem of why monks go crazy, except yesterday it was such a beautiful day, and I walked under the trees and looked at the sunny hills, and listened to the quiet sunlight, and kicked the gravel with my feet and said, "What is there to go crazy about?" We have a wonderful vocation. Christ has brought us here to live: to live and breathe and be happy under His gaze, to play in His sight like children, while He takes care of us--to sing and fast and pray and (for me) to write books and to love all the time. It's not an effort; there is nothing to get excited about. Sure, I am distracted, I am vain, I am full of dumb books, and I get into interior arguments about the chant, so what? He know I don't want to get into all that stuff, and He loves me.
I am happy that I can at least want to love God. Perhaps that is all I've got, but it is already all that is essential. And He will take care of the rest.
February 22, 1948, II.172
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
An Untidy Holy Life
Today we commemorate Blessed Conrad--one of the Cistercian hermits.
I might as well say that in the novitiate I did not like the hermits of our Order. Their stories were inconclusive. They seemed to have died before finding out what they were supposed to achieve.
Now I know there is something important about the very incompleteness of Blessed Conrad: hermit in Palestine, by St. Bernard's permission. Starts home for Clairvaux when he hears St. Bernard is dying. Gets to Italy and hears St. Bernard is dead. Settles in a wayside chapel outside Bari and dies there. What an untidily unplanned life! No order, no sense, no system, no climax. Like a book without punctuation that suddenly ends in the middle of a sentence.
Yet I know those are the books I really like!
Blessed Conrad cannot possibly be solidified or ossified in history. He can perhaps be caught and held in a picture, but he is like a photograph of a bird in flight--too accurate to look the way a flying bird seems to appear to us. We never saw the wings in that position. Such is the solitary vocation. For, of all men, the solitary knows least where he is going, and yet he is more sure, for there is one thing he cannot doubt: he travels where God is leading him. That is precisely why he doesn't know the way. And that too is why, to most other men, the way is something of a scandal.
February 14, 1953, III.30-31
Monday, February 13, 2012
Get Warm and Love God Any Way You Can
A great deal of wood I have for the fire is wet or not sufficiently seasoned to burn well--though finally this morning I got a pretty hot fire going with a big cedar log on top of it.
It is hard but good to live according to nature with a primitive technology of wood chopping and fires rather than according to the mature technology that has supplanted nature, creating its own weather, etc., etc. Yet there are advantages, too, in a warmed house and a self-stoking furnace. No need to pledge allegiance to either one. Get warm any way you can, and love God and pray.
I see more and more that now I must desire nothing else than to be "poured out as a libation," to give and surrender my being without concern. The cold woods make this more real. And the loneliness: coming up last night at the time of a very cold sunset, with two little birds still picking up crumbs I had thrown for them on the frozen porch. Everywhere else, snow. In the morning, coming down: all tracks covered by snow blown over the path by the wind, except tracks of the cat that hunts around the old sheep barn. Solitude = being aware that you are one man in this snow where there has been no one but one cat.
February 2, 1965, V.201
Sunday, February 12, 2012
The Power of Jesus' Passion in Us
Ash Wednesday: the ashes themselves bring the mercy of the blessing of Christ, in sobriety and barefooted peace.
At St. Anne's the sun is as bright as the first day that it was created. The world is clean. There is sin in it, but Christ has overcome the world. Even on Ash Wednesday I begin to hear the silence of Easter.
Many birds, going north, were flying in the wind. They moved slowly against the blue sky and looked like a school of fish in clear West Indian waters. The sun shone through their wings and made them seem like red and orange fins.
I think the unity of our Church in this her Lent (the lesson from the book of Joel brings this out: "Blow the trumpet and call the people together for the great fast!" Joel 1:14). The whole Church is called together and we realize that our Lent is united with the suffering of the martyrs and the fasts of the desert fathers and the good works and penances of all the saints. Whatever I can give to God and to other men is only the effect and manifestation in me of the power of the Passion of Jesus. I would reply to His action, and let Him show Himself in my life. This He will do in a way I have expected and not expected; planned and not planned; desired and not desired.
My decisions do not anticipate His coming: they manifest that He has come, if they be His decisions.
February 18, 1953, III.34
Saturday, February 11, 2012
Sunlight on a Vase of Carnations
Beauty of the sunlight falling on a tall vase of red and white carnations and green leaves on the altar in the novitiate chapel. The light and shade of the red, especially in the darkness in the fresh crinkled flower and the light warm red around the darkness, the same color as blood but not "red as blood," utterly unlike blood. Red as a carnation. This flower, this light, this moment, this silence, = Dominus est, eternity! Best because the flower is itself and the light is itself and the silence is itself and I am myself--all, perhaps, an illusion, but no matter, for illusion is nevertheless the shadow of reality and reality is the grace that underlies these lights, these colors, and this silence.
The "simplicity" that would have kept those flowers off the altar is, to my mind, less simple than the simplicity that enjoys them there, but does not need them to be there.
February 4, 1958, III.164-65
Friday, February 10, 2012
Blessings of Emptiness and Peace
I am glutted with books and a million trifles besides--articles on this and that. I balk at reading about Panama. I have had enough. (Yet I will read it because I am obliged in conscience to know at least vaguely what is happening.) Panama, Zanzibar, Cypress (Costas Papademas wrote from there, he flew back at Christmas), Kenya (Joy French wrote from there today--first time I have seen the new stamp of the independent nation), and then "the freeze" (on nuclear weapons) and various iniquities in Washington, and nonsense in Vietnam (new dictator), so on and so on. Does one have to read all this? Enough! Thank God tomorrow is Lent. I am glutted.
Today constant snow, ever so blinding, pale bright blue sky such as I have sometimes seen in England on rare days in East Anglia. All the trees heavy with snow and the hills hanging like white clouds in the sky. But much of the snow has melted off the trees and there is slight mist over the sunny valley. No jets, for a wonder! Only a train off towards Lebanon. Quiet afternoon! Peace! May this Lent be blessed with emptiness and peace and faith.
The woods echo with distant crows. A hen sings out happily at Andy Boone's, and snow falling from the trees makes the woods sounds as though they were full of people walking through the bushes.
Thursday, February 9, 2012
Out of Touch and Left Behind
The "spiritual preoccupations" of this time--the post-Vatican II Conciliar years. (A imaginary era we have thought up for ourselves--divertissement!) I need perhaps to be less preoccupied with them, to show that one can be free of them, and go one's own way in peace. But there is inculcated in us such a fear of being out of everything, out of touch, left behind. This fear is a form of tyranny, a law--and one is faced with a choice between this law and true grace, hidden, paradoxical, but free.
An unformulated "preoccupation" of our time--the conviction that it is precisely in these (collective) preoccupations that the Holy Spirit is at work. To be "preoccupied with the current preoccupations" is then the best--if not the only--way to be open to the Spirit.
Hence one must know what everybody is saying, read what everybody is reading, keep up with everything or be left behind by the Holy Spirit. Is this a perversion of the idea of the Church--a distortion of perspective due to the Church's situation in the world of mass communications? I wonder if this anxiety to keep up is not in fact an obstacle to the Holy Spirit.
February 24, 1966, VI.363
Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Sealed Together in Christ
Can one say that by love the soul receives the very "form" of God? In St. Bernard of Clairvaux's language, this form, this divine likeness, is the identity we were made for. Thus we can say, Caritas haec visio, haec similitudo est: "Charity is this vision and this likeness." By love we are at once made like to God, and (in mystical love, pure love) we already "see" Him (darkly), that is, we have experience of Him as He is in himself, and wisdom is the medium quo cognoscitur: "the medium by which He is known." The soul knows God in this effect, this love, in the same way (analogously) as it knows itself in the consciousness of its own existence and activity. I know God because I am aware of His life in me, and the Spirit bears witness to my conscience, crying out that God is my Father. Thus by loving we know God in God, and through God, for in love the Three Divine Persons are made known to us, sealing our souls, not with a static likeness, but with the impression of Their infinite Life. Our souls are sealed with the character of God as the air is full of sunshine. Glory to God in the highest, Who has sealed us with His holiness, sealed us all together, brothers and sisters in His Christ.
February 12, 1950, II.409
Tuesday, February 7, 2012
My Place in the Scheme of Things
Everything about this hermitage fills me with joy. There are lots of things that could have been far more perfect one way or the other--ascetically and "domestically." But it is the place God has given me after so much prayer and longing--but without my deserving it--and it is a delight. I can imagine no other joy on earth than to have a hermitage and to be at peace in it, to live in silence, to think and write, to listen to the wind and to all the voices of the wood, to live in the shadow of the big cedar cross, to love my brothers and all people, and to pray for the whole world and for peace and good sense among men. So it is "my place" in the scheme of things, and that is sufficient!
Reading some studies on St. Leonard of Port Maurice and his retirement house (Ritiro) and hermitage of the Incontro. How clearly Vatican II has brought into question all the attitudes that he and his companions took completely for granted: the dramatic barefoot procession from Florence to the Incontro in the snow--the daily half-hour self-flagellation in common--etc. This used to be admired, if prudently avoided by all in the Church. Depth psychology, etc., have made these things forever questionable--they belong to another age. And yet there has to be hardness and rigor in the solitary life. The hardness is there by itself. The cold, the solitude, the labor, the need for poverty to keep everything simple and manageable, the need for discipline of long meditation in silence.
February 24, 1965, V.209-10
Monday, February 6, 2012
Every Next Instant Reveals God's Will
I can have one prayer--to belong to God, to be able to renounce the whole world and follow Him. I say that prayer now. When it pleases Him, He will show me what to do. When? Not next year, every next instant. I I love Him, I will hear.
Anima mea in manibus meis semper: "Constantly I take my life in my hands."
This is what I read in the Bible today:
Isaias 47:1 "Come down, sit in the dust, O virgin daughter of Babylon, sit on the ground: there is no throne for the daughter of the Chaldaeans, for thou shall not any more be called delicate and tender."
55:1 "All you that thirst, come to the waters; and you that have no money, make haste, buy, eat; come ye, buy wine and milk without money, and without any price."
58:10 "When thou shall pour out thy soul to the hungry and shall satisfy the afflicted soul, then shall thy light rise up in the darkness, and thy darkness shall be as noonday."
February 19, 1941, I.311
Sunday, February 5, 2012
We Are Not Shadows of God
I cannot deny that it was a great joy to say the office in private, Lauds and Prime, especially with the sun coming up slowly and shining on the sunny pastures and on the pine woods of the dark knobs, which I see through the novitiate window. Lovely blue and mauve shadows on the snow, and the indescribably delicate color of the sunlit patches of snow. All the life of color is in the snow and the sky. The green of the pines is dull and brownish. The dead leaves, still clinging tenaciously to the white oaks, are also dull brown. The cold sky is very blue, and the air is dry and frozen so that, for the first time in years, I see and breathe the winters of New York and not the mild or ambivalent winters of Kentucky.
The strength of the cold, the austerity and power of the landscape, redeems the snow colors and delicate shadows from anything of pastel shading. I can think of no art that has rendered such things adequately--the nineteenth-century realists were so realistic as to be totally unlike what they painted. There is such a thing as too close a resemblance. In a way, nothing resembles reality less than the average photograph. Nothing resembles substance less than its shadow. To convey the meaning of something substantial, you have to use a sign, which is itself substantial and exists in its own right.
Man is the image of God and not the shadow of God.
February 17, 1958, III. 171
Saturday, February 4, 2012
A Priest with the World as My Parish
Looking at the crucifix on the white wall of Saint Anne's--overwhelmed at the realization that I am a priest, that it has been given to me to know something of what the Cross means, that St. Anne's is a special part of my priestly vocation: the silence, the woods, the sunlight, the shadows, the picture of Jesus, Our Lady of Cobre, and the little angels in Fra Angelico's paradise. Here I am a priest with all the world as my parish. Or is it a temptation, the thought of this? Perhaps I do not need to remember the apostolic fruitfulness of this silence. I need only to be nothing and to wait for the revelation of Christ: to be at peace and poor and silent in the world where the mystery of iniquity is also at work and where there is also no other revelation. No, there is so much peace at St. Anne's that it is most certainly the heart of a great spiritual battle that is fought in silence. I who sit here and pray and think and live--I am nothing and do not need to know what is going on. I need only to hope in Christ and hear the big deep bell that now begins to ring and sends its holy sound to me through the little cedars.
This is the continuation of the Mass. This is still my Eucharist, my day-long thanksgiving, worship my hoping for the perfect revelation of Christ.
February 17, 1953, III.33
The Fellowship of Stars and Crows
Bright morning--freezing, but less cold than before--and with a hint of the smell of spring-earth in the cold air. A beautiful sunrise, the woods all peaceful and silent, and dried old fruits on the yellow poplar shining like precious artifacts. I have a new level in my (elementary) star-consciousness. I can now tell where constellations may be in the daytime when they are invisible. Not many, of course! But for example: the sun is rising in Aquarius and so I know that in the blue sky overhead the beautiful swan, invisible, spreads its wide wings over me. A lovely thought, for some reason.
Since Hayden Carruth's reprimand I have had more esteem for the crows around here and find, in fact, that we seem to get on much more peacefully. Two sat high in an oak beyond my gate as I walked on the brow of the hill at sunrise saying the Little Hours. They listened without protest to my singing of the antiphons. We are part of a ménage, a liturgy, a fellowship of sorts.
February 13, 1968, VII. 55-56
Thursday, February 2, 2012
Bearing Witness to the Resurrection
A priest bears witness to the Resurrection by holding in his hands the Risen Christ--high over his head for all the people to see. And none of us see, except by faith. Faith itself is the light of the Resurrection, our sharing of the Resurrection. It is the effect of the Resurrection in our souls. By it we are buried and rise from the dead in Christ.
Gone are the days when "mysticism" was for me a matter of eager and speculative interest. Now, because it is my life, it is a torment to think about. Like being in the pangs of childbirth and reading an essay on mother love written by a spinster.
In choir I am happier than I have ever been there, extremely poor and helpless, often strained, hardly able to hold myself in place. "Expecting every moment to be my last." Sometimes it is a great relief to be distracted. There is a "presence" of God that is like an iron curtain between the mind and God.
But when I am at my toolshed hermitage, Saint Anne's, I am always happy and at peace no matter what happens. For here there is no need for anyone but God--no need of "mysticism."
A fly buzzes on the windowpane!
February 24, 1953, III.35-36
Wednesday, February 1, 2012
The Climate of My Prayer
Our mentioning of the weather--our perfunctory observations on what kind of day it is--are perhaps not idle. Perhaps we have a deep and legitimate need to know in our entire being what the day is like, to see it and feel it, to know how the sky is grey, paler in the south, with patches of blue in the southwest, with snow on the ground, the thermometer at 18, and cold wind making your ears ache. I have a real need to know these things because I myself am part of the weather and part of the climate and part of the place, and a day in which I have not shared truly in all this is no day at all. It is certainly part of my life of prayer.
February 27, 1963, IV.299-300