Tag Archives: Thomas Merton

8 March, Desert XI: Fear 4.

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Thomas Merton is living through the hotter part of the Cold War; the Cuban Missile Crisis would blow up a year later; he had cause to be afraid. In the days before this diary entry,* bombers had been flying low over the Monastery of Gethsemane, his home. Thinking about US and world politics aroused:

… my own fear, my own desperate desire to survive, even if only as a voice uttering an angry protest, while the waters of death close over the whole continent.

Why am I so willing to believe that the country will be destroyed? It is certainly possible, and in some sense it may even be likely. But this is a case where, in spite of evidence, one must continue to hope. One must not give in to defeatism and despair, just as one must hope for life in a mortal illness which has been declared incurable.

This is the point. This weakness and petulancy, rooted in egoism. 

Defeatism and despair are rooted in egoism, and they are not necessarily good survival tactics. Let us ask the Lord for a taste of the perfect love that casts out fear and despair

Thomas Merton, Turning towards the World, HarperSanFrancisco, 1996, p162.

Image from CD.

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29 February: Desert IV, In the Rain.

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Thomas Merton was living as a hermit in the grounds of Gethsemane Abbey, Kentucky, when he wrote this journal entry.

January 5, 1966. Vigil of the Epiphany.

Steady rain all day. It is still pouring down on the roof, emphasising the silence in the hermitage, reinforcing the solitude. I like it.

From Learning to Love, The Journals of Thomas Merton, Vol 6, 1966-1967, ed Christine M Bacher, Harper San Francisco, 1997.

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5 January: To let go.

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Here is Thomas Merton in January 1966, writing from his snow-bound hermitage.* A challenge to us all to root our mission in our poverty; having first accepted that innate poverty as the norm.

In all these things I see one central option for me: to let go of all that seems to suggest getting somewhere, being someone, having a name and a voice, following a policy and directing people in ‘my’ ways. What matters is to love, to be in one place in silence, if necessary in suffering, sickness, tribulation, and not try to be anybody outwardly.

Yet daily we are encouraged to ‘get somewhere’ to be someone outwardly. Love can get pushed to the margins. We can get tied to policies, mission statements, and so on. Let go! 

Tomorrow we celebrate the uprooting of the Holy Family to go into suffering and tribulation. Merton had to let go in a different fashion to the man we hardly know: Joseph the carpenter.

  • Learning to Love, Journals Vol 6, Ed Christine M. Bochan, HarperCollins San Francisco 1999  p15

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May 11: The Best Medicine? ask the Irish Chaplaincy.

Another posting from Eddie at the Irish Chaplaincy.


Eddie Gilmore

Eddie Gilmore

When coming away from my regular visit to one of our Irish Chaplaincy Seniors I was reflecting on how uplifted I felt and how it had to do, in part, by how much we had laughed during the visit. This particular lady is only in her 70s but has fairly advanced dementia, and her sister moved over from Ireland to stay in the one-bedroom flat as a live-in carer. It’s a challenging situation but we always regale one another with funny stories, and we hoot with laughter.

I’ve been enjoying a book by James Martin, the American Jesuit, called ‘Between Heaven and Mirth’ with the sub-title ‘Why joy, humour and laughter are at the heart of the spiritual life’. He speaks of the importance of humour, especially in religious settings, which can easily become terribly serious and joyless. I imagine, sadly, that there are many people who might consider laughter to be incompatible with church or religion. And I was interested to see in a recent survey in the Church of England that people didn’t want their priests to be cracking lots of jokes in their sermons! It’s true that humour doesn’t really come across in the gospels. I fear this is a case of jokes getting lost in translation (besides the notion that religion is a ‘serious business’) because I like to think that the stories of Jesus were filled with humour and hilarity, and that he liked nothing better than to have a good laugh with some of the dodgy characters he hung out with.

I still remember the words of my dear friend Tony (and the jokes he told) in his best man speech at my wedding. He reminded us that the words ‘humour’, ‘humility’ and ‘human’ all come from the Latin word ‘humus’ which means earth and ground, so that when we laugh we are connected in a particular way with the ground we walk upon and with those we walk with. It could be said indeed that a sure sign of a growing connection and intimacy with another person is the ability to laugh together. Physiologically, as well, it’s healthy for us to laugh. A good, hearty laugh can relieve physical tension and stress and leave the muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes. It boosts the immune system, decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, therefore improving resistance to disease. It also reduces blood pressure and releases endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers. Laughter is almost as good for the body as going to the gym! And it doesn’t cost a penny in membership! I remember at one time somebody in the NHS having the idea to send comedians into hospitals to help patients to laugh but sadly it doesn’t seem to have caught on.

And talking of funny people, I was tickled to hear what happened when John Cleese met the Dalai Lama. They didn’t say a word to one another but simply broke into spontaneous and prolonged laughter! James Martin tells us in his book that the Trappist monk and prolific spiritual writer Thomas Merton could be identified by visitors to his monastery in Kentucky (at a time, in the 1960s, when there were 200 monks there) because he was the one who was always laughing. And one of the many nice stories in the book concerns Mother Theresa from the time when John Paul II was pope and creating loads of new saints. A young sister asked what she would have to do in her life to achieve sainthood. Mother Theresa replied “die now; this pope’s canonising everyone”!

This season of Lent is perhaps not readily associated with fun and frivolity. Yet, in the scripture readings from Ash Wednesday at the beginning of Lent we have Jesus warning us (Matthew 6) not to look miserable when we fast; and we are reminded of the words from Isaiah 58 of the kind of fast that is pleasing to God:

“Let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke;

Share your bread with the hungry, and shelter the homeless poor”

And I would add, try and have a bit of a laugh with people as well. It’s one of the things that most profoundly binds us together in our common humanity.

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March 18: Stations of the Cross: Introduction.

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We invite you to walk the Via Crucis – the Way of the Cross – with us during these final days of Lent.

There are one or two differences between these Stations and the traditional order seen in most Catholic Churches. These have been made to bring the Stations closer to the events as told in the Gospels, and to finish the Way of the Cross at its true destination – the new life for which it is a signpost.

Each station is described by someone from the Gospels who would have gone up to Jerusalem for the Passover. Every one of their lives was changed by Jesus; now they are witnesses to his passion and death. Witnesses, not merely observers: as they tell us, each one knows this man Jesus.
 
The meditations refer back to their encounters with Jesus. We see them learning what sort of person he was. Opening the Gospels at these passages in the light of the Passion story, may we open our hearts to let the Spirit work in us. The Scriptural reference is given for each meditation.
 
The question, ‘Why did he have to die?’ is not an easy one to answer. These stations show how the lack of understanding, the falling short of total commitment of so many of his contemporaries — even those close to him — were part of the climate that allowed the crucifixion to happen.

You are invited to pray in solidarity with these bewildered bystanders, who, for all their failings, were good people; each of them loved, or wanted to love Jesus. At the end, none could halt his Way of the Cross. And each of them suffered a personal, private, crucifixion.

We need Jesus’ help to accept our own sufferings as the cross to be taken up daily, to follow him. We know at one level that we must suffer, but perhaps find it a long lesson to deal with it when it comes.

I have told you this now before it happens, so that when it does happen you may believe.         John 14:29.

Jesus tells us his truth – then it has to become alive in us by working itself out within each of us in our crucifixion and resurrection.       Thomas Merton.

(These Stations were presented at Saint Thomas’ Church Canterbury.)

MMB.

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Thursday 31 March: Dead; but Alive and Moving on.

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Thomas Merton vividly describes the ongoing process of death and rebirth that we undergo in journeying into God:

‘It is sometime in June. At a rough guess, I think it is June 13 which may or may not be the feast of Saint Anthony of Padua. In any case every day is the same for me because I have become very different from what I used to be.

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The man who began this journal is dead, just as the man who finished The Seven Storey Mountain when this journal began was also dead, and what is more that man who was the central figure in The Seven Storey Mountain was dead over and over. And now that all these men are dead, it is sufficient for me to say so on paper and I think I will have ended up by forgetting them. Because writing down what The Seven Storey Mountain was about was sufficient to get it off my mind for good. Last week I corrected the proofs of the French translation of the book and it seemed completely alien. I might as well have been a proofreader working for a publisher and going over the galleys of somebody else’s book. Consequently, The Seven Storey Mountain is the work of a man I never even heard of. And this journal is getting to be the production of somebody to whom I have never had the dishonour of an introduction.’

 

To speak of resurrection in terms of spiritual awakening is not to reduce it to a metaphor. The contemplative resurrections do not replace the resurrection of the body but rather anticipate it.

MLT.

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All Saints’ Day

It seems that we will always need heroes. Sports personalities, singers, actors, ‘celebrities’; they can construct a public image that may be far from the reality their families or subordinates rub up against.

Back in the 1970s, before he became Pope John Paul I, Albino Luciani quoted Sixtus V: ‘Show me a woman whose husband has never complained of anything, and I will canonise her at once.’ (And perhaps the same should be said of a man whose wife has never complained.) John Paul went on:

When I heard that the parents of Saint Theresa were being considered for beatification, I said: ‘At last, a couple are being considered! St Louis IX is a saint without his Margaret. St Monica is one without her Patrick. But Zelie Guerin will be  a saint with Louis Martin her husband,  and with Theresa her daughter.’                                                                                               Illustrissimi, London, Collins, 1978

Not many of us are called to be hermits; we bring each other to God; husbands and wives, children and parents, friends and neighbours, confreres in community. No man or woman is an Island and ‘love can be kept only by being given away’: a useful reminder from the monk, Thomas Merton.

My little children, let us not love in word, nor in tongue, but in deed and in truth. 1John 3.18.

 

No Man is an Island Boston, Shambhala, 2005, p1. https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=29PWL8S9fQsC&pg=PR3&source=gbs_selected_pages&cad=2#v=onepage&q&f=false

 

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