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Tag Archives: Thomas Merton

A Noiseless, Patient Spider

When I looked for a poem to post, I found this Walt Whitman verse. It reminded me of the writing of Mary Oliver, Parker Palmer, Thomas Merton, Thich Nhat Hanh, and others who write about the quietness needed for the soul to emerge. It is like to a wild animal, perhaps a spider, which is timid and reluctant to emerge as we crash around. As we sit quietly and listen, it emerges for us to see and listen more closely.

A noiseless, patient spider,
I mark’d, where, on a little promontory, it stood, isolated;
Mark’d how, to explore the vacant, vast surrounding,
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself;
Ever unreeling them—ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you, O my Soul, where you stand,
Surrounded, surrounded, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing,—seeking the spheres, to connect them;
Till the bridge you will need, be form’d—till the ductile anchor hold;
Till the gossamer thread you fling, catch somewhere, O my Soul.

Modern Life and Activism

Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk, shared this many years ago. It resonates even more in 2013 as we find ourselves entrenched in busy lives and struggle to find our way out of the activism and overwork. He suggested it is a form of violence on ourselves that does not let us find restful moments. The more inner peace we have the more we can share it with others. We host ourselves first and others feel invited into the banquet that results.

“There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence … [and that is] activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence.

To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence.

The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work [and life] fruitful.”

As Kingfishers Catch Fire

I was reading blogs and came across a quote which, in turn, led me to this beautiful poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins. I enjoy the mystery of the universe around me. Part of that mystery is the role we play and how we come to learn it or, for that matter, accept it. Thomas Merton, the Trappist Monk, in No Man is an Island, wrote some people are called and hear their call clearly. We are this person, this being, and are called to serve the world in these roles. He quipped for some the calling is to search and never find a calling. Hopkins and Merton were influenced by various schools of mysticism and this takes me back to the mystery of life as I head off on my digital sabbath.

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;

As tumbled over rim in roundy wells

Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s

Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;

Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:

Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;

Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,

Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.

I say móre: the just man justices;

Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;

Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —

Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,

Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his

To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

Of Mere Being

Wallace Stevens wrote this beautiful reminder that we each have work to do. I recall something Jon Kabat-Zinn said: “Find a Job with a capital J. Stop doing someone else’s work. Find work that makes you complete.” I paraphrase here. It is easier to be fully present as fulfilled persons.

Thomas Merton and Parker Palmer wrote about the common roots of voice and vocation. I find meaning and completion in the work I do. Somehow, I make the world a better place. As I find my voice, my being made whole and any holes in that being filled. I understand the meaning  of my life’s song  with perhaps no clear meaning to anyone else.

The palm at the end of the mind,
Beyond the last thought, rises
In the bronze distance.

A gold-feathered bird
Sings in the palm, without human meaning,
Without human feeling, a foreign song.

You know then that it is not the reason
That makes us happy or unhappy.
The bird sings. Its feathers shine.

The palm stands on the edge of space.
The wind moves slowly in the branches.
The bird’s fire-fangled feathers dangle down.

A Path for Warriors

I commented I finished Margaret Wheatley‘s book, So Far From Home. She concluded with a beautiful poem. It reminded how importance quiet and mindful moments are. I was less rushed these last couple of days and it was like a digital sabbath.

Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk, wrote: “The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. More than that, it is cooperation in violence. The frenzy of the activist…destroys his own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of his own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”

My mother used to teach us about being Soldiers of Christ. We walk in the “same steps as Christ” (2 Corinthians 12:18, 1 Peter 2:21). We “[pray] always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:18), and “open your mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel” (Ephesians 6:19). Soldiers, in this context, seek peace from within and quiet the mind so their actions and words parallel each other.

We are grateful to discover our right work and happy to be engaged in it.

We embody values and practices that offer us meaningful lives now.

We let go of needing to impact the future.

We refrain from adding to the aggression, fear and confusion of this time.

We welcome every opportunity to practice our skills of compassion and insight, even very challenging ones.

We resist seeking the illusory comfort of certainty and stability.

We delight when our work achieves good results yet let go of needing others to adopt our successes.

We know that all problems have complex causes. We do not place blame on any one person or cause, including ourselves and colleagues.

 We are vigilant with our relationships, mindful to counteract the polarizing dynamics of this time.

Our actions embody our confidence that humans can get through anything as long as we’re together.

We stay present to the world as it is with open minds and hearts, knowing this nourishes our gentleness, decency and bravery.

We care for ourselves as tenderly as we care for others, taking time for rest, reflection and renewal.

We are richly blessed with moments of delight, humor, grace and joy.

We are grateful for these.

The Woodcarver

When I walk in nature and see the panoramic creation, I recall this is a gift. Each day I am present and stop to meet what is there, is a day I move beyond my ego. I am grateful for simply being . It is the greatest gift.

The Woodcarver

Khing, the master carver, made a bell stand

Of precious wood. When it was finished,

All who saw it were astounded. They said it must be

The work of spirits.

The Prince of Lu said to the master carver:

“What is your secret?”

 ***

Khing replied: “I am only a workman:

I have no secret. There is only this:

When I began to think about the work you commanded

I guarded my spirit, did not expend it

On trifles, that were not to the point.

I fasted in order to set

My heart at rest.

 ***

After three days fasting,

I had forgotten gain and success.

After five days

I had forgotten praise or criticism.

After seven days

I had forgotten my body

With all its limbs.

 ***

“By this time all thought of your Highness

And of the court had faded away.

All that might distract me from the work

Had vanished.

I was collected in the single thought

Of the bell stand.

 ***

“Then I went to the forest

To see the trees in their own natural state.

When the right tree appeared before my eyes,

The bell stand it also appeared in it, clearly, beyond doubt.

All I had to do was to put forth my hand

And begin.

***

“If I had not met this particular tree

There would have been

No bell stand at all.

“What happened?

My own collected thought

Encountered the hidden potential in the wood;

From this live encounter came the work.

Which you ascribe to the spirits.”

***

Palmer, P. J. (2004). A hidden wholeness: The journey toward an undivided life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Parker Palmer attributed his source as The Way of Chuang Tzu by Thomas Merton and published by The Abbey of Gethsemani in 1965.

Are You Okay, God?

I read Seven Lessons of Chaos by John Briggs and David Peat last summer. They used a koan about a ‘hole in the whole’ describing what we do when we analyze things and lose the mystery of the wholeness in life. We break life and its events down, analyze them, and forget to put all the pieces back and lose something vital in the connectedness to the world, leaving a “hole in the whole.” Humans attempt to explain the mystery of life and not embrace it and the richness of our existence. Mystery and spirituality work together. We cannot intellectually explain the fullness and mystery of life. Thomas Merton and Shunryu Suzuki spoke of this attempt as human arrogance.

A former student took this picture, again with pretty straightforward phone technology, and the beauty, the richness, and the wholeness it conveyed is powerful. It reminded me of the song we learned as children There is a Hole in My Bucket. The hole in the clouds or bucket could be there for a reason we do not understand. Despite the potential arrogance, I wrote a short poem that might explain the hole.

Sprinting, scrambling, scurrying

Hoping, praying

Feeling hard, cold raindrops

Burning through my clothes

Smelling rain and fear.

Suddenly, blue and gold in the blackness

A light shone

A candle gently flickering.

I whispered, “Thank God!”

I am startled by a voice

“Are you OK, Ivon?”

“I think so.”

“Is that you God?”

“Is the hole to find my way?”

“By the way, thanks for asking. Are you OK?”

A pause

I thought a heard a smile

A sigh for sure, before

“I am now.”

Silence returned

Not falling, just silent

Embracing, reassuring, supporting,

Opening my eyes,

I looked up

I was home

A light shone through the window,

A second haven

Warm, well-lit, welcoming

With voices asking, “Are you OK?”

Saying, “We were worried.”

I wonder if we ever wonder if God is OK?

We should ask every now, and

Listen quietly in the storm for an answer,

It is there.

The Violence of Modern Life

Thomas Merton is one of my favourite authors and spiritual thinkers. He offered a radical definition of violence. This sounds like the opposite of multi-tasking, single-tasking. I hope I can do better as I move forward and take time to listen to the inner teacher and its wisdom.

Parker Palmer shared this with those of us who follow him on Facebook.

A year ago,  I was in an increasingly  dark place. There was little positive in certain aspects of my life. A question emerged: “What is my lot in life?” I quickly realized I was trying to change things I had little or no control over instead of focusing on what I did control in life, living in the moment and being present. I undertook a journey that began with the question, “Who am I?” I completed a directed studies course on mindfulness focused around the question, “What is there about mindful practice that can help me live a fuller, richer life in each moment?” I read Thomas Merton, Parker Palmer, Thich Nhat Hanh, and others on the subject of mindfulness. I attended spiritual retreats and meditated. I posted an entry entitled Connectivity + Synchronicity = Love. Connecting with me the important first step. Yesterday, the synchronicity continued when this blog posting found is way into my life.

Read what Marie posted. I am still a work in progress, but the ways I have used to date are immensely helpful. Take care.

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