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In Silence

Thomas Merton was a Trappist monk known for essays, letters, and writing books. He was an artist and poet, as well.

Sabbath is a retreat from the busyness encountered in daily life. It is less about separation from the world and more about finding bridges linking us with the world and others in the world. The word treat suggests healing and making whole.

We seek bridges allowing us to let go of baggage we carry and skeletons we dance with. Parker Palmer used Thomas Merton’s writing explaining the need for peace, solitude, and silence in life. This is not a withdrawal, but a different way of encountering the world and hearing the words it speaks more clearly.

Part of Taoism is seeking principled paths and ways forward. Parker Palmer and Thomas Merton drew on this thinking in expressing a need for silence in life otherwise the noise of daily life is deafening.

Be still.
Listen to the stones of the wall.
Be silent, they try
to speak your

name.
Listen
to the living walls.

Who are you?
Who
are you? Whose
silence are you?

Who (be quiet)
are you (as these stones
are quiet). Do not
think of what you are
still less of
what you may one day be.

Rather
be what you are (but who?)
be the unthinkable one
you do not know.

O be still, while
you are still alive,
and all things live around you

speaking (I do not hear)
to your own being,
speaking by the unknown
that is in you and in themselves.

“I will try, like them
to be my own silence:
and this is difficult. The whole
world is secretly on fire. The stones
burn, even the stones they burn me.
How can a man be still or
listen to all things burning?
How can he dare to sit with them
when all their silence is on fire?”

The Wild Rose

I am reading poetry and prose written by Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder. What links the writers, is a shared belief humans live in the world. This fits with my dissertation about pedagogy. Humans are relational and social. When we live relationally and socially, our senses and heart open up to the world differently than living as passive observers.

Relationships are risky. Sometimes it is tempting to step back at times and be outside relationships. In the analytic mind, there is more risk than we want. Literally and metaphorically there are rewards. Literally, when we are present in the world we see wild roses and other natural manifestations bloom. Metaphorically, we see relationships with spouses, children, friends, students, etc. unfold and blossom like wild roses Wendell Berry mentions.

When we are in relationships, there is pleasure and pain mixed. Thomas Merton said we call it falling in love, because it is hard work. When I think of the most wonderful (wonder-filled) occurrences in my life, it is the ones I worked hard at. I found comfort in the hard work even when it hurt. Being mindful and attentive to the blooming in our lives is an essential part of relationships we enter.

Sometimes hidden from me

in daily custom and in trust,

so that I live by you unaware

as by the beating of my heart,

Suddenly you flare in my sight,

a wild rose blooming at the edge

of thicket, grace and light

where yesterday was only shade,

and once I am blessed, choosing

again what I chose before.

 

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.

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