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Tag Archives: Thomas Merton

Work Around Your Abyss

Henri Nouwen wrote about the essential nature of being present, attentive, and mindful to our needs. Like Thomas Merton, he cautioned against being caught up in the quick fixes and materialism of contemporary society to heal the wounds we have.

When we feel pain and are suffering, it is essential to come close to those the wound, working around it until it heals. Unlike contemporary organizations, which are often described as teams, this is the work of community. Frequently, we share pain and woundswith others and it is in sharing our journey we discover solace and healing, making us each whole again.

There is a deep hole in your being, like an abyss. You will never succeed in filling that hole, because your needs are inexhaustible. You have to work around it so that gradually the abyss closes.

Since the hole is so enormous and your anguish so deep, you will always be tempted to flee from it. There are two extremes to avoid: being completely absorbed in your pain and being distracted by so many things that you stay far away from the wound you want to heal.

Active Life

I am reading The Active Life: A Spirituality of Work, Creativity, and Caring by Parker Palmer. Parker included a number of quotes from The Way Chuang Tzu by Thomas Merton, including this poem.

The poem reminds me of how I can misplace my priorities and they can overwhelm me. In the research I did for my dissertation, each teacher described how it was essential to step back from their practices and reflect. Each of them described how human relationships were at the heart of their teaching. How they each responded to their relationships was an expression of who they are as a person and teacher.

In the third stanza, Thomas Merton asked questions about people’s relationship with work. I think the first question is essential. Thich Nhat Hanh wrote about weeds as essential to a gardener’s work. When we lose ourselves in activity without time to pause and reflect on what it means to care for ourselves and others as we create, we lose ourselves as the poem points out. When we are attentive and mindful, we nurture the soul, beginning with our own.

If an expert does not have some problem to vex him,
he is unhappy!
If a philosopher’s teaching is never attacked, she pines
away!
If critics have no one on whom to exercise their spite,
they are unhappy.
All such people are prisoners in the world of objects.

He who wants followers, seeks political power.
She who wants reputation, holds an office.
The strong man looks for weights to lift.
The brave woman looks for an emergency in which she
can show bravery.
The swordsman wants a battle in which he can swing
his sword.
People past their prime prefer a dignified retirement,
in which they may seem profound.
People experienced in law seek difficult cases to extend
the application of the laws.
Liturgists and musicians like festivals in which they
parade their ceremonious talents.
The benevolent, the dutiful, are always looking for
chances to display virtue.

Where would the gardener be if there were no more
weeds?
What would become of business without a market of
fools?
Where would the masses be if there were no pretext
for getting jammed together and making noise?
What would become of labor if there were no superfluous objects to
be made?

Produce! Get results! Make money! Make friends!
Make changes!
Or you will die of despair!

Those who are caught in the machinery of power take no joy except
in activity and change–the whirring of the machine! Whenever an
occasion for action presents itself, they are compelled to act; they
cannot help themselves. They are inexorably moved, like the ma-
chine of which they are a part. Prisoners in the world of objects,
they have no choice but to submit to the demands of matter! They
are pressed down and crushed by external forces, fashion, the mar-
ket, events, public opinion. Never in a whole lifetime do they re-
cover their right mind! The active life! What a pity!”

Poems on Love

Rabindranath Tagore‘s poem echoes the words of Thomas Merton: humans fall in love and falling is painful. If rejected, the rejection is painful. When accepted by another, it is true gift that speaks through acceptance and the other’s reciprocity.

Love is an endless mystery is a perfect line. There is no full explanation of what love is and why people love one another. When two people find each other and find love, it just is and is freely given and accepted. There are no conditions attached and its beauty radiates from an internal place.

When we are in love, we express a presence and attentiveness to the other person and objects that move beyond words. Mindfulness is a silent expression of love.

Love adorns itself;
it seeks to prove inward joy by outward beauty.

Love does not claim possession,
but gives freedom.

Love is an endless mystery,
for it has nothing else to explain it.

Love’s gift cannot be given,
it waits to be accepted.

The Will for Reconciliation

Thomas Merton wrote many letters, essays, and poetry and seemed prescient about issues . Long before it was relevant, he spoke about challenges we might encounter in an increasingly technological and consumerist world.

I chose a passage from East & West. The Foreign Prefaces of Thomas Merton, and not a poem. He speaks about reconciling, coming together through forces including the power of love, understanding and compassion for one another, and being selfless as we coöperate in shared action.

Too often, humans understand the world in binaries: right or wrong, true or false, black or white, male or female, etc. Polticians and pseudo-politicians exploit binaries and divide us. They divide us based on race, skin colour, religion, gender, etc. When we fall victim to false narratives, we are incapable and unwilling to create, to build, and to forgive.

It is on the ground of something better and higher than politics that we discover we do good for each other. Thomas Merton’s message was not naïve. Love and mercy are the foundation, but not the solution to political problems.

“It is true, political problems are not solved by love and mercy. But the world of politics is not the only world, and unless political decisions rest on a foundation of something better and higher than politics, they can never do any real good for men. When a country has to be rebuilt after war, the passions and energies of war [and a divisive election] are no longer enough. There must be a new force, the power of love, the power of understanding and human compassion, the strength of selflessness and coöperation, and the creative dynamism of the will to live and to build, and the will to forgive. The will for reconciliation.”

Prayer of St. Francis

Kathy and I celebrate our 40th anniversary this weekend and we are on our way to Alaska. We used The Prayer of St. Francis (Peace Prayer) as a reading for our wedding mass. As well, we have an inexpensive plaque that sits on a dresser in our bedroom. My mother gave it to us many years ago. When we celebrated my mother’s funeral mass a year ago, we read the prayer, as well.

When I was in Spokane for extended periods, I posted a copy of the prayer on my bedroom wall. It serves as a daily reminder of what we are capable of as humans in relationship with one another. the world, and God in our moment-to-moment living.

The prayer is about the travails and their rewards that we undertake. When I think about love, I recall Thomas Merton‘s saying we call it falling in love for a reason. We open ourselves, risk being hurt, and the rewards are worthwhile. We mind, care, and attend to people and things.

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, the truth;
Where there is doubt, the faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

I am unsure what access to the Internet is like on a cruise ship. I heard it is not good. That means I might be off-line for a week or so.

Love’s Exquisite Freedom

When we love others, things, and places, there is freedom that comes with the constraints that love places on us. Maya Angelou provides a rich, poetic description of how love arrives and frees us.

Love arrives with histories and memories of pleasure and pain. Thomas Merton advised that we call it falling in love, because there are times it can hurt. Despite the possibility of pain, love calls us in ways that give us courage to overcome the risk and we are free to choose love. There is something in that person, that thing, and that place that call and hold us in that relationship.

Wendell Berry writes about affection for people, places, and living. It takes courage to step out and say, “I love this person, this place, and this way of living.” In saying that, what if the other rejects me or their love or that love is taken from me?

We, unaccustomed to courage

exiles from delight

live coiled in shells of loneliness

until love leaves its high holy temple

and comes into our sight

to liberate us into life.

Love arrives

and in its train come ecstasies

old memories of pleasure

ancient histories of pain.

Yet if we are bold,

love strikes away the chains of fear

from our souls.

We are weaned from our timidity

In the flush of love’s light

we dare be brave

And suddenly we see

that love costs all we are

and will ever be.

Yet it is only love

which sets us free.

 

Photography Quote of the Day

“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.” ― Lao Tzu To Download free inspiration and life quotes on nature photos please visit: Pi Photography and Fine Art

Source: Photography Quote of the Day

When I think about times that I have felt strong, it has been when I felt deeply loved by someone. At our wedding, I stood up as the procession song began and I shook. When I turned and saw Kathy, I was calm. Perhaps, her love found its way up the aisle of the church that day.

When I think about times that I had courage, it is because I loved someone deeply. As parents and grandparents, we feel that unconditional love and it gives us courage act in ways that seem out of character. On Friday night, while babysitting our grandson, him and I ran around the basement laughing and chasing each other. I had the courage to do things I had not done for years in a safe and private setting.

Thomas Merton wrote that we call it falling in love, because we open ourselves to the risk of being hurt. What if the love is not returned? Love that gives strength and courage is not something that is fleeting and superficial. It runs deep, coursing through our veins and between people. Love helps us remain mindful, attentive, and sensitive to others who are in our lives. More importantly love is felt by others who are not immediately present.

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