For some “faithful” – and for unbelievers too – “faith” seems to be a kind of drunkenness, an anesthetic, that keeps you from realizing and believing that anything can ever go wrong. Such faith can be immersed in a world of violence and make no objection: the violence is perfectly all right. It is quite normal – unless of course it happens to be exercised by negroes. Then it must be put down instantly by superior force. The drunkenness of this kind of faith – whether in a religious message or merely in a political ideology – enables us to go through life without seeing that our own violence is a disaster and that the overwhelming force by which we seek to assert ourselves and our own self-interest may be our ruin.
Is faith a narcotic dream in a world of heavily-armed robbers, or is it an awakening?
Is faith a convenient nightmare in which we are attacked and obliged to destroy our attackers?
What if we awaken to discover that we are the robbers, and our destruction comes from the root of hate in ourselves?
– Thomas Merton, from Faith and Violence, 1968
(my granddaughter, Fin, posing the question)
Moses put a low gate in the Jerusalem wall,
so that even unconsciously
everyone would have to put down his pack
and lower his head, bowing at least that much,
as though to say,
I pray that I can put down what I carry.
The function given kings and all authorities
is so that people who won’t bow down
and surrender to the presence
will have one place where they are humble.
The gate was called Babi-Saghir,
the little door.
Consider the world-power you acknowledge
as a small gate you must go through
to pay homage to a dunghill,
and instead of doing that, recognize the holy ones,
who are sweet as sugarcane.
Don’t grovel in front of political leaders.
Not your highness, say your lowness
to those empty weed-stems. Honor the sun we see by.
Don’t play a cat-and-mouse game.
Join the lion and swift deer in their hunt for soul.
Let pot-lickers follow the big basin-licker.
I could continue and make some rulers and administrators
very angry. They know who I’m talking about.
The country that is nowhere is the real home. –Thomas Merton, journal entry, May 30, 1968
If you enjoy reading at least some of this blog, you may want to check out Hole In The Head Review – a quarterly journal of photography, poetry, and visual arts. http://www.holeintheheadreview.com
Issue 2 of Hole In The Head Review is now up with brilliant works by Eva Goetz, K. Johnson Bowles, David Weiss, Charter Weeks, Marilyn A. Johnson, Kenneth Rosen, Richard Blanco, Jacob Bond Hessler, Mimi White, Jere DeWaters, Kimberly Cloutier Green, Marie Harris, Bhagavan Das Lescault…and much, much more.
I sweep. I spread a blanket in the sun. I cut grass behind the cabin. Soon I will bring the blanket in again and make the bed. The sun is overclouded. Perhaps there will be rain. A bell rings in the monastery. A tractor growls in the valley. Soon I will cut bread, eat supper, say psalms, sit in the back room as the sun sets, as the birds sing outside the window, as silence descends on the valley, as night descends. As night descends on a nation intent upon ruin, upon destruction, blind, deaf to protest, crafty, powerful, unintelligent. It is necessary to be alone, to be not part of this, to be in the exile of silence, to be, in a manner of speaking, a political prisoner. No matter where in the world he may be, no matter what may be his power of protest, or his means of expression, the poet finds himself ultimately where I am. Alone, silent, with the obligation of being very careful not to say what he does not mean, not to let himself be persuaded to say merely what another wants him to say, not to say what his own past work has led others to expect him to say.
The poet has to be free from everyone else, and first of all from himself, because it is through this “self” that he is captured by others. Freedom is found under the dark tree that springs up in the center of the night and of silence, the paradise tree, the axis mundi, which is also the Cross.
– Thomas Merton, May 1965
Whenever I groan within myself and think how hard it is to keep writing about love in these times of tension and strife which may at any moment become for us all a time of terror, I think to myself, “What else is the world interested in?” What else do we all want, each one of us, except to love and be loved, in our families, in our work, in all our relationships. God is Love. Love casts out fear. Even the most ardent revolutionist, seeking to change the world, to overturn the tables of the money changers, is trying to make a world where it is easier for people to love, to stand in that relationship with each other of love. We want with all our hearts to love, to be loved. And not just in the family but to look upon all as our mothers, sisters, brothers, children. It is when we love the most intensely and most humanly, that we can recognize how tepid is our love for others. The keenness and intensity of love brings with it suffering, of course, but joy too because it is a foretaste of heaven. – Dorothy Day
From a Letter to Theo*
Vincent Van Gogh, The Hague,
September 3, 1882
Behind those saplings, behind that brownish-red soil,
is a sky very delicate, bluish-gray, warm, hardly blue,
all aglow – and against it all is a hazy border of green
and a network of little stems and yellowish leaves.
A few figures of wood gatherers are wandering around
like dark masses of mysterious shadows.
The white cap of a woman bending to reach a dry branch
stands out suddenly against the deep red-brown of the ground.
A skirt catches the light – a shadow is cast –
a dark silhouette of a man appears above the underbrush.
A white bonnet, a cap, a shoulder, the bust of a woman
molds itself against the sky. Those figures are large
and full of poetry – in the twilight of that deep shadowy tone
they appear as enormous terracottas being modeled in a studio.
*from – Vincent Van Gogh: A Self Portrait, Letters Revealing
His Life as a Painter, selected by W.H. Auden