“Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” – I Thessalonians 4: 11-12
To be alone by being part of the universe – fitting in completely to an environment of woods and silence and peace. Everything you do becomes a unity and a prayer. Unity within and without. Unity with all living things, without effort or contention. My silence is part of the whole world’s silence and builds the temple of God without the noise of hammers. – Thomas Meeting, journal entry, January 28, 1953
Sometimes we have to “step over” our anger, our jealousy, or our feelings of rejection and move on. The temptation is to get stuck in our negative emotions, poking around in them as if we belong there. Then we become the “offended one,” “the forgotten one,” or the “discarded one.” Yes, we can get attached to these negative identities and even take morbid pleasure in them. It might be good to have a look at these dark feelings and explore where they come from, but there comes a moment to step over them, leave them behind and travel on.
– Henri Nouwen
(photo: Monastery of Christ in The Desert, Abiquiu, NM – September 2018)
Every one of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false self.
This is the man that I want to be but who cannot exist, because God does not know anything about him. And to be unknown of God is altogether too much privacy.
– Thomas Merton
Today I give thanks for il poverello, St. Francis of Assisi, who introduced himself to me many years ago when I touched the stone walls of his home town; who turned my eyes to heaven on a cold, cold Feast of the Epiphany at his place of prayer and transformation, Mt. Laverna. He continues to teach and guide me every day.
(photo: Solvang, CA – December 2017)
The Canticle of Brother Sun
Most High, all-powerful, all-good Lord, All praise is Yours, all glory, all honour and all blessings.
To you alone, Most High, do they belong, and no mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your Name.
Praised be You my Lord with all Your creatures,
especially Sir Brother Sun,
Who is the day through whom You give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendour,
Of You Most High, he bears the likeness.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,
In the heavens you have made them bright, precious and fair.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
And fair and stormy, all weather’s moods,
by which You cherish all that You have made.
Praised be You my Lord through Sister Water,
So useful, humble, precious and pure.
Praised be You my Lord through Brother Fire,
through whom You light the night and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.
Praised be You my Lord through our Sister,
who sustains and governs us,
producing varied fruits with coloured flowers and herbs.
Praise be You my Lord through those who grant pardon for love of You and bear sickness and trial.
Blessed are those who endure in peace, By You Most High, they will be crowned.
Praised be You, my Lord through Sister Death,
from whom no-one living can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Blessed are they She finds doing Your Will.
No second death can do them harm. Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks,
And serve Him with great humility.
in recollection of 12.22.2016 and in grateful recovery 12.22.2019
Wait, for now.
Distrust everything, if you have to.
But trust the hours. Haven’t they
carried you everywhere, up to now?
Personal events will become interesting again.
Hair will become interesting.
Pain will become interesting.
Buds that open out of season will become lovely again.
Second-hand gloves will become lovely again,
their memories are what give them
the need for other hands. And the desolation
of lovers is the same: that enormous emptiness
carved out of such tiny beings as we are
asks to be filled; the need
for the new love is faithfulness to the old.
Don’t go too early.
You’re tired. But everyone’s tired.
But no one is tired enough.
Only wait a while and listen.
Music of hair,
Music of pain,
music of looms weaving all our loves again.
Be there to hear it, it will be the only time,
most of all to hear,
the flute of your whole existence,
rehearsed by the sorrows, play itself into total exhaustion.
So many hearts I find
broke like yours and mine
torn by what we’ve done
and can’t undo…
I just want to hold you
won’t you let me hold you…
Lord, God, the whole world tonight seems to be made of paper. The most substantial things are ready to crumble or tear apart and blow away.
O God, my God, the night has values that day has never dreamed of. All things stir by night, waking or sleeping, conscious of the nearness of their ruin. Only [humans] make themselves illuminations they conceive to be solid and eternal. But while we ask our questions and come to our decisions, God blows our decisions out, the roofs of our houses cave in upon us, the towers are undermined by ants, the walls crack and cave in, and the holiest buildings burn to ashes while the watchman is composing a theory of duration. – Thomas Merton, from Journal entry – July 4, 1952 – The Fire Watch
O nata lux de lumine, Jesu redemptor saeculi,
Dignare clemens supplicum laudes precesque sumere.
Qui carne quondam contegi dignatus es pro perditis
Nos membra confer effici Tui beati corporis.
O Light born of Light, Jesus, redeemer of the world,
mercifully deign to accept the praises and prayers of your suppliants.
O you who once deigned to be hidden in flesh on behalf of the lost,
grant us to be made members of your blessed body.
Ronald Rolheiser –
It’s not easy to believe in God. Faith is never certitude and the evidence for God’s existence is ambiguous. It is ambiguous because life is. The world is full of beauty, virtue, love, selflessness, artistic achievement, humor and celebration. It is, at the same time, full too of evil, moral and physical – selfishness, murder, rape, exploitation, insensitivity, stupidity, and death-producing phenomena, parasites, cancer, and natural disasters which inflict death, pain, disease, and destruction randomly and senselessly.
One can look at the world, as countless believers have always done, and conclude from the presence of beauty and love that there exists an all-loving and all-beautiful God who created this all out of love. One can also look at the world, as many sincere atheists (e.g. Gordon Sinclair, Albert Camus, Richard Rubenstein, Simone de Beauvoir) have, and conclude from the presence of suffering and evil that no God exists or, if one does, s/he is either malicious, quixotic or incompetent. Millions of persons have trouble believing in God, or being at peace with their belief, because they see an inconsistency between faith in an all-good God and the presence of suffering and evil in the world. As Albert Camus once put it: “If there is a God, then he is the eternal bystander with his back turned on a suffering world.”
What underlies these criticisms which often come from very sincere persons? What underlies them is a confusion, however sincere, between faith and understanding. Simply put, whenever we try to think God we get into trouble. Why? Because mind, imagination, and thought cannot be stretched far enough to adequately understand God. For this reason, when we do try to figure out how there can be a God and how everything can still be imagined consistently, we end up with the unfounded conclusion that God does not exist.
Let me illustrate with just one example of what happens when we try to image God’s existence.
The very immensity of our universe defies imagination: There are perhaps hundreds of millions of galaxies with billions of light years separating them. On each of these planets within these galaxies there are hundreds of trillions of phenomena happening every second (and through billions of years). Can we really believe that somewhere there is a person and a heart so supreme and omniscient that it created all of this and that, right now, it knows minutely and intimately every detail and happening and that it is passionately concerned with every one of these happenings? To expatiate further with just one small example: our planet earth. This is just one of millions of planets.
Yet, just on it, during every second there are hundreds of persons being born, hundreds of persons are being conceived, hundreds are dying, millions are sinning, millions are doing virtuous acts, millions are suffering, millions are celebrating, millions are hoping, millions are praying, many are despairing…and all of this has been happening for hundreds of thousands of years. Can we really imagine that a God exists who intimately knows all of this, in every detail, cares passionately about each individual and every detail, and is, somehow, Lord over all of this so that “no sparrow falls from the sky or hair from a human head” without God knowing and caring deeply? Can we really imagine this?
The answer quite simply is that we can’t. Our minds and imaginations simply won’t stretch that far. But that is the precise point. The biggest religious mistake we can make is to try to imagine God. God is infinite, our minds are finite. It makes for a bad equation. When we make God fit the categories of what we can think and imagine we end up in trouble. When God asked Moses to take his shoes off before the burning bush, God was asking for space – space within which to be God. Our belief in God can only be strong if we respect the mystery that is God and not try to figure out God or make God fit into the limits of our own imaginations.
When we do this, and it is the perennial temptation, when we try to make God consistent with our imaginations, then God ceases being God, ceases being worth believing in, and we soon stop believing.