the whole world tonight seems to be made of paper

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

photo of washington monument during evening

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Lux Aeterna – O light born of light

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.

It’s not easy to believe in God.

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.

blue and white planet display

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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.

HAVING IT OUT WITH MELANCHOLY by Jane Kenyon

If many remedies are prescribed
for an illness, you may be certain
that the illness has no cure.

A. P. CHEKHOV
The Cherry Orchard

1 FROM THE NURSERY

When I was born, you waited
behind a pile of linen in the nursery,
and when we were alone, you lay down
on top of me, pressing
the bile of desolation into every pore.

And from that day on
everything under the sun and moon
made me sad — even the yellow
wooden beads that slid and spun
along a spindle on my crib.

You taught me to exist without gratitude.
You ruined my manners toward God:
“We’re here simply to wait for death;
the pleasures of earth are overrated.”

I only appeared to belong to my mother,
to live among blocks and cotton undershirts
with snaps; among red tin lunch boxes
and report cards in ugly brown slipcases.
I was already yours — the anti-urge,
the mutilator of souls.

2 BOTTLES

Elavil, Ludiomil, Doxepin,
Norpramin, Prozac, Lithium, Xanax,
Wellbutrin, Parnate, Nardil, Zoloft.
The coated ones smell sweet or have
no smell; the powdery ones smell
like the chemistry lab at school
that made me hold my breath.

3 SUGGESTION FROM A FRIEND

You wouldn’t be so depressed
if you really believed in God.

4 OFTEN

Often I go to bed as soon after dinner
as seems adult
(I mean I try to wait for dark)
in order to push away
from the massive pain in sleep’s
frail wicker coracle.

5 ONCE THERE WAS LIGHT

Once, in my early thirties, I saw
that I was a speck of light in the great
river of light that undulates through time.

I was floating with the whole
human family. We were all colors—those
who are living now, those who have died,
those who are not yet born. For a few

moments I floated, completely calm,
and I no longer hated having to exist.

Like a crow who smells hot blood
you came flying to pull me out
of the glowing stream.
“I’ll hold you up. I never let my dear
ones drown!” After that, I wept for days.

6 IN AND OUT

The dog searches until he finds me
upstairs, lies down with a clatter
of elbows, puts his head on my foot.

Sometimes the sound of his breathing
saves my life — in and out, in
and out; a pause, a long sigh….

7 PARDON

A piece of burned meat
wears my clothes, speaks
in my voice, dispatches obligations
haltingly, or not at all.
It is tired of trying
to be stouthearted, tired
beyond measure.

We move on to the monoamine
oxidase inhibitors. Day and night
I feel as if I had drunk six cups
of coffee, but the pain stops
abruptly. With the wonder
and bitterness of someone pardoned
for a crime she did not commit
I come back to marriage and friends,
to pink fringed hollyhocks; come back
to my desk, books, and chair.

8 CREDO

Pharmaceutical wonders are at work
but I believe only in this moment
of well-being. Unholy ghost,
you are certain to come again.

Coarse, mean, you’ll put your feet
on the coffee table, lean back,
and turn me into someone who can’t
take the trouble to speak; someone
who can’t sleep, or who does nothing
but sleep; can’t read, or call
for an appointment for help.

There is nothing I can do
against your coming.
When I awake, I am still with thee.

9 WOOD THRUSH

High on Nardil and June light
I wake at four,
waiting greedily for the first
note of the wood thrush. Easeful air
presses through the screen
with the wild, complex song
of the bird, and I am overcome

by ordinary contentment.
What hurt me so terribly
all my life until this moment?
How I love the small, swiftly
beating heart of the bird
singing in the great maples;
its bright, unequivocal eye.

see to it that the light within is not darkness

Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are healthy, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are unhealthy, your body also is full of darkness. See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness. Therefore, if your whole body is full of light, and no part of it dark, it will be just as full of light as when a lamp shines its light on you. – Luke 11:34-36

sitting in silence until it silences us…

St. Francis passed on many prayers of praise. He went through life finding new things for which to praise God at every turn. Francis is never trying to earn God’s love; he’s celebrating it! Mature prayer always breaks into gratitude & praise. Prayer is sitting in the silence until it silences us, choosing gratitude until we are grateful, praising God until we ourselves are a constant act of praise.
– R. Rohr OFM
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(image: Piero Casentini; https://www.facebook.com/Piero-Casentini-168766386634134/)

A prayer of thanksgiving – Kathleen Norris

We praise and thank you, Lord, for the uncertain, in-between times in our lives when we can be still and know that you are God. We praise and thank you for the hidden wonders of each day. We praise and thank you for acts of kindness, great and small, that serve to bring about your kingdom. We praise and thank you for the courage to place ourselves under your protection, not allowing fear to have the upper hand. We praise and thank you for your patience with our weakness, for being willing to work in and through us in ways we do not understand. We praise and thank you for our emptiness, which will one day be filled with your love. We praise and thank you for the silent wonders you work in us, preparing us for a life that will find its completion in you. Amen.

Around Us – Marvin Bell

We need some pines to assuage the darkness
when it blankets the mind,
we need a silvery stream that banks as smoothly
as a plane’s wing, and a worn bed of
needles to pad the rumble that fills the mind,
and a blur or two of a wild thing
that sees and is not seen. We need these things
between appointments, after work,
and, if we keep them, then someone someday,
lying down after a walk
and supper, with the fire hole wet down,
the whole night sky set at a particular
time, without numbers or hours, will cause
a little sound of thanks–a zipper or a snap–
to close round the moment and the thought
of whatever good we did.

Gelassenheit

Gelassenheit – letting go – not being encumbered by systems, words, projects. And yet being free in systems, projects. Not trying to get away from all action, all speech, but free, unencumbering Gelassen in this or that action. Error of self-conscious contemplatives: to get hung up on a certain kind of non-action which is an imprisonment, a stupor, the opposite of Gelassenheit. Actually quietism is incompatible with true inner freedom. The furden of this stupid and enforced “quiet” – the self sitting heavily on its own head.

Still thinking of K.C., who wrote from Cincinnati. From a certain point of view my letter to her was a scandal. I was in effect saying, “Don’t listen for the voice of God, God will not speak to you.” Yet this had to be said. Today, for a certain type of person, deceptive. It is the wrong kind of listening: listening for a limited message, an objective sound, a sensible meaning. Actually one decides one’s life by responding to a word that is not well defined, easily explicable, safely accounted for. One decides to love in the face of an unaccountable void, and from the void comes an unaccountable truth. By this truth one’s existence is sustained in peace – until the truth is too firmly grasped and too clearly accounted for. Then one is relying on words, i.e., on ones’ own understanding and one’s own ingenuity in interpreting existence and its “signs.” The one is lost and has to be found once again in the patient Void.

– Thomas Merton, journal entry, November 13, 1966