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
I went out on the porch before dawn to think of these things, and of the words of Ezekiel (22:30): “And I sought among them for a man that might set up a hedge and stand in the gap before me in favor of the land that I might not destroy it, and I found none.” And while I was standing there, quails began to whistle all over the field and in the wood. I had not heard any for weeks and thought sure they were all dead, for there have been hunters everywhere. No, there they are! Signs of life, of gentleness, of helplessness, of providence, of love. They just keep existing and loving and making more quails and whistling in the bushes.
From Thomas Merton’s Journal – November 7, 1965
In choir the less I worried about the singing, the more I was possessed by Love. There is a lesson in that about being poor. You have got to be all the time cooperating with Love in this house, and Love sets a fast pace even at the beginning and, if you don’t keep up, you’ll get dropped. And yet, any speed is too slow for Love – and no speed is too fast for you if you will only let Love drag you off your feet – after that you will have to sail the whole way. But our instinct is to get off and start walking…
I want to be poor. I want to be solitary. This business burns me. “My strength is dried up like a potsherd” (Psalm 21:16). I am all dried up with desire and I can only think of one thing – staying in the fire that burns me.
Sooner or later the world must burn, and all things in it – all the books, the cloister together with the brothel, Fra Angelico together with the Lucky Strike ads. Sooner or later it will all be consumed by fire and nobody will be left, for by that time the last man in the universe will have discovered the bomb capable of destroying the universe and will have been unable to resist the temptation to throw the thing and get it over with.
And here I sit writing in a diary.
But Love laughs at the end of the world because Love is the door to eternity, and he who loves is playing on the doorstep of eternity, and before anything can happen, Love will have drawn him over the sill and closed the door, and he won’t bother about the world burning because he will know nothing but Love.
Thomas Merton, journal entry – October 3 & 10, 1948
The light of truth burns without a flicker in the depths of a house that is shaken with storms of passion and of fear. “You will not fear the terror of the night.” And so I go on trying to walk on the waters of the breakdown. Worse than ever before and better than ever before. It is always painful and reassuring when he who I am not is visibly destroyed by the hand of God in order that the simplicity in the depths of me, which is God’s image, may be set free to serve God in peace. Sometimes in the midst of all this I am tremendously happy, and I have never in my life begun to be so grateful for God’s mercy.
– Thomas Merton, Journal entry, October 22, 1952
(photo: Monastery of Christ in The Desert, NM – September 2018)
Brilliant and gorgeous day, bright sun, breeze making all the leaves and high brown grass shine. Singing of the wind in the cedars. Exultant day, in which a puddle in the pig lot shines like precious silver.
Finally I am coming to the conclusion that my highest ambition is to be what I already am. That I will never fulfill my obligation to surpass myself unless I first accept myself – and, if I accept myself fully in the right way, I will already have surpassed myself.
– Thomas Merton, journal entry – October 2, 1958
When you accept what you have, you see all you have received is more than enough and you are overwhelmed. I desire other things because I fear to be content with what I have, I fear it is inglorious. in the last few days I have seen what matters is to be humble enough to admit I am content with just this. Leave the rest to God.
– Thomas Merton, journal entry, September 7, 1958
Prayer should not only draw God down to us: it should lift us up to God. It should not only rest in God’s reflection (which the soul, still resting in the house of the body, finds within itself). It should rise out of the body and seek to leave this life in order to rest in God. This is true solitude, unimaginably different from any other solitude of body or of soul. But it is hard to find and the pressure of desires that make us heavy and anchor us to earth when we are immersed in the active life of a community.
– Thomas Merton, Journal entry – September 3, 1952
(Photo: Monastery of Christ in The Desert, Abiquiu, NM – September 2018)
Sooner or later the world must burn and all things in it – all the books, the cloister together with the brothel, Fra Angelico together with the Lucky Strike ads…Sooner or later it will all be consumed by fire and nobody will be left, for by that time the last man in the universe will have discovered the bomb capable of destroying the universe and will have been unable to resist the temptation to throw the thing and get it over with.
And here I sit writing a diary.
But Love laughs at the end of the world because Love is the door to eternity. He who loves is playing on the doorstep of eternity, and before anything can happen, Love will have drawn him over the sill and closed the door. He won’t bother about the world burning because he will know nothing but Love.
– Thomas Merton, Journal, October 10, 1948
I want to seek nothing at all, if this is possible. but only to be led without looking and without seeking. For thus to seek is to find. – Thomas Merton, journal entry – August 2, 1960
(Photo: Abiquiu, NM, September 2018
Presently the two mares and the two colts came over to see me and to take a drink. The colts looked like children with their big grave eyes, very humble…and they were tamer than I expected. They came over and nudged me with their soft muzzles and I talked to them a bit. – Thomas Merton
A Blessing – James Wright
Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
(James Wright, “A Blessing” from Above the River: The Complete Poems and Selected Prose.Copyright 1990 by James Wright. Reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.)