Just about a week ago my wife Bonnie died after a long bout with cancer. We all knew this was coming but that helped not at all. If you read the story which led to this site (see below), you know how close we were (are) and can grasp what you might experience should you be the one left behind.
Bonnie was like a breath of fresh air: full of good will, full of joy, full of love. She knocked me off my feet almost 50 years ago and I stayed sitting on my ass all these years wondering why I was so blessed being so close to such a full-of-hell kind of girl. Blessings not warranted.
You’ve heard of grief, or more likely, experienced it: the nadir of all experiences. The emptiness that surrounded me seemed bottomless while I gushed frequent tears and could get nothing done. Just felt sorry for myself in a world already filled with misery.
A fine old friend of mine who lost his wife some years ago suggested I read A GRIEF OBSERVED by C. S. Lewis. Amazing! I went from the pit to the mountaintop: from tears to smiles overnight. Instead of losing Bon, I could imagine her wherever she may be, advocating for us: my son, his wonderful wife and our incredible grandson, Liam.
Poi si torno all’eterna fontana
The major reason for this site is the two part tale of a Merton experience which began in 1955 when I entered the Abbey of Gethsemani and soon found myself being friended by this extraordinary man then known as Fr. Louis, the novice master. The first few sections are later additions to the main tale. To get to the actual entry, page down to “A Novice and His Master”.
As I approach my last years, I wanted to add to some of what I have put on this site in the past. As I proceed in years, I expected to find some things clearer and many things to be as confusing as always. I still often (but less so) question things which have no answers–something which Merton told me fifty five years ago to stop doing since it was useless. I still cannot accept all the suffering in this world and how some people have to face so much of it and others almost none at all. Aside from that conundrum let me proceed with a few, hopefully not too confusing, thoughts.
I believe quite seriously that one of this world’s worst curses was the establishment of organized religion. While many have some very worthy adherents, mostly these organizations have denigrated the people in this incredible creation to the point of leading to the horrible torture and deaths of an infinite number of innocents. My somewhat vague remembrance is that Yeshua (Jesus) said in one of the Apocrypha that ‘one has everything within that will lead to the Other’. On the other hand, the RC’s have a new pope, Francis, who seems to be somewhat on the right track in a few areas, though raising the pope before him to sainthood was not one of them. Still I wish him well. (He was right on John XXIII.)
As I age I have come to more clearly understand Merton’s description of prayer as just breathing. The time of words, petitions , grumpiness seems to be over and the incredible beauty of the predawn silence, hearing the first bird peep of the day, is a most wonderful prayer. All it takes is making the time, keeping your big mouth shut and your mind blank.
A certain quiet kind of joy is almost always present sometime during the day now, and what more of a gift could a person ask for? The sadness surrounding the suffering of friends, relatives, the poor and lowly of the world still affects me but the positivity goes on. A good bit of laughing should always be in your life. Without this life is not worth living .
Merton (center) in Asia. 1968
His last talk was not easily digested by the listeners nor was it readily accepted by many. He told them that they needed to stand on their own two feet. To me this implies that one cannot depend on existing institutions but should make one’s way through life in the most personal way: with a one to one relation to the Great Spirit. His last words were prophetic: ‘I will now disappear’. He died shortly after this speech and the world lost an incredibly loving man and I feel I lost a great friend.
Check: “Thomas Merton’s Final Lecture” on You Tube.
1) Meister Eckhart: I pray God to rid me of God.
2) Thomas Merton: How I pray is to breathe.
3) FATHER’S AZTEC PRAYER
Oh only for so short a while you have loaned us to each other.
Because we take form in your act of drawing us,
And we take life in your painting us,
And we breath in your singing us.
But only for so short a while have you loaned us to each other.
4) THE ARAMAIC PRAYER OF JESUS (YESHUA) (The Our Father)
O Birther of the Cosmos, focus your light within us–make it useful
Create your reign of unity now
Your one desire then acts with ours,
As in all light,
So in all forms,
Grant us what we need each day in bread and insight:
Loose the cords of mistakes binding us,
As we release the strands we hold of other’s guilt.
Don’t let surface things delude us,
But free us from what holds us back.
From you is born all ruling will,
The power and the life to do,
the song that beautifies all,
From age to age it renews.
I affirm this with my whole being.
5) The following is one of Merton’s hilarious comments when you realize he was almost a Luddite. It describes a new farm machine all of which he found much too loud and really unnecessary. This is from his book CONJECTURES OF A GUILTY BYSTANDER and makes me at least smile every time I read it.
A new invention appears in the distant pasture, sliding down the hillside like an Ohio Riverboat or a Sol Steinberg drawing, driven by a brother in a white sun helmet. What is it? An atomic-powered gunboat? An agricultural pagoda? It seems to be made of aluminum–it shines brilliantly–it seems to have a paddle wheel in front, wherewith to persecute some aspect of unoffending nature. A great deal must go on inside. In every direction it has chimneys protruding. It can be heard for miles. It apparently chews the grass and spits it out in all directions. Nobody knows what for. It’s name: Behemoth. *
*Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1966) 140 – 42
6) The following from THIS MUCH I KNOW IS TRUE by Wally Lamb, containing a summary of just about everything.
(From The central character.) I am not a smart man, particularly, but one day, at long last, I stumbled from the dark woods of my own, and my family’s, and my country’s past, holding in my hands these truths: that love grows from the rich loam of forgiveness; that mongrels make good dogs; that the evidence of God exists in the roundness of things.
This much, at least, I have figured out. I know this much is true.*
* Wally Lamb, I Know This Much Is True (Regan Books: Harper Collins Publishers, Inc., 1998) pg. 897
While considering the the terrible connotations of the word “LORD” and its constant use in referring to the Great Mystery in the last post, I am brought to the use of the name ‘Jesus’. I’ve often thought that perhaps had his real name, Yeshua, been used, would the criminalizing of the Hebrew population have been less over the centuries? The fact that the Latin word was employed seems to have divorced the man named Yeshua from his Hebrew origin aiding the church in its vilification of the Jews. Using Yeshua in speaking of Maryam and Josef’s child might perhaps do wonders for any discussion in which it is used.
While my interest in wordy prayer has fallen over the years, believing that silence is always better than words, even if the words are not spoken aloud. I do this comfortably sitting, not in any unfriendly posture like a badly suffering earth worm or yoga enthusiast. I find that breathing in the first silence of dawn when the sun begins to make itself felt, when the preciously sonorous song of a very determined wren graces the earth with delight, I do at times come back to the prayer with which I have always felt mostly comfortable. Merton’s famous creation is from the early version of SEEDS Of CONTEMPLATION I believe. It has been around for well over 50 years but includes some words which I can no longer favor.
How about LORD? If you look up this sadly overused word, you will find that most of its definitions tend to an unflattering description of the individual described thereby. The word for me leads to visions of criminally insane masters of cruelly treated peasants and affords no visions of an Entity whose whole Being is love. I eschew this word and borrow a description from our Native Americans: Great Spirit. There are a few other changes. I feel much better with them and can use the prayer well. Sorry Fr. Louis but things have changed and I’ve had to also.
THE MERTON PRAYER 2013
Great Spirit, we have no idea where we are going. We do not see the road ahead of us.
We cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do we really know ourselves, and the
fact that we think we are following your will does not mean that we are actually doing so.
But we believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And we hope we have
that desire in all that we are doing. We hope that we will never do anything apart from
that desire. And we know that if we do this you will lead us by the right road though we
may know nothing about it. Therefore we will trust you always though we may seem to
be lost and in the shadow of death, we will try not to fear, for you are ever with us and
you will never leave us to face out perils alone.