and I couldn't be any more happy. *sigh*
Shake out your qualms.
Shake up your dreams.
Deepen your roots.
Extend your branches.
Trust deep water
and head for the open,
even if your vision
Quit your addiction
to sneer and complain.
Open a lookout.
Dance on a brink.
Run with your wildfire.
You are closer to glory
leaping an abyss
than upholstering a rut.
Intrepid all the way
Walk toward clarity.
At every crossroad
to bump into wonder.
Only love prevails.
En route to disaster
insist on canticles.
Lift your ineffable
out of the mundane.
Honeymoon with Big Joy!
ALL DAY THE FROGS SING. As soon as I get into a cell by myself I am a different person! Prayer becomes what it ought to be. Everything is very quiet. The door is closed but I have the window open. It is warm—grey clouds fly all night—and all day the frogs sing. Now it is evening. The frogs still sing. After the showers of rain around dinnertime, the sky cleared. All afternoon I sat on the bed rediscovering God, rediscovering myself, and the office and Scripture and everything. It has been one of the most wonderful days I have ever known in my life, and yet I am not attached to that part of it either. My pleasure or the contentment that I may have experienced out of silence and solitude and freedom from all care does not matter. But I know that is the way I ought to be living: with my mind and senses silent, contacts with the world of business and war and community troubles severed—not solicitous for anything high or low or far or near—not pushing myself around with my own fancies or desires or projects—and not letting myself get hurried off my feet by the excessive current of activity that flows through the monastery with full force.
Contemplative prayer is the recognition that we are the Daughters and Sons of God, an experience of Who God is, and of God’s love for us, flowing from the operation of that love in us. Contemplative prayer is the voice of the Spirit crying out in us, “Abba.” In all prayer it is the Holy Spirit who prays in us, but in the graces of contemplation God makes us realize (at least obscurely) that it is God who is praying in us with a love too deep and too secret for us to comprehend. We exult in the union of our voice with God’s voice, and our soul springs up to the Father, through the Son, having become one flame with the Flame of their Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church, and it is to God’s presence in us that is attributed the sanctity of each one. God prays in us now as the Soul of the Church and now as the life of our own soul, but the distinction is real only in the external order of things. Interiorly, whether our prayer is private or public, it is the same Spirit praying in us: God is really touching different strings of the same instrument. — Thomas Merton
IN ME GOD TAKES HIS JOY. Yesterday, more truly spring, and this is a spring dawn today, cold, but with birds singing. First time I have heard the whistling of the towhee this year. And the cardinals up in the woods to the west. The promise grows more and more definite. I look up at the morning star: in all this God takes His joy, and in me also, since I am His creation and His son, His redeemed, and member of His Christ. Sorrow at the fabulous confusion and violence of this world, which does not understand His love—yet I am called not to interpret or condemn this misunderstanding, only to return the love which is the final and ultimate truth of everything, and which seeks all men’s awakening and response. Basically I need to grow in this faith and this realization, not only for myself but for all men. To go out to walk slowly in this wood—this is a more important and significant means to understanding, at the moment, than a lot of analysis and a lot of reporting on the things “of the spirit.”
In a Zen koan someone said that an enlightened man is not one who seeks Buddha, or finds Buddha, but just an ordinary man who has nothing left to do. And yet mere stopping is not to arrive. To stop is to stay a million miles from it, and to do nothing is to miss it by the whole width of the universe. Yet how close it is, how simple it would be to have nothing more to do—if I had only done it. Meanwhile I am more content than I have ever been here with this unripeness, and thus I know that one day it will ripen, and one will see there had been nothing there at all, except an ordinary person with nothing to do in the first place. The evening light. Purple coves and holes of shadow in the breasts of the hills and the white gable of Newton’s house smiling so peacefully amid the trees in the middle of the valley. This is the peace and luminosity William Blake loved. Today after dinner a hawk, circling the novitiate and the church steeple, designed a free flight unutterably more pure than skating or music. How he flung himself down from on high and swooped up to touch lightly on the pinnacle of the steeple and sat there, then fell off to cut lovely curves all around the cedars, then off like an arrow to the south. — Thomas Merton
THIS IS MORE IMPORTANT. Yesterday—more truly spring, and this is a spring dawn today, cold, but with birds singing. First time I have heard the whistling of the towhee this year. And the cardinals up in the woods to the west. The promise grows more and more definite. I look up at the morning star: in all this God takes His joy, and in me also, since I am His creation and His son, His redeemed, and member of His Christ. Sorrow at the fabulous confusion and violence of this world, which does not understand His love—yet I am called not to interpret or condemn this misunderstanding, only to return the love which is the final and ultimate truth of everything, and which seeks all men’s awakening and response. Basically I need to grow in this faith and this realization, not only for myself but for all men. To go out to walk slowly in this wood—this is a more important and significant means to understanding, at the moment, than a lot of analysis and a lot of reporting on the things “of the spirit.”
The blue elm tree near at hand and the light blue hills in the distance: the red bare clay where I am supposed to plant some shade trees: these are before me as I sit in the sun for a free half hour between spiritual direction and work. Today, as I sit in the sun, big blue and purple fish swim past me in the darkness of my empty mind, this sea which opens within me as soon as I close my eyes. Delightful darkness, delightful sun, shining on a world which, for all I care, has already ended. It does not occur to me to wonder whether we will ever transplant the young maples from the wood, yonder, to this bare leveled patch—the place where the old horse barn once stood. It does not occur to me to wonder how everything came to be transformed. I sit on a cedar log half chewed by some novice’s blunt axe, and do not reflect on plans I have made for this place of prayer, because they do not matter. They will happen when they happen. The hills are as pure as jade in the distance. God is in His transparent world, but He is too sacred to be mentioned, too holy to be observed. I sit in silence. -- Thomas Merton
SIMPLICITY AND SILENCE. Beauty of the sunlight falling on a tall vase of red and white carnations and green leaves on the altar in the novitiate chapel. The light and shade of the red, especially the darkness in the fresh crinkled flower and the light warm red around the darkness, the same color as blood but not “red as blood,” utterly unlike blood. Red as a carnation. This flower, this light, this moment, this silence = Dominus est, eternity! Best because the flower is itself and the light is itself and the silence is itself and I am myself—all, perhaps, an illusion, but no matter, for illusion is nevertheless the shadow of reality and reality is the grace that underlies these lights, these colors, and this silence. The “simplicity” that would have kept those flowers off the altar is, to my mind, less simple than the simplicity that enjoys them there, but does not need them to be there.
What more do I seek than this silence, this simplicity, this “living together with wisdom?” For me there is nothing else. Last night, before going to bed, realized momentarily what solitude really means: when the ropes are cast off and the skiff is no longer tied to land, but heads out to sea without ties, without restraints! Not the sea of passion, on the contrary, the sea of purity and love that is without care, that loves God alone immediately and directly in Himself as the All (and the seeming Nothing that is all). The unutterable confusion of those who think that God is a mental object and that to love “God alone” is to exclude all other objects to concentrate on this one! Fatal. Yet that is why so many misunderstand the meaning of contemplation and solitude, and condemn it. But I see too that I no longer have the slightest need to argue with them. I have nothing to justify and nothing to defend: I need only defend this vast simple emptiness from my own self, and the rest is clear. (Through the cold and darkness I hear the Angelus ringing at the monastery.) The beautiful jeweled shining of honey in the lamplight. Festival! -- Thomas Merton
YOU CAN MAKE YOUR LIFE WHAT YOU WANT. There are various ways of being happy. Why do we drive ourselves on with illusory demands? Happy only when we conform to something that is said to be a legitimate happiness? An approved happiness? God gives us the freedom to create our own lives, according to His will, that is to say in the circumstances in which He has placed us. But we refuse to be content unless we realize in ourselves a “universal” standard, a happiness hypothetically prescribed and approved for all men of all time, and not just our own happiness. This, at least, is what I do. I am a happy person, and God has given me happiness, but I am guilty about it—as if being happy were not quite allowed, as if everybody didn’t have it within reach somehow or other—and as if I had to justify God Himself by being zealous for something I do not and cannot have—because I am not happy in the same way as Pericles — or Khrushchev.
Still very cold and bright. The best thing about the retreat has been working in the pig barn and then walking back alone, a mile and a half, through the snow. I think I have come to see more clearly and more seriously the meaning, or lack of meaning, in my life. How much I am still the same self-willed and volatile person who made such a mess of Cambridge. That I have not changed yet, down in the depths, or, perhaps yes, I have changed radically somewhere, yet I have still kept some of the old, vain, inconstant, self-centered ways of looking at things. And that the situation I am in now has been given me to change me, if I will only surrender completely to reality as it is given me by God and no longer seek in any way to evade it, even by interior reservations. Here at the hermitage, in deep snow, everything is ordinary and silent. Return to reality and to the ordinary, in silence. It is always there, if you know enough to return to it. What is not ordinary—the tension of meeting people, discussion, ideas. This too is good and real, but illusion gets into it. The unimportant becomes important. Words and images become more important than life. One travels all over vast areas, sitting still in a room, and one is soon tired of so much traveling. I need very much this silence and this snow. Here alone can I find my way because here alone the way is right in front of my face and it is God’s way for me—there really is no other. -- Thomas Merton
GOD IS THE ROOM I REST IN. God’s love takes care of everything I do. He guides me in all my work and in my reading, at least until I get greedy and start rushing from page to page. It is really illogical that I should get temptations to run off to another monastery and to another Order of monks. God has put me in a place where I can spend hour after hour, each day, in occupations that are always on the borderline of prayer. There is always a chance to step over the line and enter into simple and contemplative union with God. I get plenty of time alone before the Blessed Sacrament. I have gotten into the habit of walking up and down under the trees, or along the way of the cemetery, in the presence of God. And yet I am such a fool that I can consent to imagine that in some other situation I would quickly advance to a high degree of prayer. If I went anywhere else, I would almost certainly be much worse off than here. And, anyway, I did not come to Gethsemani for myself but for God.
God is my order and my cell. He is my religious life and my rule. He has disposed everything in my life in order to draw me inward, where I can see Him and rest in Him. He has put me in this place because He wants me in this place, and if He ever wants to put me anywhere else, He will do so in a way that will leave no doubt as to who is doing it. It seems to me that I have greater peace and am close to God when I am not “trying to be a contemplative,” or trying to be anything special, but simply orienting my life fully and completely towards what seems to be required of a man like me at a time like this. I am obscurely convinced that there is a need in the world for something I can provide and that there is a need for me to provide it. True, someone else can do it, God does not need me. But I feel He is asking me to provide it. At the consecration of my Mass I suddenly thought of the words: “If you love me, feed my sheep!” The wonder of being brought, by God, around a corner and to realize a new road is opening up, perhaps—which He alone knows. And that there is no way of traveling it but in Christ and with Him. This is joy and peace—whatever happens. The result does not matter. I have something to do for Him and, if I do that, everything else will follow. -- Thomas Merton
by John O' Donohue (just in time for lent...)
Light cannot see inside things. That is what the dark is for: Minding the interior, nurturing the draw of growth through places where death in its own way turns into life.
In the glare of neon times, let our eyes not be worn by surfaces that shine with hunger made attractive. That our thoughts may be true light, finding their way into words which have the weight of shadow to hold the layers of truth. That we never place our trust in minds claimed by empty light, where one-sided certainties are driven by false desire.
When we look into the heart, may our eyes have the kindness and reverence of candlelight. That the searching of our minds be equal to the oblique crevices and corners where the Mystery continues to dwell, glimmering in figurative light.
When we are confined inside the dark house of suffering, that moonlight might find a window. When we become false and lost, that the severe noon-light would cast our shadows clear. When we love, that dawn-light would lighten our feet upon the waters. As we grow old, that twilight would illuminate treasure in the fields of memory.
And when we come to search for God, let us first be robed in night, put on the mind of morning, to feel the rush of light spread slowly inside the color and stillness of a found world.
From our school chaplain, David Kitch
About Agapé and Verna Dozier
Following Sunday's sermon there were several questions about the use of agapé love and the references to Ms. Verna Dozier. I am happy to pass on some thoughts.
The Greek word agapé is translated as "love" in the vast majority of contemporary English translations. A few key references on agapé love are Jesus own use of the term, including Matthew 22:36-40 (the summary of the law) and John 13:34 (the new commandment). And then Paul's use in 1 Corinthians 13, and throughout the First Letter of John. Beyond that, C.S. Lewis wrote a fine book on the subject entitled THE FOUR LOVES. He reflects on the four Greek words for love and their relationship to the New Testament and the Christian life. One should be able to find a used copy very inexpensively.
Verna J. Dozier was a gift and a wonder. Born in the District of Colombia in 1917, she would be a Washingtonian all her life. Growing up under segregation, she was the product of the "colored schools" of D.C. and Howard University. She became one of the leading educators of her time, navigating the D.C. school system through desegregation and reform.
As a young activist she became involved with the work of Gordon Cosby and the multidenominational mission community the Church of the Savior in Washington D.C. After completing a five year commitment immersed in the formation of that community, members were expected to move on into a specific church to serve there. Verna chose to move to St. Mark's Episcopal Church on Capitol Hill, which was then a small, declining inner-city parish. The then rector, Bill Baxter, told her that he thought St. Mark's was "ready for a black." Her joining the church in 1955 was controversial – and a watershed for the church and Verna.
She would become a great Christian educator, a lay theologian and preacher, and beloved of many. The sermon used several references from Verna's work.
Her use of the phrase "The Dream of God" as a way to express the Kingdom of God.
Her analogy to looking at the Biblical narrative as a painting, where one must not lose the view of the painting as a whole by isolating one small part with a magnifying glass.
Her dictum that in any New Testament passage you should ask yourself "Where is the Good News here for me? For us?"
The quote, "If we have no faith that God is acting then we have no way of seeing God's actions."
I recommend two books. THE DREAM OF GOD by Verna J. Dozier, Seabury Books, NY, 2006 (originally published by Cowley Publications in 1991). CONFRONTED BY GOD – THE ESSENTIAL VERNA DOZIER, edited by Cynthia L. Shattuck and Fredrica Harris Thompsett, Church Publishing, NY, 2006.
Oh, no no no. The vicar doesn't play -- he just refs.
We made the matching gift and the paving work is on it's way. THANK YOU TO ALL who made it possible...
UGH. can't i just say, "a little help over here, please"?
The parish is raising money for new asphalt... Not the most seductive of altruistic endeavors, but one of the most basic. With the help of a couple of sharp shooters, we've come up with a plan... All we need is some hearts and wallets cracked open. (Below is a screen grab from the trifold brochure.) Want in? Just say the word: email@example.com.
by Sandra Kramer
Learning to Pray
When I was growing up, I was exposed to Michelangelo, Rubens, and Frederico Barocci who depicted biblical passages in magnificent art. I appreciate art, but it was hard for me to conceptualize God as a being contained in the body of bearded European man. The only images of an altruistic deity I could really embrace were composed by Niroot Puttapipat who illustrated Clement Clark Moore’s poem “The Night Before Christmas.”
Not surprisingly, I unconsciously lumped God in with Santa Claus; and my prayer life was a direct reflection of my misinterpretation of my place in God’s creation. I asked God for a puppy, a big brother, and a new bicycle. I asked God to make people do what I wanted them to do and to bail me out all sorts of predicaments I created. I gave him my wish list with a dismissive “Get back to me when you’re done with that and I’ll give you some more stuff to do. Amen.”
I had no idea that my whims might not be aligned with God’s will. On more than one occasion I was REALLY ANGRY at God when I didn’t get my way. I quit talking to him sometimes because I was a spiritually selfish, peevish child. But when I became very ill, I turned to him again to utter the three desperate words of my life and death crisis: “Please help me.” The fact that I am writing today is a product of a miracle.
Over the past year, I have realized the fault of my faith. God is not at my service, I am to be of service to him. For me to be of service to God, I have to ask him daily to take away my fear, my ego, my stubbornness and my impatience; for these are the flaws in my character that always separated me from him and his work on earth.
Now, daily, I ask God for only a few simple, but complex things: “God, please grant me faith, willingness, patience, humility, and let me be of service to others. Amen.” This one daily prayer is always answered.
And sometimes, God even lets me be his Santa Claus.
The school honors a group of stellar women and men for their service to all of us. Amazing.
Who, me? Lead a halloween parade? Yes, please.
So good, I need to read it again and again!
Dear Wondrous Faculty and Staff of St. Martins!
As we prepare to move into November (where there is so much going on!) I wanted to share some thoughts about our values theme for the month: “Humility.”
The word “humility” stems from the Latin humus meaning “earth, soil or ground.” The same Latin root also gives English the words “humus”— composted soil gardeners use — and “exhume” — to take something out of the earth. And, importantly, it is the root of the word “human” — reflecting the second creation narrative where God forms the human being out of the soil (Genesis 2:7). God literally forms the human from humus. Human — from the earth, from the soil, by the hand of God. Handmade by the Living and Life-giving God. A good way to think of humility is being grounded—our feet planted firmly on the earth from which we came. Grounded in REALITY.
Grounded in the reality that we are created beings designed to live in relationship with God, with others and with ourselves. To be humble is to be honest about who we really are and WHOSE we really are. This is why in Christian tradition humility has been referred to as one of the two “Queens of the virtues.” The other is gratitude. Humility and gratitude are like fraternal twins, distinct and intimately related at the same time. Very fitting for the month of November as we look at celebrating American Thanksgiving. It is very much about truth – the truth of who we are. It follows well on our previous value theme of Honesty. Humility is about being honest about ourselves, being truthful about ourselves. To be truthful about ourselves includes accepting and embracing all our gifts, capacities, and skills.
The 19th Century mystic and theologian Therese of Lisieux put it this way: "Why do people so mix up the meaning of humility? Humility isn't at all about denying one's abilities and accomplishments. Humility is simply knowing the truth about yourself, and about where you come from, and about Who gets the ultimate credit."
So humility involves being modest, acknowledging the Source of who we are. Since we are loving our neighbors as ourselves, we are not trying to put ourselves above others or ahead of others, not bragging about ourselves. In the light of the Gospel of Jesus we see ourselves—our gifts, skills and capacities; our weaknesses, inabilities and areas of growth—we see it all in relationship to our life with God. And we see EVERYONE ELSE’S gifts, skills and capacities in that same relationship.
Humility. Humus. Earth.
Honesty. Truth. Gratitude.
Grounded—our feet planted firmly on the earth from which we came. Grounded in REALITY. Handmade works of art by the Living and Life-giving God. As always, if you ever have any questions, please ask. It is truly my blessing to serve you all. Grace and Peace!
David J. Kitch, Chaplain
St. Martin's School