This pond which is a short distance from my home is one of my frequent haunts when I’m out walking. Lately with the need for more social distancing I find myself here more often because very few people come here. It’s on the edge of Mount Prospect Cemetery and not many people walk in the cemetery. Some folks may consider that walking in cemeteries is morbid but it’s a place of peace and contemplation for me. The cemetery and the neighboring pond are places where silence abounds. Herman Melville once said, “silence is the only voice of God.” I find God as I understand God in the silence too.
I find peace in the silence. I don’t watch the news. The cacophony of the pandemic is too much for me. I spend my time writing, walking and praying. Prayer walking is my best form of meditation. When I’m at home I listen to Taize and Gregorian chant interspersed occasionally with Carlos Santana. I’ve long considered Santana’s music very spiritual. I will keep walking and praying and listening to the silence. Mount Prospect and this pond have become my sanctuary.
Tonight as we were eating dinner my wife shared of when she was a little girl who grew up in the shadow of the Cuban Missile Crisis. She said she often wondered if someday she’d come home and someone would have started a nuclear war. I grew up in those times too. We had civil defense drills in school. We’d be instructed to hide under our desks or place our heads next to the corridor wall to protect us from the blast. Families and schools built “fallout shelters” and they were stocked with blankets and other emergency items to ensure we survived the unthinkable aftermath of nuclear war.
That was almost sixty years ago. The threat of nuclear war loomed over all of us who grew up in the post World War II 1950’s and 1960’s. There was the Berlin buildup, Vietnam and the peace movement. Then the roaring 80’s of Reaganomics and a possible clash with the Russians. The threat of nuclear war loomed briefly once again. There were low grade wars in the middle east because of our addiction to oil. Thousands of Americans lost their lives along with hundreds of thousands of Iraqi’s and other residents of the lands we fought on. The all volunteer force allowed most Americans the luxury of not having to be involved. Shared sacrifice was replaced with glib, “thank you for your service.” We could be distant and cold to the needs of the poor, the marginalized and to the planet itself.
There were the prophets who warned us there was a day of reckoning in the future. It was our children and grand-children who would pay the price of our disconnection with the planet and with each other. Politicians told us that we could not afford to disrupt our economy to address the needs of the planet. We ignored violent tornadoes, one hundred year floods that occurred with increasing severity, fires that burned out of control and threatened entire ecosystems.
Now we are in the grip of a pandemic that threatens the existence of our civilization. We are locked down in our homes. Afraid to to touch our neighbors or worse yet breathe on them. Doctors and nurses are dying to save us. We, in the richest country on earth lack adequate medical supplies and infrastructure to save our citizens. The cost in human life is immense. One expert today suggested that 200,000 people in the United States alone will perish. The world wide total will be in the millions. There is no known cure for the virus. Is this the apocalypse? Our vast weapons systems that cost trillions of dollars are powerless to stop the pandemic. Our military is infected and faces a threat they’ve never known. Field hospitals are being setup all over the country and the world to care for those who need them.
Yesterday as I walked in the woods near my home I saw deer who crossed my path. There were some robins too. There were some beautiful flowers along the trail. I wondered if I would be here next year to see them. Will this be my final spring? Will this be our final spring? Be sure to tell the people around you that you love them. Make sure your affairs are in order. There are no guarantees. Make peace with each other and with the planet. Live simply so others can simply live. Pray for each other even for those you don’t like.
I remember when I used to look for all I could read about meditation. Imagine writing a book about Zen. Zen seems to be the antithesis of definition. When this quote came in today’s mail, it struck a chord with me.
Contemplation cannot be taught. It cannot even be clearly explained. It can only be hinted at, suggested, pointed to, symbolized. The more objectively and scientifically one tries to analyze it, the more he empties it of its real content, for this experience is beyond the reach of verbalization and of rationalization. Nothing is more repellent that a pseudo-scientific definition of the contemplative experience. One reason for this is that he who attempts such a definition is tempted to proceed psychologically, and there is really no adequate psychology of contemplation. To describe “reactions” and “feelings” is to situate contemplation where it is not to be found, in the superficial consciousness where it can be observed by reflection. But this reflection and this consciousness are precisely part of that external self which “dies” and is cast aside like a soiled garment in the genuine awakening of contemplation.
Thomas Merton. New Seeds of Contemplation. New York: New Directions Press, 1962: 6-7.
I took this picture as I was walking up the trail to Holy Peace Chapel at Mt. Irenaeus this morning. It was a beautiful morning and one of the nicest of the summer. Today’s readings were very meaningful for me. Psalm 63 was read after the first reading and it really embodied how I’ve been feeling lately. I almost walked out of Mass after I got there as I felt a bit low and troubled.
O God, you are my God– for you I long! For you my body yearns; for you my soul thirsts, Like a land parched, lifeless, and without water. So I look to you in the sanctuary to see your power and glory.
For your love is better than life; my lips offer you worship! I will bless you as long as I live; I will lift up my hands, calling on your name. My soul shall savor the rich banquet of praise, with joyous lips my mouth shall honor you! When I think of you upon my bed, through the night watches I will recall That you indeed are my help, and in the shadow of your wings I shout for joy. My soul clings fast to you; your right hand upholds me.
But those who seek my life will come to ruin; they shall go down to the depths of the earth! They shall be handed over to the sword and become the prey of jackals! But the king shall rejoice in God; all who swear by the Lord shall exult, for the mouths of liars will be shut!
I stayed at Mass and this Psalm along with the blog about Paradox of Peace that came from the Merton Institute a couple of weeks ago stayed with me. After Mass and brunch I stopped and visited some Franciscan friends and then I drove north to Abbey of the Genesee. I spent Vespers and Compline with the community. I visited the store and bought Thomas Merton’s, “The Way of Chuang Tzu,” along with fruit cake and some Monks brownies for my friends. Between Vespers and Compline I went to the chapel and sat in silence inviting the presence of the Holy Spirit and seeking answers. Just before Compline while looking at one of Merton’s books in the store Brother Jerome approached and asked if I’d like to talk. I came here seeking answers today and the improbable coincidence of an invitation to talk by a monk I’d never visited with before floored me. I’m going back tomorrow and sit with Brother Jerome. Maybe his counsel is that voice of God that I’ve been seeking.
Contemplation is essentially a listening in silence, an expectancy… In other words, the true contemplative is not the one who prepares his mind for a particular message that he wants or expects to hear, but who remains empty because he knows that he can never expect or anticipate the world that will transform his darkness into light. He does not even anticipate a special kind of transformation. He does not demand light instead of darkness. He waits on the Word of God in silence, and when he is “answered,” it is not so much by a world that bursts into his silence. It is by his silence itself suddenly, inexplicably revealing itself to him as a word of great power, full of the voice of God.
Thomas Merton. Contemplative Prayer. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1969: 90
This came in today’s mail from the Merton Institute and there is a profound truth here. All we are with all our noise, war mongering, power struggles, ego drives are illusion.
Those who love their own noise are impatient of everything else. They constantly defile the silence of the forests and the mountains and the sea. They bore through silent nature in every direction with their machines, for fear that the calm world might accuse them of their own emptiness. The urgency of their swift movement seems to ignore the tranquility of nature by pretending to have a purpose. The loud plane seems for a moment to deny the reality of the clouds and of the sky, by its direction, its noise, and its pretended strength. The silence of the sky remains when the plane has gone. The tranquility of the clouds will remain when the plane has fallen apart. It is the silence of the world that is real. Our noise, our business, our purposes, and all our fatuous statements about our purposes, our business, and our noise: these are the illusion.
Thomas Merton. No Man Is An Island (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1955: 257.
This week has been a week of seeing in a new way. Since Fr. Lou’s homily on Sunday I’ve been looking at how and what I look at and seeing it a new or nuanced way. This has been a week of sadness too as one of the members of our Secular Franciscan Fraternity passed to a new life yesterday. Death of some one close often has a way of helping me to see what is and what might be. A couple of quotes have gotten me thinking in a new way one is from George Bernard Shaw and the other from the Talmud. Continue reading “As they are”
I will lead you into the desert, and there I will speak to your heart. Hosea 2:14
Campaign 2008 and the news media in general have driven me into the desert. I’m really blessed because the onslaught of media both print, internet and televised has driven me to silence and contemplation. It’s been a gradual thing. At first it began intentionally four or five Lents ago and now it has become a way of life. The desert has been a metaphor for a place of radical truth. I’m grateful the media then for driving me closer and closer to a contemplative life that seeks more and more to live apart from them and their reality. Life can be very beautiful most of the time without the constant harangue.
What is Lent? Today I got up at 5:30 am and headed for the gym. It was raining hard. As I ran I could hear the rain beating on the roof of the gymnasium and I was reminded of Thomas Merton who said,
It will talk as long as it wants, this rain. As long as it talks I am going to listen.
So whenever it rains its a call to holiness for me. It’s an invitation to think of Merton and contemplation. The sound of rain is beautiful. Rain washes over us and over the land and I think it’s like grace, except that we can see it. God’s grace is all around us. It isn’t just on Ash Wednesday or during Lent. It isn’t just Sunday, but on Monday and Tuesday too.
We just have to look for it. I’m trying to look for it more.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, pondering and meditating lately. I live a life of active contemplation. Despite this or because of it I am blessed. My recent decision to apply to an MBA program has been born of this contemplation. At the same time I am given to pondering the imponderables and wondering if I’m doing the right thing. Everyone including one of my spiritual advisors have suggested that I should pursue this thought with more action. Continue reading “His agent”