The Pond


Still water is attractive to me. There is quiet there. This small pond at Mt. Irenaeus is so inviting that I spent nearly an hour there last Sunday. Today I’m hiking further up the Mountain Road. The stillness of Mt. Irenaeus restores my soul each week. I love people and I love solitude. I am reminded again of Thomas Merton.

“Out here in the woods I can think of nothing except God. It is not so much that I think of Him as I am as aware of Him as I am of the sun and the clouds and the blue sky and the thin cedar trees…Engulfed in the simple and lucid actuality of the afternoon — I mean God’s afternoon — this sacramental moment of time when the shadows will get longer and longer, and one small bird sings quietly in the cedars, one car goes by in the remote distance, and the oak leaves move in the wind.

High up in the summer sky I watch the silent flight of a vulture, and the day goes by in prayer. This solitude confirms my call to solitude. The more I am in it, the more I love it. One day it will possess me entirely and no man will ever see me again.
~Thomas Merton, A Search for Solitude


Tonight is feeling a bit more like fall. It’s down in the high forties. It’s almost midnight as I sit here blogging about my day. Although it’s a bit cool, I’m at peace in this hermitage I enjoy in our home. There is nothing like silence and solitude and I experience much of that each day. I enjoy my time at work and socializing with many friends, but I enjoy my time alone. Though I have a 26″ LCD monitor I cannot remember the last time I used it. It’s been at least a month. What began as a Lenten activity almost ten years ago has become a way of life. A life that includes less and less of what is commonly called the news. A life that includes less and less of what might be called entertainment. When I do watch television, it is only for a brief period and usually without sound. Sporting events without commentary are almost like going to games at the stadium. I do enjoy reading Huffington a bit on the internet, but even my consumption of Huffington is way down. I find all the bickering debilitating and the less I have of it in my life, the happier I am.

This fall I’m in graduate school at St. Bonaventure University, teaching a couple of classes in our school system, working as the technology director and working at my small business. I even found time to exercise on the elliptical a couple of times this week. Soon I’ll be sleeping and then another day will present itself. Actually the new day has begun already and I’m almost ready to sleep. I love the quiet and stillness here on the edge of the woods.

Victory is certain

This letter that came from the Merton Institute is timely today. Sometimes I feel an overwhelming sense of despair and lately it has been tugging at my shoulder from time to time.  This letter Czeslaw Milosz though fifty years ago rings true for me today.

[Letter to Czeslaw Milosz, Feb, 1959] Milosz, life is on our side. The silence and the Cross are forces that cannot be defeated. In silence and suffering, in the heartbreaking effort to be honest in the midst of dishonesty (most of all our own dishonesty), in all these is victory. It is Christ in us who drives us through darkness to a light of which we have no conception and which can only be found by passing through apparent despair. Everything has to be tested. All relationships must be tried. All loyalties have to pass through fire. Much has to be lost. Much in us has to be killed, even much that is best in us. But Victory is certain.

Thomas Merton. The Courage for Truth: Letters to Writers, Christine M. Bochen, editor (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1993): 57-58.

Merton on solitude

Earlier today I took a canoe onto the lake where we are staying and maybe it’s because I had ridden in motorized craft a lot this trip, but it was very refreshing to be paddling along in a still cove. I think there is a lot more to solitude than prayer or maybe it’s that contemplation leads to an awareness or state of mind that begets solitude and that solitude begins to infuse all that I am. It’s more than interior silence. It’s a state of being. As Ii paddled I began to recite, “Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with you.”

Solitude as act: the reason no one understands solitude, or bothers to try to understand it, is that it appears to be nothing but a condition. Something one elects to undergo, like standing under a cold shower. Actually, solitude is a realization, an actualization, even a kind of creation, as well as a liberation of active forces within us, forces that are more than our own, and yet more ours that what appears to be “ours”. As a mere condition, solitude can be passive, inert and basically unreal: a kind of permanent coma. One has to work at it to keep out of this condition. One has to work actively at solitude, not by putting fences around oneself but by destroying all the fences and throwing away all the disguises and getting down to the naked root of one’s inmost desire, which is the desire of liberty-reality. To be free from the illusion that reality creates when one is out of right relation to it, and to be real in the freedom which reality gives when one is rightly related to it.

Thomas Merton. Learning to Love, Journals Volume 6, Christine M. Bochen, editor (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1997): 320-321.I used to

Abbey at sunset

Today began as I made my way to Mt. Irenaeus for Mass this morning. When I arrived there were a couple dozen young men there for a St. Bonaventure University men’s overnight. Men’s overnight’s are a part of the Friars outreach to the St. Bonaventure University Campus. It was great to see so many young men gathered and sharing in the chapel. Usually women outnumber men at Mass even at the Mountain which is home to five Franciscan Friars, but today was one of those exceptions when there were only a smattering of women and nearly three dozen men and many of them were University freshmen.

A handful of young ladies from nearby Houghton College arrived soon after the liturgy had started and I could tell that they were amazed and perhaps amused by the presence of all these Bonaventure men.  The theme of the overnight was “Wildmen, Warriors and Kings.”  It was great to see how these young guys connected with each other and with the Friars. Following Mass and a walk down to House of Peace for brunch I found myself soaking up the presence of Brother Sun whom we haven’t seen much of lately and enjoying the warmth he provided as the mercury moved above freezing. I decided to take a leisurely drive along Route 86 through the towns of Hornell, Arkport, and Dansville on my way to Abbey of the Genesee.

I arrived at the Abbey in time for Vespers. On Sunday’s vespers always includes a time of Eucharistic Adoration and I love the combination of the two. Two Sundays in a row I’ve been able to part take in adoration. Last Sunday at prior to our Secular Franciscan meeting and today at Abbey of the Genesee. After Vespers I stayed on in the chapel to soak up the silence. On leaving the chapel I stopped in the store to pick up a couple of Monks Brownies which are one of my favorite snacks and on my way to the car I took this photo of the Abbey Chapel silhouetted against the setting sun.  I thought often today of the words of Thomas Merton as he described solitude.

The more I am in it, the more I love it. One day it will possess me entirely and no man will ever see me again. ~Thomas Merton

Silence is the only voice of God

It’s 7 degrees Fahrenheit here right now and it’s been very wintry all day. I didn’t try to make it to Mt. Irenaeus this morning. I figured the weather might make it impossible to drive up Roberts Road. I opted instead for a challenging winter drive to Piffard, New York and the Abbey of the Genesee. I stayed on the main roads as I didn’t want to slide into any ditches or get stuck in a snow bank. My journey took me through Rushford, Canadea, Houghton, Fillmore, Portageville and Nunda. From Nunda to Mt. Morris the weather was especially nasty with visibility at times less than a tenth of a mile. I finally made to Geneseo and then to the Abbey, but not without seeing a less fortunate driver who was parked in a corn field.

When I finally arrived at the Abbey I decided to sit quietly by the window overlooking the Genesee River valley. I just soaked up the silence and the delightful smell of Monks Bread coming from the bookstore/breadstore in the next room. After stopping to read a passage from Genesis I made my way to the chapel. I love this chapel. It’s a second home to me. The smell of incense, the sight of the Madonna and child, the empty stalls for the monks, the vigil light. It’s like visiting God’s home. Herman Melville once said, “silence is the only voice of God,” and I couldn’t agree more. The silence of this chapel speaks volumes to me.

Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent this year. Today many will return from Lenten services with ashes on their heads. I’ve been thinking about what I’m going to do for Lent this year. I’m going to spend more time in contemplative prayer. I’m being drawn more and more to silence and solitude. The more time I spend in silence the happier I am.  It’s funny but silence speaks to me. I’ve also been asked to pray for a couple trying to become a mother and father. Please pray for peace also. Pray for our country that is going to spend more on war and weapons than at anytime since World War II. Pray that this year we elect a leader that will bring change.

True Solitude

I will give you what you desire. I will lead you into solitude…Everything that touches you shall burn you, and you will draw your hand in pain, until you have withdrawn yourself from all things…Do not ask when it will be or where it will be or how it will be: On a mountain or in a prison, in a desert or in a concentration camp, or in a hospital or at Gethsemani. It does not matter. So do not ask me, because I am not going to tell you. You will not know until you are in it.  But you shall taste the true solitude of my anguish and my poverty and I shall lead you into the high places of my joy and you shall die in Me and find all things in My Mercy which has created you for this end…That you may become the brother of God and learn to know the Christ of the burnt men.–Thomas Merton, Seven Storey Mountain

These words mean more to me today than they did when I first read them twenty-nine years ago. In a few days on the Feast of the Epiphany I will mark an anniversary of another sort. It was the time of my first visit to Piffard, New York and the Abbey of the Genesee. Often I have pondered these words and over the years their meaning has changed, but they continue to animate my life and I’m grateful to Thomas Merton, the Trappist monks of Genesee Abbey and the breath that leads me forward.