Merton New Seeds of Contemplation

BB1Merton’s Chapter 10, “A Body of Broken Bones,” in New Seeds of Contemplation is very poignant. Here are a few excerpts:

As long as we are not purified by the love of God and transformed into Him in the union of pure sanctity, we will remain apart from one another, opposed to one another, and union among us will be a precarious and painful thing, full of labor and sorrow and without lasting cohesion.
All over the face of the earth the avarice and lust of men breed unceasing divisions among them, and the wounds that tear men from union with one another widen and open out into huge wars. Murder, massacres, revolution, hatred, the slaughter and torture of the bodies and souls of men, the destruction of cities by fire, the starvation of millions, the annihilation of populations and finally the cosmic inhumanity of atomic war: Christ is massacred in His members, torn limb from limb; God is murdered in men.

As long as we are on earth, the love that unites us will bring us suffering by our very contact with one another, because this love is the resetting of a Body of broken bones. Even saints cannot live with saints on this earth without some anguish, without some pain at the differences that come between them. There are two things which men can do about the pain of disunion with other men. They can love or they can hate.

The root of Christian love is not the will to love, but the faith that one is loved. The faith that one is loved by God. That faith that one is loved by God although unworthy—or, rather, irrespective of one’s worth! In the true Christian vision of God’s love, the idea of worthiness loses its significance. Revelation of the mercy of God* makes the whole problem of worthiness something almost laughable: the discovery that worthiness is of no special consequence (since no one could ever, by himself, be strictly worthy to be loved with such a love) is a true liberation of the spirit . And until this discovery is made, until this liberation has been brought about by the divine mercy, man is imprisoned in hate.
IF you want to know what is meant by “God’s will” in man’s life, this is one way to get a good idea of it. “God’s will” is certainly found in anything that is required of us in order that we may be united with one another in love.
For Christianity is not merely a doctrine or a system of beliefs, it is Christ living in us and uniting men to one another in His own Life and unity. “I in them, and Thou, Father , in Me, that they may be made perfect in One…. And the glory which Thou hast given me I have given them, that they may be One as we also are One.” In hoc cognoscent omnes quia mei estis discipuli, si dilectionem habueritis ad invicem. “In this shall all men know that you are my disciples— if you have love one for another.”

  • In the bible, hesed refers to the loving action of God in us as God brings us to new life. Hesed has been translated as mercy, loving kindness and steady love. I like to think of hesed as a verb—God heseds us into life. I believe Merton’s concept of mercy, about which he often writes, captures the full meaning of God’s action in us.


Wild Goose 2

Geese on Parade c. J. Patrick Mahon

Geese on Parade
c. J. Patrick Mahon

A week ago this morning we were still in Hot Springs, NC for the conclusion of the Wild Goose Festival (WGF). All week my mind has been going back to Hot Springs. I flew back like a wild goose this morning when I read the readings for Good Shepherd Sunday.

In Jeremiah 23 the prophet laments the fact that the shepherds have deserted and betrayed the sheep. Wild Goose was a reminder about how the shepherds have often deserted the sheep. I shared my previous reflection and one person picked up on the theme of how institutional religion has deserted the people. What should be a refuge, a banquet amid trials and turmoil according to Psalm 23, has morphed into an exclusive club where only the best of the kowtowing (sheeptowing?) are welcome. Religion has become creeds, codes, rules, and regulations. Follow the rules or you are out. Continue reading

Wild Goose Festival

P1050105_DxO.tiftpzOn July 9-12, 2015, Joan and I attended the Wild Goose Festival (WGF) in Hot Springs, NC. I had submitted a proposal which was accepted and I co-presented with John Dear on “Seeing Merton.” John spoke about Merton on nonviolence. I addressed Merton on photography, spirituality and peacemaking. As Merton said, “We are already one. We all have to realize this. We have to become what we are.”

I also exhibited six of my photographs. Photography opens the doors and windows to contemplation—seeing into the very is-ness of things. Photography reveals the “hidden wholeness” and “beauty deep down things”—to wed Merton and Hopkins. Continue reading

Initial Reflection on Laudatio si

Merton--These day lilies are saints praising God.

Merton–These day lilies are saints praising God.

[Click on photo for larger photo]

It took several days and committed determination to work my way through Laudatio si, Pope Francis’ thorough analysis of the human/ecological crisis. The papal letter is worthy of detailed study. Various non-Catholic church groups have enthusiastically endorsed it. Francis is speaking from a scientific mind and a Christian heart to address the crisis that faces humankind worldwide.

In my opinion, the Pope has used the best available science to conclude that human activity is largely responsible for the environmental crisis. Deniers, such as Jeb Bush, say that the pope should not be mixing religion and politics; however, this very week, Republican presidential hopefuls have met with Ralph Reed in Atlanta to learn how to mix their politics with religion in the upcoming campaign. Spiritual values apparently become an impermissible mixture of religion and politics when an individual’s religion and politics disagree with what is being put forth. Economics, moral values, science, religion and politics must work together to solve the eco crisis threatens mankind and all of creation.

The major argument of the letter, which I plan to analyze more thoroughly over time, is that greed, consumerism and a throw away culture have created the crisis. Humankind has confused “dominion” over creation with the rape of natural and human resources regardless of the cost to humanity now and into the deep future. Economic domination based on greed drives decision making and impedes workable solutions to the world crisis.

The Pope casts his appeal in terms of Gospel values—love, justice (especially for the poor), and the common good of all humankind. The pope resuscitates perennial human values such as beauty:

By learning to see and appreciate beauty, we learn to reject self-interested pragmatism. If someone has not learned to stop and admire something beautiful, we should not be surprised if he or she treats every object as something to be used or abused without scruple (215).

Francis reminds us that we come to know the Creator through the “beauty of creation.” This is music to my photographer’s heart. Long accustomed to a domination based approach to photography—shooting pictures, capturing images—I have learned a new approach through my study of Thomas Merton’s photography. Christina Valtners Paintner, abbess of the monastery of the arts,” also helps me understand the very approach to creation the Pope is endorsing. All creation is a gift from God, however we want to define “God.” I no longer take photographs. Rather, I receive images which become icons of the reality they represent. I am not an objective observer with a machine called a camera. I am a human being who is immersed in creation; therefore, I am very much a part of what I am photographing and the final product reflects the subject and my personality.

Teilhard de Chardin who was ostracized by the Church died in obscurity. Chardin must be rejoicing in his grave because Francis roundly rejects the false dichotomy between matter and spirit, “Christianity does not reject matter.” (235) Francis, like his name sake, has highest regard for the material universe which embodies the Creator. Thomas Merton learned from Blake—everything is sacred. All creation reflects the glory and splendor of God. As Gerard Manley Hopkins put it, “The earth is charged with the grandeur of God.”

Throughout the letter, Francis is so aware of one thing. Thomas Merton put it so well, “We are already one. . . . we have to become what we are.” We are intimately related to the Creator, one another, all creatures and the material universe. This fundamental interdependence requires that we reassess on position vis a vis the material world and our interaction with that world. We are not conquerors and controllers; we are stewards of God’s creation. How we relate to creation affects our very life on this planet.

From the heights of such theological arguments so well phrased, the Pope also sounds a practical, pragmatic note:

There is a nobility to care for creation through little daily actions, and it is wonderful how education can bring about real changes in lifestyle. Education in environmental responsibility can encourage ways of acting which directly and significantly affect the world around us, such as avoiding the use of paper and plastic, reducing water consumption, separating refuse, cooking only what can reasonably be consumed, showing care for other living beings, using public transportation and car-pooling, planting trees, turning off unnecessary lights, or any number of other practices (211).

Finally, the Pope sees that the “ecological crisis is also a summons to profound interior conversion.” (217) “Gratitude, gratuitousness, [and] a recognition that the world is God’s loving gift” are elements of conversion.

The Pilgrim

Hamilton Gardens

Hamilton Gardens

Pilgrim God,

Equip me for the trip.

Be with me on the hardest journey–

the inner journey into nothingness.

Let me not veer from this path.

Let me not become deterred

by hardship, fear, strangeness, doubt.

Show me the steps I must take

toward a wealth not dependent on possessions,

toward a wisdom not based on books,

toward a strength not bolstered by might,

toward a true self not falsely masked,

toward a care for creation not based on pillage,

toward a God not confined to heaven.

Help me to find you deep down within

as well as in the stardust of others and your creation.

Help me to find myself as I walk in other’s shoes.

Help me to know that you are the Love within

and remove all obstacles to Love shining through.

You alone are my walking stick—

You are above me and below me,

In front of me and behind me,

Within me and without me,

As I tread the unknown path

To now-here.


Adapter by J. Patrick Mahon from “Prayer Song from Ghana,”

In Christine Valtners Paintner, The Soul of the Pilgrim, 40.

Christ “easters” in Us

Easter chick

Easter chick

Jesus Christ is risen today! Alleluia! Shout, “Alleluia!”

It is spring—the season of new life. I went to Gatorland in Orlando last Thursday and new life abounded as mother birds sat on the nests and as they fed those already born. Baby egrets with their spiked hairdos reaching for food. Easter is about new life in Christ.

In the “Wreck of the Deutschland,” Gerard Manley Hopkins, wrote about the Risen Christ:

Let him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us . . . Continue reading

Palm Sunday Homily

The Way of the Cross c. J. Patrick Mahon

The Way of the Cross
c. J. Patrick Mahon

Today is Palm Sunday. We began with a Gospel reading describing Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem right before Passover. Then we read a section from Isaiah about the Suffering Servant—an apt description of Jesus for the early church. Then we read Paul’s vivid description of Jesus who humbled himself unto death as a prelude for the reading of the passion and death.

This week we focus on the death by crucifixion of Jesus. If I were to ask you, “Why did Jesus die?” how would you answer me? . . . You readily told me that Jesus died for our sins. This was not the thinking of the early church. This view of Jesus’ death only came about with Anselm of Canterbury in the 11th century. It made sense then but no longer makes sense. What God, but a vengeful medieval God, would require the death of God’s beloved son to make up for our sins? Continue reading

Contemplative Nonviolence

DB0A2719_DxOAt a retreat this past weekend with Pax Christi Florida, Fr. Bob Cushing, a contemplative activist, who is a nonviolent follower of the God of Peace, brought me to a new level of awareness. He woke me up from my comfortable slumber.

How can I live nonviolently in a world of violence—wars and rumors of wars, heated, violent political invective throughout the country, multinational companies that place profit above people, millions living in poverty, nuclear weapons at ready, children starving every day, one out of six people in the land of plenty living in poverty? The list goes on and on. Break out the sackcloth and ashes—lamentation, grieving is in order. As Father Bob and John Dear remind us, we have to grieve before we can move into nonviolence. Continue reading

Our Path

Taken with Canon FX film camera

Taken with Canon FX film camera c. J. Patrick Mahon Photography


My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. (Thomas Merton, (Thoughts in Solitude)

Homily Third Sunday Lent

We can fly like eagles or scrounge like vultures

We can fly like eagles or scrounge like vultures

Today’s readings offer much food for reflection. We could talk about commandments, the Law, the Torah. Suffice it to say that, for Jews, the Torah, the Laws, are seen as a positive thing. The Law sets them free. This is much different from our individualistic Western approach where we often disdain law as confining us. The Torah sets the structures for people living together. Religion is never just about me. It is about us. True religion fosters love and compassion for all others. Sometimes this is not the case. Back during the time of the great Haiti earthquake, I heard a conversation at the pool—you can learn a lot at the pool—about how great the Gospel sing had been the night before. The next conversation of heard was, “I do not know why we are bring all those injured Haitians here and treating them at our expense.” True religion has to be based on justice and compassion and the Law set the foundation. Continue reading