Monday with Merton


  

The lights of prayer that make us imagine we are beginning to be angels are sometimes only signs that we are finally beginning to be men. We do not have a high enough opinion of our own nature. We think we are at the gates of heaven and we are only just beginning to come into our own realm as free and intelligent beings.” 

― Thomas Merton, The Ascent to Truth

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The Man of a Single Book


imageA Seven Quick Takes post as hosted by Jennifer Fulwiler on her Conversion Diary blog. I am grateful for her generosity.

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“Beware the man of a single book.”
― St. Thomas Aquinas

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“We are confronted with atheists who claim that science, rather than faith, has sole claim to real knowledge. Atheism, they claim, is a more reasonable and informed position than faith. Faith is portrayed as superstition; something that stands purely above reason. We have faith, they say, because we prefer being faithful to being reasonable. Some atheists claim that people of faith would rather be told what to believe than to use intelligence to determine truth for themselves.”

That came from a article published this week on the Crisis web site, and reminded me how many people there are who are men of a single book.  I say this because, although they accuse people of faith of wanting to be told what to believe, the can’t seem to get that they aee the ones in that position.  Science is an extremely limited field of knowledge, it’s subject matter is only that which can be quantified and measured in some way.   People who think science the only source of knowledge are reading from a single book, they are getting only one side of the story.  They can’t even explain their own “faith” in science in those terms, since this faith isn’t something that can be explained by the scientific method.  Why stick to one book when you can have the whole library?

(3)

Fall has arrived, even if it took a few days after the autumnal equinox to do so. Notwithstanding (I’ve been on the Thesaurus app again) the fairly warm days we’ve been enjoying, there’s a hint of chill in the morning air, sometimes more than a chill, and Halloween is fast approaching. Thoughts are already turning to Thanksgiving and the start of the holiday season. I worried, when planning retirement, that finding ways to fill the days might be a problem and that I’d end up hooked to the tube all day. So far, that is the least of my worries; there are even times when I think I’m far too busy and need to slow down. Imagine.

(4)

Listening to Fox News on the radio, on the way to a workout yesterday, I heard some female celebrity asking for all kinds of criminal action against unknown hackers who posted immodest photos of her on the World Wide Web.

Such action may be justified, but I wonder when people will learn that if you don’t want such photos seen by the world, maybe you shouldn’t have them taken in the first place. Assuming that simply impossible, when will they learn that posting such photos anywhere on line in the same as having them appear on the front page of the New York Times? Nothing is secure on the web, just ask the NSA.

Perhaps these problems could have been avoided if people were once again taught the now terribly out of fashion virtue known as prudence, along with just a little temperance.

(5)

The clarinet playing is progressing. For my lesson on Saturday I’m scheduled to play a duet with my instructor. I’m nervous about it even though there’s no reason to be, the piece will be played in a 10×10, throughly sound-proofed studio, carefully shut away from the world. Thank goodness. The piece itself is three lines from something by Schubert and is mostly pretty simple, 4/4 time, few register breaks, and mercifully short. The only complicating factor is that the notes in every measure but two are slurred. I’ve been struggling with it the last three days when I should be able to play it in my sleep. I guess the famous Yogi Berra was right when he said, “99% of the game is half mental.”

(6)

I do most of my writing on an iPad. I do so because most laptops are far too heavy for me to use sitting on my lap; the weight does terrible things to my back. For the same reason, sitting at a desk for too long is also a questionable proposition. With my iPad, neatly enrobed in a one piece keyboard case, the whole thing weighing less than 2 pounds, the device can sit on my lap without problem for extended periods. It’s a convenient solution to my tech needs.

The reason I bring this up is to wonder if Apple is beginning to lose their way. Am I the only one who hates iOS 8? I keep getting an untraceable “Unable to Download Item” message, Apple has copied the much hated and always disappearing top-of-the-screen navigation bar from Google, and they moved around the Bookmark and Reading List icons, and made several other (non) improvements. I’m always reminded of those lines from Ecclesiastes when it comes to software upgrades, “vanity of vanities.” Just when things are working smoothly, someone has to come along and change it all. Ugh!

(7)

Speaking of vanities, I just read that Microsoft is readying a new Windows 10 version that will include features from Windows 7, features like the Start button and the desktop screen that were “improved” right out of Windows 8. Makes sense, coming up with a new version that brings back the best of the old version. Ugh!

Knowing When to Stop


    A couple of weeks ago, I considered the project of doing a 7 Quick Takes post written by the Early Church Fathers and the Saints, allowing them to have a chance to speak for themselves.  I debated the idea for a week or two, but how could I argue with the saints?  Here are the “quick takes” they offered me.

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    “A clear rule for self-control handed down by the Fathers is this: stop eating while still hungry and do not continue until you are satisfied.” St. John Chrysostom

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    “There is no subject on which the average mind is so much confused as the subject of tolerance and intolerance. Tolerance applies only to persons, but never to principles. Intolerance applies only to principles, but never to persons.” – Archbishop Fulton Sheen

    (3)
    “We must not be surprised when we hear of murders, of killings, of wars, of hatred. If a mother can kill her own child, what is left but for us to kill each other?” – Blessed Teresa of Calcutta

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    “We must meditate before, during and after everything we do. The prophet says: “I will pray, and then I will understand.” – St. Charles Borromeo

    (5)
    “He who labors as he prays lifts his heart to God with his hands.” – St. Benedict of Nursia

    (6)
    image“In dangers, in doubts, in difficulties, think of Mary, call upon Mary. Let not her name depart from your lips, never suffer it to leave your heart. And that you may obtain the assistance of her prayer, neglect not to walk in her footsteps. With her for guide, you shall never go astray; invoking her, you shall never lose heart.” – St. Bernard of Clairvaux

    (7)
    And, in honor of Corpus Christi on Sunday:

    “Out of his loving-kindness for us he came to us, and we see this in the way he revealed himself openly to us. Taking pity on mankind’s weakness, and moved by our corruption, he could not stand aside and see death have the mastery over us. He did not want creation to perish and his Father’s work in fashioning man to be in vain. He therefore took to himself a body, no different from our own, for he did not wish simply to be in a body or only to be seen.” – St. Athanasius

     

     

Brevity


A 7 Quick Takes Post

A Quick note, please check out Jennifer Fulwiler’s new book: Something Other than God; it promises to be a good read.

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This week I’ve set one goal for doing this “Quick Takes” post – each quick take shall be no more than 50 words. The idea is to be brief; I’ve always admired brevity. They say that brevity is the soul of wit.  I agree.

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I’m giving serious consideration to, once again, taking up the clarinet. I used to be pretty good in school but haven’t played since. I am beginning to think, though, that I need a hobby and would love to pick up the ol’ licorice stick once more. Besides, it’d drive the cats crazy.

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“The act of defending any of the cardinal virtues has today all the exhilaration of a vice.” – A Defense of Humilities, The Defendant, 1901. It’s odd, I’m thinking Chesterton wrote this tongue in cheek. I wonder if he ever imagined how true this prophecy would turn out to be.

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I find it’s not easy to be brief; I’ve gotten very wordy lately. Wouldn’t it be nice, though, if more people decided to take the brevity challenge? I used to think Twitter, the worst thing that could ever have happened to the English language. I was wrong.

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cropped-chesterton-2.jpgI’ve been reading Fr Schall’s, The Mind that is Catholic and am finding it challenging. I surmise that’s a good thing, to be challenged. However, after I finish, I’m tempted to stick with Chesterton, Belloc and Newman for the rest of the year. I’ll let you know how that goes.

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I see a German priest wants Pope Francis to release him from his vows of celibacy. Seems he has an illegitimate 22 year old daughter he’s kept secret from his superiors. He posted his request on Facebook. In a way, I admire his desire to be honest, but, REALLY?

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Re: #6: Sometimes one wonders if, in certain countries, all the bishops should be removed and a new crop installed. I am beginning to wonder if that shouldn’t be something done on a regular basis around the world, say every 10 or 15 years for each country. Stir the pot.

To Daffodils


imageWe have reached the half way point of Holy Week and are beginning to take in the first glimmerings of the new Life  awaiting us soon.  This poem from Robert Herrick reminds me of the longing we’re feeling now, and also why we are feeling that way.

To Daffodils – Robert Herrick

Fair Daffodils, we weep to see
You haste away so soon;
As yet the early-rising sun
Has not attain’d his noon.
Stay, stay,
Until the hasting day
Has run
But to the even-song;
And, having pray’d together, we
Will go with you along.

We have short time to stay, as you,
We have as short a spring;
As quick a growth to meet decay,
As you, or anything.
We die
As your hours do, and dry
Away,
Like to the summer’s rain;
Or as the pearls of morning’s dew,
Ne’er to be found again.

Silence


image“When your tongue is silent, you can rest in the silence of the forest. When your imagination is silent, the forest speaks to you. It tells you of its unreality and of the Reality of God. But when your mind is silent, then the forest suddenly becomes magnificently real and blazes transparently with the Reality of God. For now I know that the Creation, which at first seems to reveal Him in concepts, then seems to hide Him by the same concepts, finally is revealed in Him, by the Holy Spirit.” from A Year with Thomas Merton.

I don’t know what it is about Merton, but almost anything he wrote can get me going thinking about some part of the struggle to be a Christian or something about monastic spirituality that is especially important to me. In this case, a bit of both which coalesce into one and the same thing, the importance of being silent and listening for God.

Fr Michael Casey wrote in his book Sacred Reading about the need for silence and listening to God and wrote of the experience of Samuel when God spoke to him. His response to God was, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.” For most people today, the response is, “Listen Lord, your servant is speaking.” We get it all backwards. I need to remind myself, again and again, to shut up and be still and listen.  

Reading this yesterday was just a nice reminder and I thought I’d share it.

The Words Are Rising Gummous


7_quick_takes_sm1A 7 (not so) Quick Takes on Friday post.

            I should never have written that post on having nothing to say; I’ve had nothing to say ever since and it’s driving me crazy.  (I know some would say…well, never mind.)  I’ve been reading some heavy stuff, and that probably contributes to the problem; reading Father Schall and Pope Benedict makes you stop and think over just about every sentence. The problem is, when I try to write about such things, true as they are, it sounds phony and contrived, like something written by a dreary 19th century Russian novelist.  I’m trying to find a way out of this and the only thing I can think of is just to put some words on paper and hope something sticks.  If not, I’ll be forced try some advice from the 18th century writer (Tristram Shandy), Laurence Stern:

“[When] the thoughts rise heavily and pass gummous through my pen… I never stand conferring with pen and ink one moment; for if a pinch of snuff or a stride or two across the room will not do the business for me — … I take a razor at once; and have tried the edge of it upon the palm of my hand, without further ceremony, except that of first lathering my beard, I shave it off, taking care that if I do leave hair, that it not be a gray one: this done, I change my shirt — put on a better coat — send for my last wig — put my topaz ring upon my finger; and in a word, dress myself from one end to the other of me, after my best fashion.” — Laurence Sterne

I know exactly what it feels like to have thoughts “pass gummous” through my pen, well, keyboard, and sometimes taking up a razor seems an entertaining idea, although, slicing my hand up seems kind of counterproductive.  Besides, I don’t even have a straight razor.  Guess I’ll just have to keep typing.

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            I could write about some things I’m grateful for.  I’m looking out my back window at the tail end of a thunderstorm, and everything is wet and looks almost as green as the greenest glens in Ireland.  There’s soft light with highlights to make Rembrandt proud on the wet rocks out back. It’s very good to have the moisture as it offers some reprieve from the danger of fires such as we had last year at this time.  God is good and I don’t need to worry if I have the worst case of writers block this side of infinity.  It doesn’t matter if I say anything brilliant or original, or put out the deepest insight into the purpose of all things ever devised, because there is nothing new to say, not really.  It’s all been said, just in different ways by different people.

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            My far better half told me last night about the doctor who has his office in the small shopping mall owned by her company.  He’s selling his practice, retiring, because he doesn’t want to face the alien world of Obamacare.  I wonder how many doctors are doing something similar, and if medical care will become a rather scarce commodity?  It’s the great mistake of our leaders these days thinking that government can do everything for everyone and that with just the right training and with the best people in charge, we can have the perfect world.  Christians have known that this is false because they’ve read Genesis.  It’s often forgotten that Christianity teaches that there is no perfect society, not on this side of the roots anyway, justice isn’t to be found here; it will be found in the eternal kingdom of God alone.  Our true business is charity, love.  If we did a better job of sharing that truth, we wouldn’t be dealing with some of the sad consequences that seem to be in the news lately.

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            Well, it’s raining again and I’m going to go look out the window and just enjoy watching things get wet, and be grateful that I don’t have to stand out in the yard and water new grasses we just put in.  We have a terrible, and never ending, problem with deer in our neighborhood.  We tried growing Mungo Pines in the planter in the backyard, the deer were supposed to find them repulsive.  I guess the deer didn’t get the message; after a rather hard winter, and with the loss of feeding area as a result of last year’s fires, those poor plants were done for by April Fool’s Day.  The grass is our last resort, so far, surprisingly, the deer haven’t bothered with grasses we’ve planted in other parts of the yard, so it seems a logical choice.

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            I guess I should mention, in fairness to the deer, that they aren’t the only four footed problem we have in our neighborhood.  During the summer, we have a plentiful supply of hummingbirds, and we would dearly love to put out hummingbird feeders so we could enjoy them in our yard.  Well, the bears have other ideas.  I put out a hanger, made of something similar to steel rebar, and hung a feeder on it the second year we were here.  Within a week, we found the bar twisted like a pretzel, the hummingbird feeder on the ground with all the contents poured out around it, and realized that hadn’t been a good idea; turns out, bears have a sweet tooth. We tried again last year, with the same results.  What’s the definition of insanity again?  Oh, and did I mention the bobcat having kittens under our deck?  OK, I won’t go there.

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            I’m going to do this week’s post as a 7 Quick Takes, title courtesy of Jennifer Fulwiler, the gracious host of Conversion Diary, simply because it seems to fit that format really well, considering by the time I finish there’ll be 7 notes to this post.

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            I do wonder where my topaz ring got off to, and my last wig has simply disappeared.  I blame global warming.  Has anybody tried conferring with their laptop lately?

Enjoy your weekend.

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Nothing Comes to Mind


Daydreaming

I hate it when this happens.  Here I have a blog posting deadline (albeit self-imposed) and I can’t think of anything substantial or worthwhile to write about; nothing at all comes to mind.  This happens to me from time to time and I’ve learned the best thing I can do to overcome is just to write, even if it is about nothing.

I realize the dangers, as Hilaire Belloc did, of writing about nothing.  First, of course, you run afoul of journalists, politicians, college professors and other members of the intelligentsia who prize writing and saying everything on the topic of nothing as their own, sacrosanct, domain.  I think they fear any amateur who might try it and make it look easy.  You also risk, a much greater risk IMHO, being confused with them and thought one of them by the uninitiated.  The idea sends frightful quivers down my leg, to be sure.

But, as I ponder the matter, I realize, nothing is a serious and difficult topic.  It’s practically the religion of our age.  Isn’t it the received dogma now that our universe and all that’s in it came from nothing?  Don’t the great minds of science say that everything we can see and feel and touch came from nothing and that anything we can’t see and feel and measure isn’t real?  Hard to get more serious than that.

Yet, as I sit here writing about nothing I wonder about the things we can’t see and feel and touch.  What about love and compassion and virtue?  Those things are nothing, not subject to scientific study and exact measurement.  What about joy?  What about God?

These nothings, immeasurable but somehow real, are considered personal and subjective and, therefore, unreal, by the great thinkers of our day.  They only see things that can be studied and written about in great detail in scientific papers and peer reviewed journals as “real”.  Reality seems to require a lot of hard work.

I wonder if the things most real to us are the things we don’t go looking for and writing about, trying to fit them into some preconceived idea of reality.  To know love and compassion and to live a virtuous life we don’t study the work of some great biologist or physicist, we know them by doing nothing but being receptive, waiting expectantly.  Great joy isn’t to be found in great activity but in sitting still.  Most of us know we don’t find God in the earthquakes and firestorms of our lives.  My own experience, shared by many people, I think, is that God is found in quiet times; when nothing in particular is going on is when he most often lets us sense his presence.  In times like these, we’re most likely to hear the, still, small voice; our deepest moments are found in nothing.

Hilaire Belloc wrote, “Nothing is the reward of good men who alone can pretend to taste it in long easy sleep, it is the meditation of the wise and the charm of happy dreamers.”  Maybe next time I have nothing to write about I won’t be so upset.

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Locus Communis – Commonplace Book


Locus Communis – a theme or argument of general application. A commonplace book is a scrapbook or compilation of information the author of which deems important. They became popular in 15th century England and included quotes, tables of weights and measures, recipes, recipes for making medicines, prayers, what have you. I look at it as more of a journal of things I think worth notice and from time to time, I’ll be sharing some things from it.

The Order of Things

As part of my on-going reading project, I’ve read a bit from a book called, The Order of Things, by Fr. James Schall. Sometimes I think most anything written by Fr. Schall is worth reading. This quote reminds us to ask the important questions of ourselves, and really consider the answers we give; I think we should do so frequently.

By contrast, I have always particularly liked the practical common sense of an Aristotle, a Samuel Johnson, a G. K. Chesterton in these matters. “We must not think that the man who is to be happy will need many things or great things, merely because he cannot be supremely happy without external goods”, Aristotle told us. “For self-sufficiency and action do not involve excess, and we can do noble acts without ruling earth and sea; for even with moderate advantages one can act virtuously” (Ethics I 179a16). This passage is the great defense of the common man not merely in his daily affairs but in his own personal orientation to what is beyond himself. And if we can act virtuously at all, we already find ourselves subsequently oriented to things of truth that are, as it were, beyond virtue, wherein we begin to wonder about the whole order of things: How is it? Why is it? What is it for? How do I stand within it? — Fr James Schall, The Order of Things

Back at the turn of the century (at my age, I default to thinking about the turn of the 20th century, not the 21st), I had a blog in which I tried to write about the virtues. In my reading, I came across Steven Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I was impressed with that book, I thought it one of the few “time management” type books worth reading and I worked out that the 7 habits could be loosely compared to the 7 virtues: faith, hope, charity, prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude. I was always undecided just where the best fit was for beginning with the end in mind but felt hope was the best fit. In any case, no matter what you do in life, it’s always good to begin with the true end in mind, as Fr Schall mentions in this quote:

An ordered soul, therefore, will carefully examine each object or power within it and seek to rule it, that is, impose its prudential intellect on the act. This act is seen in the light of the soul’s end. It is to be noted that if we choose the wrong end, which we can, all our “virtues” will be conceived as guiding our particular acts of whatever area—courage, temperance, justice, anger—to this end, according to which we define our happiness. In this paradoxical sense, virtues can aid the effective accomplishment of vices. In other words, we can learn to rob a bank well—something that actually makes the fault or sin worse. — Fr James Schall, The Order of Things

Jesus of Nazareth

I’ve also been reading Pope Benedict’s Jesus of Nazareth.It seems, in light of current events, that our participation in God’s knowing is struggling against stronger and stronger forces trying to snuff it out.

But what is “God’s will”? How do we recognize it? How can we do it? The Holy Scriptures work on the premise that man has knowledge of God’s will in his inmost heart, that anchored deeply within us there is a participation in God’s knowing, which we call conscience (cf., for example, Rom 2:15). But the Scriptures also know that this participation in the Creator’s knowledge, which he gave us in the context of our creation “according to his likeness,” became buried in the course of history. It can never be completely extinguished, but it has been covered over in many ways, like a barely flickering flame, all too often at risk of being smothered under the ash of all the prejudices that have piled up within us. And that is why God has spoken to us anew, uttering words in history that come to us from outside and complete the interior knowledge that has become all too hidden. Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, From the Baptism to the Transfiguration.

And finally, a little poetry from Sir Walter Ralegh —

Even such is Time

Even such is time that takes in trust
Our youth, our joys, our all we have,
And pays us but with age and dust,
Who in the dark and silent grave,
When we have wandered all our ways,
Shuts up the story of our days.
But from this earth, this grave, this dust,
My God shall raise me up, I trust.

Sir Walter Ralegh (1554—1618)