(In the peaceful mid-afternoon our fire alarm system blared out).
"You, who sleep in my breast, are not met with words, but in the emergence of life within life and of wisdom within wisdom".
"What was vile has become precious. What is now precious was never vile. I have always known the vile as precious: for what is vile I know not at all. What was cruel has become merciful. What is now merciful was never cruel. I have always overshadowed Jonas with My mercy, and cruelty I know not at all. Have you had sight of Me, Jonas My child? Mercy within mercy within mercy. I have forgiven the universe without end, because I have never known sin. What was poor has become infinite. What is infinite was never poor. I have always known poverty as infinite: riches I love not at all. Prisons within prisons within prisons. Do not lay up for yourselves ecstasies upon earth, where time and space corrupt, where the minutes break in and steal. No more lay hold on time, Jonas, My son, lest the rivers bear you away. “What was fragile has become powerful. I loved what was most frail. I looked upon what was nothing. I touched what was without substance, and within what was not, I am.”
Separate the precious from the vile.
DRB: Jer 15:19 Therefore thus saith the Lord: If thou wilt be converted, I will convert thee, and thou shalt stand before my face; and thou wilt separate the precious from the vile, thou shalt be as my mouth: they shall be turned to thee, and thou shalt not be turned to them.
Visit to Gethsemani
The picture of Merton’s Hermitage reminds me not of the place but gives me a new memory of the presence that fills his writing. It was 10 years after his death that I was shown the place. It was perhaps 10 years before he became the hermit that he wrote the Epilogue to ‘The Sign of Jonas’.
Attendance at the Cistercian Central Commission Meeting at Conyers c.1976 had the additional bonus of a visit to Gethsemani. Strangely, reading Merton’s ‘Fire Watch’, now some thirty years later, converts that casual site-seeing into a sense of what the place meant to him. To use his expressive search for words, it has become the memory of a ‘visit within a visit within a visit’.
By the same warm hospitality of the monks at Gethsemani, I was taken to visit Dom James Fox, now ironically, living in another hermitage some distance from the abbey.
Retrieval – Trip to US Autumn 1976
GETHSEMANI has been so much, as it were, a presence in the Order that I approached it in some awe. This was another occasion of a group invasion by members of the Consilium Generale and again the monastic scene was so rich and varied that one clings to the memory of fleeting moments, meeting Dom Flavian again, the roof top expedition with Br Octavius and my camera, the jeep visit to Dam James in his hill hermitage, the time (all I could manage) listening to the unreleased tapes of Thomas Merton. I am convinced he is at his spiritual best when he is operating in his own field of literary appreciation as I found e.g. on his tape on Faulkner.
Thanks for that Fr Donald and I found it very interesting.
As a humbled servant of Christ, I am moved by the Spirit of Merton and men like him.
Dear Father Donald,
Wow! What a wonderful opportunity given to you to visit the Abbey of Gethsemani... oh my..
Thomas Merton's writings have had an enormous influence upon me.... as you describe, "the presence that fills his writing".
And thank you! - for the 'Sign of Jonas’is so rich, and personal, the ‘Fire Watch’ intensely so... you write of his expressive search for words...
"The illusion of sound only intensifies the infinite substance of Your silence".
This journal, a treasure to treasure.
Thank you Father.
Dear Father Donald
Thank you for these wonderful thoughts and reminders about Thomas Merton. It reminded me of my strange introduction to Thomas Merton twenty years ago this August. I have just finished reading One Child by Torey Hayden, about the power of unconditional love in teaching and about to start her Silent Boy - I would recommend her reflective and insightful writing. . . .