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Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Merton

2016 Christmas Letter

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christmas-picture

I have only one desire, and that is the desire for solitude—to disappear into God, to be submerged in His peace, to be lost in the secret of His Face.

— Thomas Merton

“Matthew, can I visit you?” Sr. Marijo was on the other end of the line.

“Sure, Sister! I would love that.”

A flood of wonderful memories crossed through Matthew’s mind as he told me that we were going to have a visitor. He remembered this quote from Thomas Merton, who has largely influenced his life:

I have only one desire, and that is the desire for solitude—to disappear into God, to be submerged in His peace, to be lost in the secret of His Face.

Sr. Marijo introduced Zen to Matthew almost 40 years ago. With a small group of friends, they would regularly visit her and sit in meditation together. Needless to say, it was a life changing experience for them. Since then, Matthew shares to me how Zen has helped him deepen his Christian faith and how it has helped him cope with the challenges of life. (see this blog post: A Touch of Enlightenment: A Christian’s Encounter with Zen).

I really enjoyed listening to their animated conversation and as Matthew describes it, “It’s as if the conversation just stopped for a while and we took off from where we left off.”  I guess these are just the stuff that real friendships are made of.

This year, Matthew and I were quite busy.  We became godparents to the highly energetic and lovable  son of Alex and Robe Ann.  We were also able to attend the 50th Golden Anniversary of our godparents, Tito Peter and Tita Dory. It was so much fun to meet and catch up with many people we’ve not seen in a long time.

Also, this year, our endeared godparent Tito Tony passed away. We are saddened by the loss of one of the most generous persons that we have ever known. Thank you, Tito Tony for everything.

Of course, we cannot end this letter without mentioning our blog. Now on its eighth year, we have grown to have 319 followers and have reached a whooping 404,265+ hits! We are happy because people are  visiting our blog, liking our posts and our cyber community continues to grow.

May the blessings of Christmas be with you. May the Christ Child light your way. May God’s holy angels guide you, and keep you safe each day.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all.

Matthew and Jojang

Written by MattAndJojang

December 1, 2016 at 9:40 pm

Is Merton Still Relevant?

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Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton

Merton was above all a man of prayer, a thinker who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church. He was also a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions.

–Pope Francis

I was surprised and taken aback when Pope Francis honored Thomas Merton in his speech before the U.S. Congress. It is not that I wasn’t not happy about it, but considering the bad blood between Merton and the American Catholic Church hierarchy — it was quite unexpected.

Who is Thomas Merton? Why did Pope Francis honor him? Is he still relevant for our times?

Thomas Merton was an American writer and intellectual who became a Trappist monk, officially known as the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, which is considered one of the strictest Catholic religious orders, in 1941 at the age of 26. Before that, he was a restless young man living a troubled life. But in 1938 he converted to Catholicism; he was only 23 years old. He spent the next 27 years of his life living at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky.

It was not an easy decision for him to become a monk, considering his extroverted and gregarious personality. But, above all, it wasn’t easy for him to give up writing. The Trappists are known to live a simple life of prayer and manual labor. And intellectual pursuits, like writing, are not encouraged in the monastery. Fortunately, his abbot, Dom Frederic Dunne, was a man who valued and appreciated Merton’s writing abilities. Thanks to him, thousands upon thousands of people have been and are still inspired by Merton’s books.

In 1948 he wrote his autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, which became a best-seller. On a personal note, I read this book when I was in my teens and it changed my life. His autobiography as well as the many books he wrote later inspired not only monks and nuns, but also ordinary people, even non Christians, to live spiritual lives. For Merton, the experience of God’s presence and love is something that is available to everyone.

Later in his life he became a social activist, who was involved in the peace and civil rights movement in the 60s. Unfortunately, this drew heavy criticism from officials of the Catholic Church. This rift between Merton and the Catholic establishment continues to this day.

10 years ago the first national catechism for adults was published in the U.S. Included in an earlier draft was Merton’s story. Sadly, though, his story was removed from the final version. It was a bad decision, because Merton’s story is significant and central to 20th-century American Catholicism.

Two influential Catholic officials considered him a lapsed Catholic, due to the fact that he was involved in dialogue with people of other faith traditions, especially Buddhists. They said he spent his last days “wandering in the East, seeking consolations, apparently, of non-Christian, Eastern spirituality… ” I find this incomprehensible. The Vatican II Council, a gathering of Catholic bishops in the 60s, came out with an official document encouraging dialogue with other faith traditions. In the document, Nostra Aetate (In Our Time), The Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions, Catholics are encouraged to respect and even learn from other religions. It states:

The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men…

The Church, therefore, exhorts her sons, that through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions… they recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among these men.

Cardinal Wuerl, who was often seen at the side of the Pope Francis during his visit to the U.S., was the chairman of the committee tasked to write the catechism. When the catechism was published, the then U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ president Bishop William Skylstad said they were deeply disturbed by the exclusion of Merton. He said:

Merton, has played a crucial role in the faith journeys of thousands upon thousands of Catholics (as well as other Christians and even non-Christians) both during his lifetime and since his death, and we believe his inclusion in the catechism can and should be a significant way to extend the powerful witness of his life and writings to a new audience.

Merton’s pursuit of a deeper spiritual life led him to embark on a trip to Asia in 1968. During that trip he explored Eastern spirituality and met with people of other faith traditions. One of the most significant persons that he met with was the Dalai Lama, who continues to talk about Thomas Merton as his “brother.”

He met an untimely death, at the age of 53, in Bangkok, Thailand, electrocuted by a faulty fan.

Almost 50 years after his death, Merton continues to be an inspiration to many people, especially through his books.

Pope Francis, in spite of the rejection of Merton by the official American Catholic hierarchy, honored him:

Merton was above all a man of prayer, a thinker who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church. He was also a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions.

So, if you ask me: “Is Merton still relevant?” My resounding answer is “Yes!”

And here are some of the reasons why:

His Humanity

Merton was a genuine human being; he was no plaster saint. He didn’t like pretense and phoniness. He had his share of struggles, weaknesses and failures, and didn’t attempt to hide them. He wrote about his doubts and questions. Towards the end of his life he writes:

When I first became a monk, yes, I was more sure of ‘answers.’ But as I grow old in the monastic life and advance further in solitude, I become aware that I have only begun to seek the questions… I have been summoned to explore a desert area of man’s heart in which explanations no longer suffice, and in which one learns that only experience counts…

His Respect for People

During Merton’s Asian trip, John Stier, an American government official, hosted him during his stay at Sri Lanka. As they were discussing Buddhism, Stier asserted that Buddhism was a negative approach to life. Having studied Buddhism in-depth, Merton disagreed with him. Stier says: “He was surprisingly gentle in disagreement, he had a wonderful way about him.” Hundreds of the people that Merton related and corresponded with will agree with Stier’s observation. Merton respected and responded to people in their uniqueness; he accepted them as they are.

His Openness

Merton is known to have cultivated many interests; he also related with people of diverse cultures, races, and religions. He was capable of communicating with people who had a different background and tradition than his own. He wrote about William Blake, James Joyce, Boris Pasternak, William Faulkner, Louis Zukofsky, Flannery O’Connor. His correspondence was voluminous, having written to a great number of people. Here are few of the names: Jacques Maritain, Erich Fromm, Ernesto Cardenal, Dorothy Day, Catherine Doherty, Aldous Huxley, Bernard Haring, Henry Miller, Pope John XXIII, Pope Paul VI, Paul Tillich, Rosemary Radford Ruether, D.T. Suzuki, Rachel Carson, Louis Massignon, Mark Van Doren. This gave him a great insight into the human condition that enabled him to articulate our deepest longings; his insights transcended that of his own life and his own generation.

His Deep Spirituality

Once Merton stated that he didn’t want to have any disciples. He urged people not to follow him but to follow Christ. But in spite of his protestations he has become the spiritual director of many people. He wrote about the spiritual life in a fresh and attractive way; he articulated the depths and riches of the spiritual life in a way that can relate to the modern person. Whether he liked it or not, he guided the spiritual journey of many people, even those who didn’t have any link with any institutional religion. For these people, his writings will continue to be a continual source of inspiration and guidance.

–Matt

Written by MattAndJojang

October 16, 2015 at 4:13 pm

One Dark Night

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One Dark Night is John Michael Talbot’s translation of St. John of the Cross’s poem Dark Night of the Soul, which he set into music. Together with the Spiritual Canticle, both poems are considered masterpieces of Spanish poetry.

In fact, St. John of the Cross is considered as Spain’s greatest poet.

Ironically, he didn’t set out to be a poet. He was first of all a saint and a mystic. He wrote his poems as an expression of his intense love God, as well as the basis of his spiritual teaching, which he later put into writing.

His poems, as well as his spiritual teachings are well known for its depth and beauty.

Throughout the centuries, his poems and spiritual writings has influenced authors, artists, theologians, philosophers, and spiritual seekers like T.S. Eliot, Thomas Merton, Jacques Maritain, and Salvador Dali. Pope John Paul II wrote his doctoral dissertation  on the mystical theology of St. John of the Cross.

Here’s John Michael Talbot’s translation, which also serve as the lyrics of the song One Dark Night:

One dark night
Fired with love’s urgent longings
Ah, the sheer grace
In the darkness
I went out unseen
My house being all now still

In the darkness
Secured by love’s secret ladder
Disguised
Oh, the sheer grace
In the darkness
And in my concealment
My house being all now still

On that glad night
In the secret, for no one saw me
Nor did I see any other thing at all
With no other light to guide me
Than the light burning in my heart

And this light guided me
More surely than the light of the noon
To where he lay waiting for me
Waiting for me
Him I knew so well
In a place where no one else appeared

Oh guiding night
A light more lovely than the dawn
A night that has united
Ever now
The Lover now with his beloved
Transforming two now into one

Upon my flowering breast
There he lay sleeping
Which I kept for him alone
And I embraced him
And I caressed him
In a breeze blowing from the forest

And when this breeze blew in from the forest
Blowing back our hair
He wounded my soul
With his gentle hand
Suspending all my senses

I abandoned, forgetting myself
Laying my face on my Beloved
All things ceasing, I went out from myself
To leave cares
Forgotten with the lilies of the field

–Matt

A Christmas Prayer

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 During Christmas services in the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, Palestine, by the American Colony Jerusalem Photo Department, between 1934 and 1939

During Christmas services in the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, Palestine, by the American Colony Jerusalem Photo Department, between 1934 and 1939

A hauntingly beautiful Christmas prayer…

Your brightness is my darkness.
I know nothing of You and, by myself,
I cannot even imagine how to go about knowing You.
If I imagine You, I am mistaken.
If I understand You, I am deluded.
If I am conscious and certain I know You, I am crazy.
The darkness is enough.

—Thomas Merton, prayer before midnight mass at Christmas, 1941.

Written by MattAndJojang

December 25, 2014 at 7:59 pm

Finding God in All Things

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Fr. James Martin

Fr. James Martin

One thing that I and Fr. James Martin have in common is our love for Thomas Merton.

Armed with a prestigious Bachelor of Science degree in Economics from one of  the best business and Ivy League schools, University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, he was on his way to corporate success.

One day, however, after having a bad day at the office, he decided to watch TV. After flipping channels, his attention was grabbed by a PBS documentary on the life of Thomas Merton. It was a turning point in his life.

The documentary spoke to him in a way that made him decide to be a Jesuit priest.

Fast forward.

He’s been a Jesuit priest for 26 years and has become one of the most popular spiritual writers today.

On a personal note, Fr. James Martin is one of my and Jojang’s favorite authors. He writes most of the time about his personal experiences; that’s probably why most people could relate to him.

His simple, direct, and practical way of presenting spiritual truths is what makes his books relevant for our time.

Just recently he was interviewed in a podcast entitled Finding God in All Things. Krista Tippett, the host of the podcast, introduces him with these words:

Before Pope Francis, Fr. James Martin was perhaps the best known and loved Jesuit writing in American life. He’s followed the calling of the founder of the Jesuit order, St. Ignatius of Loyola, to “find God in all things” – and in 21st century forms, as editor of America magazine, but also as a wise and witty presence on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Stephen Colbert has proclaimed him the chaplain of “the Colbert Nation.” To delve into Fr. Martin’s way of being in the world is to discover the spiritual exercises St. Ignatius designed to be accessible to everyone more than six centuries ago. These underpinned the Jesuit way of “contemplation in action” and are now shaping the Vatican in a new age.

To listen to the podcast, click on the link below:

Finding God in All Things

— Matt

Written by MattAndJojang

December 22, 2014 at 11:30 am

A Zen Life – D.T. Suzuki

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A Zen Life

He’s probably the most culturally significant Japanese person, in international terms, in all of history.

—Gary Snyder

A Zen Life – D.T. Suzuki is a documentary about Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki, Zen philosopher and one of the most influential thinkers of the 20th century. He is considered to be the person who single-handedly introduced Zen Buddhism to the West.

After saying that Zen is impossible to describe, he proceeds to write more than a hundred books about Zen. Lynn White, professor of medieval history at Princeton (and later at Stanford), says:

It may well be that the publication of D.T. Suzuki’s first Essays in Zen Buddhism in 1927 will seem in future generations as great an intellectual event as William of Moerbeke’s Latin translations of Aristotle in the thirteenth century or Marsiglio Ficino’s of Plato in the fifteenth.

Aside from writing books, he also traveled and lectured around the world.

He influenced many of the great Western intellectual figures of the 20th century. Among those who admitted the impact of D.T. Suzuki on their work and thought are: the psychologist Carl Jung, the philosopher Martin Heidegger, the psychoanalyst Eric Fromm, the writer Jack Kerouac, the poet Allen Ginsberg, and the Catholic monk Thomas Merton.

Martin Heidegger admits:

If I understand [Dr. Suzuki] correctly, this is what I have been trying to say in all my writings.

On his deathbed Carl Jung was reading Charles Luk’s Ch’an and Zen Teachings: First Series. His secretary writes:

he was enthusiastic… When he read what Hsu Yun said, he sometimes felt as if he himself could have said exactly this! It was just ‘it’!

After meeting with D.T. Suzuki in New York, Thomas Merton writes in his journal:

These talks were very pleasant, profoundly important to me—to see and experience the fact that there really is a deep understanding between myself and this extraordinary, simple man whom I have been reading for about ten years with great attention.

The documentary is a vivid portrait of one of the most extraordinary intellectuals of the 20th century. It includes rare footages of D.T. Suzuki, as well as reminiscences of people he influenced.

To watch the trailer of the documentary click the link below:

A Zen Life – D.T. Suzuki

–Matt

Written by MattAndJojang

November 18, 2014 at 7:35 pm

What Are The Ten Books That Have Shaped You?

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Photo: samluce.com

Photo: samluce.com

List 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don’t take more than a few minutes, and don’t think too hard. It’s not about the ‘right book’ or great works of literature, just ones that have affected you in some way. Doesn’t have to be in order. Then share with 10 friends and me so I can see your list.

–Salman Azhar

Here’s my list:

1. How to Read a Book, Mortimer Adler

The book that taught me not only to make the most out of reading books, but also how to think critically.

The three main questions are: What is the whole book about and how are its parts related to that whole? What, in detail, does the book say and what does the author mean by what he says? And the third question is, Is it true, and what of it?

– Mortimer Adler

2. The Bible

As a Christian, I consider it as God’s word and the most important book in my life.

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.

– Psalm 119:105

3. The Gateless Gate, Yamada Koun Roshi

An incisive commentary on the classic book of koans by the modern-day Zen Master, Yamada Roshi.

You will feel as though the whole universe has totally collapsed. Strange as it may seem, this experience has the power to free you from the agonies of the world. It emancipates you from anxiety over all worldly suffering. You feel as though the heavy burdens you have been carrying in mind and body have suddenly fallen away. It is a great surprise. The joy and happiness at that time are beyond all words, and there are no philosophies or theories attached to it. This is the enlightenment, the satori of Zen.

– Yamada Koun Roshi

4. The Complete Mystical Works of Meister Eckhart, Meister Eckhart

The book that contains the entire text of the vernacular talks of my favorite Christian mystic, Meister Eckhart.

The eye with which I see God is the same eye with which God sees me.

– Meister Eckhart

5. The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, St. John of the Cross

A classic on contemplative spirituality by one of the greatest Christian mystics, St. John of the Cross.

My Beloved, the mountains,
And lonely wooded valleys,
Strange islands,
And resounding rivers,
The whistling of love-stirring breezes,
The tranquil night
At the time of the rising dawn,
Silent music,
Sounding solitude,
The supper that refreshes, and deepens love.

– St. John of the Cross

6. The Seven Storey Mountain, Thomas Merton

The autobiography of my favorite spiritual author and childhood hero, Thomas Merton. He was a great influence in my life.

The very contradictions in my life are in some ways signs of God’s mercy to me.

– Thomas Merton

7. The Silent Life, Thomas Merton

A book which describes the different Catholic contemplative religious orders.

I have only one desire, and that is the desire for solitude—to disappear into God, to be submerged in His peace, to be lost in the secret of His Face.

– Thomas Merton

8. New Seeds of Contemplation, Thomas Merton

A modern-day classic on contemplative prayer.

Contemplation is the highest expression of man’s intellectual and spiritual life. It is that life itself, fully awake, fully active, fully aware that it is alive. It is spiritual wonder. It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of being. It is gratitude for life, for awareness and for being. It is a vivid realization of the fact that life and being in us proceed from an invisible, transcendent and infinitely abundant Source.

– Thomas Merton

9. The Three Pillars of Zen, Philip Kapleau

One of the best books on Zen practice written by a Western Zen teacher.

The world is one interdependent Whole and each separate one of us is that Whole.

– Philip Kapleau

10. Christian Zen, William Johnston

A book on Zen meditation written from a Christian perspective by a Jesuit priest and missionary.

In the twenty years that I have spent in Japan – so meaningful and rich that this land is almost my land – I have had some contact with Zen, whether by sitting in Zen meditation or through dialogue with my Buddhist friends. All this has been tremendously enriching; it has deepened and broadened my Christian faith more than I can say… Contact with Zen… has opened up new vistas, teaching me that there are possibilities in Christianity I never dreamed of.

— William Johnston

— Matt