Thomas Merton: ‘Artisans of Joy’

Here are a few lines of encouragement from Thomas Merton’s essay “The Street is For Celebration.”

Celebration is when we let joy make itself out of our love. We like to be together. We like to dance together. We like to make pretty and amusing things. We like to laugh at what we have made. We like to put bright colors on the walls–more bright colors on ourselves. We like our pictures, they are crazy.

Celebration is crazy: the craziness of not submitting, even though “they,” “the others,” the ones who make life impossible, seem to have all the power. Celebration is the beginning of confidence, therefore of power.

When we laugh at them, when we celebrate, when we make our lives beautiful, when  we give one another joy by loving, by sharing, then we manifest a power they cannot touch. We can be artisans of a joy they never imagined.—Thomas Merton

Love and Living by Thomas Merton (p53)

Joan Chittister: Ten Thoughts on Thanksgiving

Babettes Feast fruit pic
Scene from film "Babette's Feast"

Whether you will be wrapped in the loving chaos of family on Thanksgiving or eating turkey burgers with friends at a local dive or serving bird with all the fixings at church or the local soup kitchen, I pour out the blessing of gratitude on all your heads. Here are thoughts from Benedictine sister and writer Joan Chittister for you to carry with you:

1. It’s important to dot our lives with unscheduled as well as scheduled feast days. That way we remember that we are able to make joy as well as to expect it. Or as Lin Yutang, the Chinese philosopher put it: “Our lives are not in the lap of the gods, but in the lap of our cooks.”

2. Food and feasting are the things that remind us of the unending glory, the limitless love, of God. Voltaire said of it: “Nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity.”

3. A Jewish proverb teaches us that “Worries go down better with soup.” Treating food as a sacrament rather than a necessity reminds us that, in the end, there is always more good in life than bad. The trick is to notice it.

4. To love good food is a measure of our love of life. Food preparation teaches us to do everything we can to make life palatable, spicy, comforting, full of love.

5. Sitting down to a meal with the family—table set, food hot, salad fresh, water cold, dishes matched and food served rather than speared—may be the very foundation of family life in which we celebrate our need for one another. The loss of the family feast may do more to loosen the family bonds than any other single dimension of family life.

6. One purpose of feasting is to get back in touch with the earth that sustains us, to glorify the God that made it and to pledge ourselves to save the land that grows our food.

7. In this country, we are conditioned to think that taking time to eat together, to make a meal an event rather than an act, takes time from the important things of life. That may be exactly why we are confused now about what the important things of life really are. “Happiness,” Astrid Alauda writes, “is a bowl of cherries and a book of poetry under a shade tree.”

8. Good food is the hallmark of every season: fresh fruit in summer, roasted chestnuts in the fall, warm bread in winter, oyster stew in the spring. Leslie Newman says of it. “As the days grow short, some faces grow long. But not mine. Every autumn, when the wind turns cold and darkness comes early, I am suddenly happy. It’s time to start making soup again.” Good food is the sacrament of life everlasting.

9. Food doesn’t have to be exotic to be wonderful. Peasant societies give us some of the best meals ever made. It is always simple, always the same—and always different due to the subtle changes of sauce and cooking style that accompany it. As the Polish say: “Fish, to taste right, must swim three times—in water, in butter and in wine.”

10. To be feasted is to be loved outrageously.

Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB

Mendelsohn’s (Other) Photo at the Lincoln Memorial

A few days ago, I wrote about veteran photojournalist Matt Mendelsohn who shot photos on election night when a few of us gathered at the Lincoln Memorial.

by Matt Mendelsohn
by Matt Mendelsohn

Matt wrote an op-ed for The New York Times about his experience huddled with us there on the steps. One of Matt’s photos was printed in The New York Times and is garnering much attention. It’s on the verge of becoming one of those “iconic” images and he’s been blogging about it at his site The Dark Slide where you can buy a commemorative print.

I contacted Matt to ask about any other photos he might have from that night and he was so generous as to give me one that includes some close up shots of faces. Thanks, Matt!.

Mendelsohn’s Photo at the Lincoln Memorial

"Lincoln Memorial, 12:15 a.m., 11/5/08" by Matt Mendelsohn

On election night when a few of us gathered at the Lincoln Memorial to ring in a new era in America, there was a professional photographer who stopped by. It turns out he was veteran photojournalist Matt Mendelsohn — the guy who covered the invasion of Panama, the White House, and the Rodney King uprising for UPI.

Matt wrote an op-ed for The New York Times about his experience huddled with us on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial just past midnight as Barack Obama was giving his victory address:

I’d spent most of election night in front of the TV in Arlington, Va. But around 11 p.m. I couldn’t sit idle any longer, which is why I sped to the memorial. When I arrived, I found a TV crew sitting on the plaza above the Reflecting Pool, waiting, I assumed, for a mob to arrive. I approached with cameras in hand. One of them looked up and said with a slight roll of his eyes, “Nothing to see here.”

And so I climbed the memorial steps and came upon that small group listening to the radio. (What is it about people gathered around a transistor radio?) Surely there was someone else around — a videographer, a print reporter. But there wasn’t. I felt for the TV guy. The crowd standing in the shadow of Lincoln had the scoop, a profound event to themselves, of the people and by the people.

Matt’s photo was printed in The New York Times and is garnering much attention. He’s blogging about it at his site The Dark Slide. And you can also buy a commemorative print from him!

P.S. – If you look on a higher resolution version of this photo, you will see the top of my head by travelling the line straight down from Lincoln’s right index finger!.

Midnight at the Lincoln Memorial

The only word that comes to mind is “magical.” After watching the early election returns with friends and observing a hushed moment of unbelieving silence at 10 p.m. when ABC called the election for Barack Obama, I did what has been in the back of my mind to do since Obama got the nomination. I drove through town to the Lincoln Memorial, parked my car illegally, and walked through the quiet grove to the great wide marble steps of that monument.

There were three or four other people there and a few security guards. It was misting. The steps were wet and slick. The guards were chatting among themselves and listening on their walkie-talkies to their compatriots guarding the White House where the “real action” was. (Apparently, about 2000 people gathered in Lafayette Park.)

I walked up to the foot of that massive statue of Abraham Lincoln. The words of the Gettysburg Address are carved along the walls. In his speech Lincoln reminds those standing in that muddy Pennsylvania field where so many died that “we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.”

Dr. King preached from here to a crowd of 300,000 marching on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Marian Anderson sang from here when the the Daughters of the American Revolution denied her entrance to Constitution Hall on Easter Sunday 1939.

By 11:45 p.m. there were about 50 people beginning to gather together on the steps. There was a quiet peace broken by occasional fire works from across the city and celebratory horns honking on streets below. Barack Obama was slated to give his acceptance speech at midnight. Everyone was fiddling with Iphones and other gadgets tracking the news and trying to figure out how to get a radio signal. Finally, a guy from London pulled a real radio out of his coat pocket and set it down on the steps. As Obama made his way into Grant Park in Chicago, our radio savior pumped up the volume.

If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

I have to say that the small gathering broke into tears.

When Obama quoted Lincoln, there was a nod of recognition. “We are not enemies, but friends…though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.” And then in a rhetorical sweep that seemed to heal 40 years of painful history, he echoed Dr. King.

The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America – I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you – we as a people will get there.

The increasingly damp crowd shared a good laugh when Obama said:

And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of our world – our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand.

As Obama’s victory speech came to an end, our tiny community clapped and hollered and whooped and did a little dance there on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Strangers hugged each other, held each other, cried on each others shoulders. The Europeans in the crowd said how proud they were to be there and share this moment with America.

It was a magical moment.

I drove back through the streets of D.C. People were everywhere. Horns were honking in celebration. People were dancing on streetcorners and waving Obama signs. Dupont Circle was mobbed with revelers cheering and laughing. In front of the Ethiopian restaurant on 18th street, there was a crowd of men singing the “Ole Ole Ole” soccer song and waving signs. At the corner of 18th and Columbia, a guy was playing a guitar and dancing.

Before leaving the Lincoln Memorial, I walked to the steps where Dr. King preached on August 28, 1963, when I was two and a half months old. There’s a small engraving in the marble to mark the spot. One hundred years after Abraham Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address, King said:

This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. … But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

At about 1 a.m. I parked the car in the alley behind my house. The city was still ariot with joy. I figured it was time to dry off and get a good night’s sleep. … but my face was hurting from all the smiling.

Welcome world, to America’s “invigorating autumn.”.