Second Saturday in Advent

“We are only syllables of the Perfect Word.”Caryll Houselander, woodcarver and mystic

“The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they said, ‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is vindicated by her works.”Matthew 11:19

merton1Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk from the Abbey of Gethsemene in Kentucky, died on this date in 1968. In his life, he worked for peace and prayed and argued for an end to war. “Instead of loving what you think is peace, love other men and women and love God above all,” he wrote in Seeds of Contemplation. “Instead of hating the people you think are warmakers, hate the appetites and disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war.”

Merton was electrocuted by a faulty wire on a fan in his room where he was attending an international meeting with Eastern and Western contemplatives in Bangkok. His body was shipped home on a military transport plane alongside the bodies of soldiers who died in Vietnam. Merton would have appreciated their common lot.

One man who knew Merton described him as a “merry monk,” like in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. He recalled Merton’s bright, inquisitive eyes, filled with humor…more like a “chip monk” one person told me. Though he was a cloistered contemplative, and at times tried to be a hermit, Merton kept up a lively letter writing exchange with atheists, artists, communists, bohemians, women, poets, Buddhists, and radicals. In Merton’s life, “wisdom is vindicated by her works.”

Christmas Eve is less than two weeks away. Who will sit at your Christmas table?

Breathe in. Breathe out. Ad…..vent.

With gratitude to Pax Christi USA where some of these reflections first appeared in print..

“Detail” by Eamon Grennan

grennanorigI went to hear Irish poet Eamon Grennan last night at the Folger Theater at the Library of Congress. His newest book is Matter of Fact.

It was a wonderful rangy reading that included his favorite poems as well as his own work.

He read the section from Macbeth when Macduff learns that his family is all murdered, “Chaucer” by Longfellow, “The Stolen Boat” by Wordsworth, “Sunday Morning” by Wallace Stevens, and many more.

Grennan concluded with his own poem “Detail.”

Detail
by Eamon Grennan

I was watching a robin fly after a finch—the smaller
chirping with excitement, the bigger, its breast blazing, silent
in light-winged earnest chase—when, out of nowhere
over the chimneys and the shivering front gardens,
flashes a sparrowhawk headlong, a light brown burn
scorching the air from which it simply plucks
like a ripe fruit the stopped robin, whose two or three
cheeps of terminal surprise twinkle in the silence
closing over the empty street when the birds have gone
about their business, and I began to understand
how a poem can happen: you have your eye on a small
elusive detail, pursuing its music, when a terrible truth
strikes and your heart cries out, being carried off.