Abbot Philip: Distracted by Unhelpful Thoughts?

monk-newmexico-240348-o

“… Inner silence and inner peace. What wonderful gifts are inner silence and peace in our lives. We have to work every day to maintain such silence and peace. It does not matter where we live or if we are married or if we are religious. All of us have challenges in our lives in order to remain silence and peaceful in our hearts. Almost every day of my adult life, I have had to take some time to refocus my mind and my heart. When I get distracted by unhelpful thoughts, by anger, by lust, by jealousy or even by laziness, I have to make a commitment to placing my life in the hand of God, of Jesus Christ.

Continue reading “Abbot Philip: Distracted by Unhelpful Thoughts?”

Joan Chittister: ‘Noise Protects Us From Confronting Ourselves’

Joan+Chittister2

“There are two major obstacles to a development of a spirituality of peace. The fear of silence and solitude looms like cliffs in the human psyche. Noise protects us from confronting ourselves, but silence speaks the language of the heart. Silence and solitude are what really bring us into contact both with ourselves and with others. Deep down inside of us reside, in microcosm, all the human hopes and fears, the struggles to control them, the hope to set them free, the peace that comes when we have confronted both the best and the worst in ourselves and found them both acceptable.

Silence requires a respect for solitude, however, and solitude is even more frightening than quiet. One of life’s greatest lessons is that solitude and loneliness are not the same thing. Loneliness is that sign that something is lacking. The purpose of solitude, on the other hand, is to bring us home to the center of ourselves with such serenity that we could lose everything and, in the end, lose nothing of the fullness of life at all.

Silence does more than confront us with ourselves. Silence makes us wise. Face-to-face with ourselves we come very quickly, if we listen to the undercurrents that are in contention within us, to respect the struggles of others. Silence teaches us how much we have yet to learn. Or, as we get older, silence perhaps reminds us too that there are qualities that we may never with confidence attain and that will war in our souls till the day we die. Then face-to-face with our struggles and our inadequacies, there is no room in us for mean judgments and narrow evaluations of others. Suddenly, out of silence, comes the honesty that tempers arrogance and makes us kind.”–Joan Chittister, OSB

From For Everything a Season by Joan Chittister (Orbis)

Colm O’Gorman: ‘Wilful Blindness Creates Monsters’

Colm O’Gorman, founder and former director of One in Four, a non-governmental organisation that supports women and men who have experienced sexual abuse, wrote a strong essay in the UK’s The Tablet this week on the Jimmy Savile pedophilia case.

Savile was a popular media personality in the UK for more than 30 years. He was both knighted by the Queen and given a papal knighthood from the Vatican. Savile run and contributed to a number of charities and is estimated to have raised £40 million for charity. After his death a year ago, police began investigating long-standing allegations of child sexual abuse.

The police now describe him as a “predatory sex offender” and are pursuing over 400 separate lines of inquiry based on the testimony of 300 potential victims via fourteen police forces across the UK.

O’Gorman asks why it took so long when everyone knew that Savile was “into little girls.” With powerful people and in powerful institutions it is easy to look the other way when something “unseemly” arises, but people of faith need to keep our fires of righteous anger stoked so we are ready to confront directly those predatory forces that stalk the vulnerable.

Here’s an excerpt from Colm O’Gorman commentary “Silence is Sin”:

“… [P]owerful institutions rarely cast an objectively critical eye inwards. Power rarely subjects itself to honest and open scrutiny, and when it either discovers serious wrongdoing within its own ranks, or indeed is itself guilty of wrongdoing, it often acts to cover up such corruption in an effort to protect its reputation and its authority.

Such wilful blindness creates monsters. The crimes of child abusers … are only possible within a culture of silence and denial. It has often been said that those who sexually abuse children rely upon secrecy, that sexual abuse is possible because it is a secret crime and that its victims are silent and voiceless. Surely, we need to question that view. What the abuse scandals in the Church, and now with Jimmy Savile, reveal is that secrecy is not the enabler of such crimes but rather silence is; the silence of those who shared rumour and gossip but who failed to act to protect desperately vulnerable children and young people.”–Colm O’Gorman, Silence is Sin (The Tablet)

Joan Chittister: Silence and Art in the Work of Brother Thomas Bezanson

Brother Thomas Bezanson was a Benedictine monk and ceramics artist who died in 2007. He accepted the rules of monastic solitude, and followed the advice of St. Benedict who said: “If there be craftsmen in the Monastery, [then] let them practice their crafts with all humility.” Brother Thomas spent the final years of his life at Mount St. Benedict Priory in Erie, PA, with the community of Sr. Joan Chittister. Below Sr. Joan reflects on art and the contemplative life in light of Brother Thomas’ work:

If, indeed, truth is beauty and beauty truth, then the monastic and the artist are one. Monasticism, in fact, cultivates the artistic spirit. Basic to monasticism are the very qualities art demands of the artist: silence, contemplation, discernment of spirits, community and humility.

Basic to art are the very qualities demanded of the monastic: single-mindedness, beauty, immersion, praise and creativity. The merger of one with the other makes for great art; the meaning of one for the other makes for great soul.

It is in silence that the artist hears the call to raise to the heights of human consciousness those qualities no definitions ever capture. Ecstasies, pain, fluid truth, pass us by so quickly or surround us so constantly that the eyes fail to see and the heart ceases to respond.

It is in the awful grip of ineffable form or radiant color that we see into a world that is infinitely beyond our natural grasp, yet only just beyond our artist’s soul. It is contemplation that leads an artist to preserve for us forever, the essence of a thing that takes us far beyond its accidents.

Only by seeing the unseen within can the artist dredge it out of nothingness so that we can touch it, too. It is a capacity for the discernment of spirits that enables an artist to recognize real beauty from plastic pretentions to it, from cheap copies or even cheaper attempts at it.

The artist details for the world to see the one idea, the fresh form, the stunning grandeur of moments which the world has begun to take for granted or has failed even to notice, or worse, has now reduced to the mundane.

It is love for human community that puts the eye of the artist in the service of truth. Knowing the spiritual squalor to which the pursuit of less than beauty can lead us, the artist lives to stretch our senses beyond the tendency to settle for lesser things: sleazy stories instead of great literature; superficial caricatures of bland characters rather than great portraits of great souls; flowerpots instead of pottery.

Finally, it is humility that enables an artist to risk rejection and failure, disdain and derogation to bring to the heart of the world what the world too easily, too randomly, too callously overlooks.

Charles Peguy wrote, “We must always tell what we see. Above all, and this is more difficult, we must always see what we see.”–Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB

From “The Monastic Spirit and the Pursuit of Everlasting Beauty” by Joan Chittister in The Journey and the Gift: The Ceramic Art of Brother Thomas.

Thomas Merton: ‘The Mask of Affability’

Photo by Thomas Merton
Photo by Thomas Merton

In silence we face and admit the gap between the depth of our being, which we consistently ignore, and the surface which is untrue to our own reality. We recognize the need to be at home with ourselves in order that we may go out to meet others, not just with a mask of affability, but with real commitment and authentic love. That is the reason for choosing silence. —Thomas Merton

Love & Living, edited by Naomi Burton Stone and Br. Patrick Hart (Harcourt, 1979, p. 41)

Merton: ‘Contemplation Would Be Incomplete if Not Shared’

Snowy Road by Thomas Merton
Snowy Road by Thomas Merton

The Great Silence of thirty inches of snow in a city that never knows the quiet is a great gift. The cutting cold exposes our city’s social sins, shows us who we’ve allowed to die of exposure under bridges, in cars, in abandoned houses.

The ultimate perfection of the contemplative life is not a heaven of separate individuals, each one viewing his own private intuition of God; it is a sea of Love which flows through the One Body of all the elect, all the angels and saints, and their contemplation would be incomplete if it were not shared, or if it were shared with fewer souls, or with spirits capable of less vision and less joy.–Thomas Merton

From New Seeds of Contemplation. (New York: New Directions Books 1961, p 65)

Do I Prefer Analysis to Silence?

merton1

Contradictions have always existed in the soul of [individuals]. But it is only when we prefer analysis to silence that they become a constant and insoluble problem. We are not meant to resolve all contradictions but to live with them and rise above them and see them in the light of exterior and objective values which make them trivial by comparison. –Thomas Merton

Thoughts in Solitude by Thomas Merton (FS&G, 1956, p. 80-81)