Archive for the ‘Thomas Merton’ Tag

Cycles Ending, Cycles Beginning   Leave a comment

Here at year’s end, I’m finally getting around to reading the next-to-most-recent Mt. Haemus paper, RoMa Johnson’s “The Well and the Chapel: Confluence”. This ongoing series, sponsored by OBOD, has produced substantial papers on a range of topics since 2000, and last year’s 21st paper is of particular interest to me. Readers here know of my investigation of some of the intersections of Druidry and Christianity. In her paper, Johnson looks at five specific aspects of her topic: “Worldviews—Immanence and Imminence; Justice—Sin, Responsibility and Restoration; The Three—The Sacred Feminine and the Trinity; Immrama—The Soul’s Journey and Inspiration; and Confluence”.

Johnson also quotes Trappist monk and author Thomas Merton: “If I were more fully attentive to the word of God I would be much less troubled and disturbed by events of our time: not that I would be indifferent or passive, but I could gain strength of union with the deepest currents of history, the sacred currents, which run opposite to those on the surface a great deal of the time!”

Let me do a Druid transform of this with a few but significant tweaks, and make for myself a spiritual affirmation and guide: “When I am fully attentive to Spirit stirring throughout the worlds, I am less troubled and disturbed by events of our time: not that I am indifferent or passive, but I gain strength of union with the deepest currents of history, the sacred currents, which run opposite to those on the surface a great deal of the time”.

Often you can find this kind of spiritual wealth hidden just below the surface, as Merton’s words suggest, with a little meditation and creativity. At least, that’s one of my practices.

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wood-snow, snow-wood …

A listing of the titles with links to transcripts of each lecture in the Mt. Haemus series provides a rich and broad source of contemplation and meditation seeds, as well as directions for study and practice. You can preview each paper, read it online, or download it for free from the OBOD site at the link above at the start of the paragraph.

More ambitious, and looking for study material for 2021? Or not a member of any Order, but looking for substance, as opposed to the ubiquitous fluff all over the Web? These 22 papers will give you a full year’s curriculum and then some, if you give yourself time to absorb them, follow up on bibliographical links, and explore their significance and implications in your own life and circumstances. The bios of the varied authors are also fascinating by themselves!

1: The Origins of Modern Druidry — Ronald Hutton
2: Druidry – Exported Possibilities and Manifestations — Gordon Cooper
3: Phallic Religion in the Druid Revival — J M Greer
4: Question, Answer and the Transmission of Wisdom in Celtic and Druidic Tradition — John and Caitlin Matthews
5: Universal Majesty, Verity and Love Infinite – A Life of George Watson Macgregor Reid — Dr. Adam Stout
6: Working with Animals — Prof Roland Rotheram
7: ‘I Would Know My Shadow and My Light’ – An exploration of Michael Tippett’s ‘The Midsummer Marriage’ and its relevance to a study of Druidism — Philip Carr-Gomm
8: Entering Faerie – Elves, Ancestors & Imagination — Dr. James Maertens
9: How Beautiful Are They – Some thoughts on Ethics in Celtic and European Mythology — Dr. Brendan Myers
10: What is a Bard? — Dr. Andy Letcher
11: Druidry & Transpersonal History — Dr. Thomas C Daffern
12: From solstice to equinox and back again – The influence of the midpoint on human health and the use of plants to modify such effects — Julian Barker
13: Magical Transformation in the Book of Taliesin and the Spoils of Annwn — Kristoffer Hughes
14: Music and the Celtic Otherworld — Dr. Karen Ralls
15: ‘Almost unmentionable in polite society’? Druidry and Archaeologists in the Later Twentieth Century — Dr. Julia Farley
16: Gathering Mistletoe – an approach to the Work of E. Graham Howe — Ian Rees
17: Tree Lore is Wisdom — Mike Darton
18: Lecture The Elementary Forms of Druidic Life – Towards a Moral Ecology of Land, Sea, and Sky — Jonathan Woolley
19: Channeling the Awen Within: An Exploratory Study of the Bardic Arts in the Modern Druid Tradition — Dr. Dana Driscoll
20: What Druidry does – a perspective on the spiritual dynamics of the OBOD course — Dr. Susan Jones
21: The Well and the Chapel: Confluence — RoMa Johnson, MDiv.
22: The Feminist Druid: Making Way for New Stories/New Work — Dr. Michelle LaFrance

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The Fertile Virgin

“Only what is virgin can be fertile.”  OK, Gods, now that you’ve dropped this lovely little impossibility in my lap this morning, what am I supposed to do with it?  Yeah, I get that I write about these things, but where do I begin? “Each time coming to the screen, the keyboard, can be an opportunity” — I know that, too.  But it doesn’t make it easier.   Why don’t you try it for a change?  Stop being all god-dy and stuff and try it from down here.  Then you’ll see what it’s like.

OK, done?  Fit of pique over now?

I never had much use for prayer.  Too often it seems to consist either of telling God or the Gods what to do and how to do it (if you’re arrogant) or begging them for scraps (if they’ve got you afraid of them, on your knees for the worst reasons).  But prayer as struggle, as communication, as connecting any way you can with what matters most — that I comprehend.  Make of this desire to link an intention.  A daily one, then hourly.  Let if fill, if if needs to, with everything in the way of desire, and hand that back to the universe.  Don’t worry about Who is listening.  Your job is to tune in to the conversation each time, to pick it up again.  And the funny thing is that once you stop worrying about who is listening, everything seems to be listening (and talking).  Then the listening rubs off on you as well.  And you finally shut up.

That’s the second half, often, of the prayer.  To listen.  Once the cycle starts, once the pump gets primed, it’s easier.  You just have to invite and welcome who you want to talk with.  Forget that little detail, and there can be lots of other conversations on the line.  The fears and dreams of the whole culture.  Advertisers get in your head, through repetition.  (That’s why it’s best to limit TV viewing, or dispense with it altogether, if you can.  Talk about prayer out of control.  They start praying you.)  They’ve got their product jingle and it’s not going away.  Sometimes all you’ve got in turn is a divine product jingle.  It may be a song, a poem, a cry of the heart.  The three Orthodox Christian hermits of the great Russian novelist Tolstoy have their simple prayer to God:  “We are three.  You are three.  Have mercy on us!”  Over time, it fills them, empowers them.  They become nothing other than the prayer.  They’ve arrived at communion.

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Equi-nox.  Equal night and day.  The year hanging, if only briefly, in the balance of energies.  Spring, a coil of energy, poised.  The earth dark and heavy, waiting, listening.  The change in everything, the swell of the heart, the light growing.  Thaw.  The last of the ice on our pond finally yields to the steady warmth of the past weeks, to the 70-degree heat of Tuesday.  The next day, Wednesday, my wife sees  salamanders bobbing at the surface.  Walk closer, and they scatter and dive, rippling the water.

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I once heard a Protestant clergywoman say to an ecumenical assembly, “We all know there was no Virgin Birth.  Mary was just an unwed, pregnant teenager, and God told her it was okay.  That’ s the message we need to give girls today, that God loves them, and forget all this nonsense about a Virgin birth.”  …  I sat in a room full of Christians and thought, My God, they’re still at it, still trying to leach every bit of mystery out of this religion, still substituting the most trite language imaginable …

The job of any preacher, it seems to me, is not to dismiss the Annunciation because it doesn’t appeal to modern prejudices, but to remind congregations of why it might still be an important story (72-73).

So Kathleen Norris writes in her book Amazing Grace:  A Vocabulary of Faith.  She goes on to quote the Trappist monk, poet and writer Thomas Merton, who

describes the identity he seeks in contemplative prayer as a  point vierge [a virgin point] at the center of his being, “a point untouched by illusion, a point of pure truth … which belongs entirely to God, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will.  This little point … of absolute poverty,” he wrote, “is the pure glory of God in us” (74-5).

So if I need to, I pull away the God-language of another tradition and listen carefully “why it might still be an important story.”  Not “Is it true or not?” or “How can anybody believe that?”  But instead, why or how it still has something to tell me.  Another kind of listening, this time to stories, to myths, our greatest stories, for what they still hold for us.

One of the purest pieces of wisdom I’ve heard concerns truth and lies.  There are no lies, in one sense, because we all are telling the truth of our lives every minute.  It may be a different truth than we asked for, or than others are expecting, but it’s pouring out of us nonetheless.  Ask someone for the truth, and if they “lie,” their truth is that they’re afraid.  That knowledge, that insight, may well be more important than the “truth” you thought you were looking for.  “Perfect love casteth out fear,” says the Galilean.  So it’s an opportunity for me to practice love, and take down a little bit of the pervasive fear that seems to spill out of lives today.

Norris arrives at her key insight in the chapter:

But it is in adolescence that the fully formed adult self begins to emerge, and if a person has been fortunate, allowed to develop at his or her own pace, this self is a liberating force, and it is virgin.  That is, it is one-in-itself, better able to cope with peer pressure, as it can more readily measure what is true to one’s self, and what would violate it.  Even adolescent self-absorption recedes as one’s capacity for the mystery of hospitality grows:  it is only as one is at home in oneself that one may be truly hospitable to others–welcoming, but not overbearing, affably pliant but not subject to crass manipulation.  This difficult balance is maintained only as one remains [or returns to being] virgin, cognizant of oneself as valuable, unique, and undiminishable at core (75).

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This isn’t where I planned to go.  Not sure whether it’s better.  But the test for me is the sense of discovery, of arrival at something I didn’t know, didn’t understand in quite this way, until I finished writing.  Writing as prayer.  But to say this is a “prayer blog” doesn’t convey what I try to do here, or at least not to me, and I suspect not to many readers.  A Druid prayer comes closer, it doesn’t carry as much of the baggage as the word “prayer” may carry for some readers, and for me.  “I’m praying for you,” friends said when I went into surgery three years ago.  And I bit my tongue to keep from replying, “Just shut up and listen.  That will help both us a lot more.”  So another way of understanding my blog:  this is me, trying to shut up and listen.  I talk too much in the process, but maybe the most important part of each post is the silence after it’s finished, the empty space after the words end.

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Norris, Kathleen.  Amazing Grace:  A Vocabulary of Faith.  New York:  Riverhead Books, 1998.

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