New Memory

This morning I received a notification — “You have a new memory.” I laugh at those notifications. They seem so silly.

New memories — pshaw. Memories are, by their very nature, sort of oldish.

This morning, though, I paused to look at my “new” memory.

Two years ago today, I was in Normandy.

Two years ago today, I first heard the story of British gliders landing in Normandy to take the Pegasus Bridge — gliders whose pilots used stopwatches and compasses to navigate, some landing a mere 47 yards from their objective. I’m still amazed at that feat.

Two years ago today, I stood in the Canadian cemetery in Normandy, France, and grieved for those young men whose names were carved in the stones there. So brave. So young. But such a beautiful place.
Five years ago today, I was watching Karl play tennis. He and his partner, Michael, were killing it.

Five years ago today, at about the same time, 1400 miles away, my first grandson was born.

I didn’t need a photo app on my phone or Facebook to remind me of that memory. I woke up thinking of him. (HAPPY BIRTHDAY, HENRY!!)

On the other hand, my father needed the memory prompts.

“Remember our trip to Normandy,” I asked him.

“When was that?” he replied.

“Two years ago today we went on our first tour.”

I handed him the photo book and memorabilia I had put together from that trip.

His eyes grew misty as he leafed through it all. He carefully unfolded the maps of the cemeteries and of Paris, studied them, and then folded and placed them back in the pocket of the book. I couldn’t tell if he remembered or not.

“That was a good trip,” he said.

It was a good trip.

As we travel down this other road of forgetting who, what, and how, I often think, We’ll always have Normandy (and Paris, I suppose).

 

Unraveling

In the un-
ravel-
ing
perhaps
a (truer) story
is told
that may
(or may not)
include
roses
and warmth

essentials
remain
untouched

we die
are reborn

pulled apart
re-knit
by the sharp beak
and pointy talons
of a wee bird




Do I blame it on spring and the return of the birds —
These thoughts of “No Roses for Harry” —
Or is it
Simply the way my knowledge of Thomas Merton
Is unraveling —

Looping around
Traveling back
Covering the same themes
From different perspectives
Different times
Different media

Stories retold
Made new

 

Z is for Zen

Where there is carrion lying, meat-eating birds circle and descend. Life and death are two. The living attack the dead to their own profit. The dead lose nothing by it. They gain too, by being disposed of. Or they seem to, if you must think in terms of gain and loss. Do you approach the study of Zen with the idea that there is something to be gained by it?… Where there is a lot of fuss about “spirituality,” “enlightenment,” or just “turning on,” it is often because there are buzzards hovering around a corpse. This hovering, this circling, this descending, this celebration of victory, are not what is meant by the Study of Zen…

Zen enriches no one. There is no body to be found. The birds may come and circle for a while in the place where it is thought to be. But they soon go elsewhere. When they are gone, the “nothing,” the “no-body” that was there, suddenly appears. That is Zen. It was there all the time but the scavengers missed it, because it was not their kind of prey.

Thomas Merton, Zen and the Birds of Appetite



Circling, circling, circling — riding the currents high above the Frio River


More than any other quote, I struggled with this one — probably because I struggled with Merton’s interest in Zen and eastern mysticism. It seemed like a betrayal of Christ.

John Coleman, in his article “Thomas Merton and Dialogue with Buddhism“, said,

Merton who early on in his career showed a keen interest in dialogue with the religions of Asia (Hinduism, Sufism as well as Buddhism) tended to think such dialogue should, primarily, focus on practice and experience and less on doctrine or beliefs, as such.

Yes, that’s what I was hoping. As part of Thomas Merton’s search for contemplative experience, he stepped outside Christian tradition, but not Christian faith. It wasn’t about doctrine; it was about experience.

Goodreads said about Zen and the Birds of Appetite, “Never does one feel him losing his own faith in these pages; rather one feels that faith getting deeply clarified and affirmed. Just as the body of ‘Zen’ cannot be found by the scavengers, so too, Merton suggests, with the eternal truth of Christ.”

Below are two pages from Day of a Stranger, a book where Merton tries to describe a typical day in his hermitage. The book contains musings, thoughts, an imaginary conversation, and, best of all, some of his photographs. If you read these two pages, though, you’ll see that he doesn’t directly answer the questions regarding Zen — and it makes me think that, like the scavengers not finding the carrion because it wasn’t the right prey, perhaps we aren’t asking the right questions.

from Day of a Stranger by Thomas Merton
from Day of a Stranger by Thomas Merton

 

X is for eXactly

The monastic body is held together
not by human admirations and enthusiasms
which make men heroes and saints before their time
but on the sober truth
which accepts men
exactly
as they are
in order to help them become
what they ought to be.

Thomas Merton, The Silent Life


Can you imagine if we all lived like that — accepting people as they are, in order to help them become what they ought to be ?


from the Franciscan Monastery in Dubrovnik

 

 

 

W is for Worship

Is Christian worship to be communion in correctness or communion in love?

Thomas Merton, Seasons of Celebration



Art work created in community at a conference called Hutchmoot (2016). There, people from many different Christian faith traditions worship in love. It’s a beautiful thing.

Sometimes we’re so concerned about being right, that we forget:

In essentials unity
In non-essentials liberty
In all things charity

(not Thomas Merton, likely not Augustine, maybe Rupertus Meldenius or Marco Antonio de Dominis)

V is for Value

We are so obsessed with doing
that we have no time
and no imagination left
for being.
As a result,
men are valued
not for what they are
but for what they do
or what they have
for their usefulness.

Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

(Emphasis mine)


Although sometimes what a man has
— homemade shortbread sent for a birthday —
is because of who he is
and not because of what he has done.
While he has done a lot in his life,
more importantly he has been
kind,
loving, and
generous.