Blessed Are the Daily Bloggers

Over eight years ago, I started writing in this little corner of the internet with nothing more than a silly name and a struggle to understand my mother’s dementia.

I wrote nearly every day. It was as if some unseen floodgate opened. A tidal wave of stored-up words poured out.

Three years later, at Laity Lodge, I shyly told a then-new-now-old friend about my blog.

“How often do you write?” she asked.

“Every day,” I replied.

Every day?!” she repeated.

I realized then that blogging every day isn’t normal. Or expected. I started giving myself more permission to skip days.

Over the years, though, I wrote about my mother’s decline, my father’s health struggles, my brother’s death, my mother’s death, my children, my grandchildren, my husband. I wrote about writing. I wrote about spiritual things. I wrote when I was angry, sad, confused, grieving, joyful, content, challenged.

It’s rare when I write these days. I have 255 drafts in my draft folder today.

I start. I stop. I think it’s all stupid. A few days pass, and I repeat the process. 255 times.

The exception to my lack of posting has been April’s A-to-Z Challenge. Give me a task and a schedule, and I’m much more likely to get something done.

Lately, in the mornings, I’ve been thinking on the Beatitudes (Matthew 5 — the Blessed-are-the’s). I’ve also been doing some local research.

Yesterday I picked up a copy of Cooperstown High School’s 1922 yearbook, called “The Pathfinder.” A graduating student had rewritten the Beatitudes for Cooperstown students:

I don’t know what a V.P. in deportment is and I don’t think the punctuality prize is awarded anymore. But the Ruggles Essay contest — where every student in the Junior class writes an essay on the topic of their choice and the top essays are read to the entire student body who votes on the winner — is still going on today. (The earliest account of the Ruggles’ Essay contest that I could find was 1896, but it could precede that date.)

My favorite of Emily’s Beatitudes was #6 — “Blessed are they who knowing nothing do not give you wordy evidence of the fact” — probably because it’s one of my biggest fears as a writer.

All this is to say that for June, I’ll be sharing an A-to-Z of beatitudes.

Or at least I’ll be trying.

Either my draft folder will expand to 281 or I’ll give you wordy evidence of the nothing I know.

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.

U is for Utter

God utters me like a word containing a partial thought of Himself.

Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation


To say that I am made in the image of God is to say
that love is the reason for my existence,
for God is love.
Love is my true identity.
Selflessness is my true character.
Love is my name.
Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation

The pocket mirror I carried during Lent (and my father’s reflection in it)

For the past several years during Lent, I have carried a mindfulness object to remind myself of something Christ-centered during that holy season.  This year I carried a little pocket mirror on which I had written the first three words of today’s quote by Thomas Merton.

And these were some of my thoughts about his words —

What if, instead of the four Greek words for love, or instead of the five ways to say “I love you” in Mandarin, or instead of the nine ways to say it in Russian — what if, at any given time on the planet Earth, there are over 7 billion words for Love, uttered by God Himself, and they each have a face, and hands, and feet?

What if each time God utters a person into being, He’s saying another word containing a partial thought of Him — and that word is Love?

What if I am a word for love? Am I living my life in such a way that others can see that?