K is for Known

God is not fully known when He is only “known” by the understanding.
He is best known by us when He takes possession of our whole being and unites us to Himself.

Thomas Merton, Bread in the Wilderness


It is the “great mystery of Godliness” which occupies him (Saint Bernard) before all else.

What is that mystery?
Not an idea, not a doctrine, but a Person: God Himself, revealed in the Man, Christ.

How is this doctrine understood?
When the Person is known.

How is He known?
When loved.

How loved?
When He lives in us and is Himself our love for His Father.
Loving the Father in us, He makes us one with the Father as He Himself is.

Thomas Merton, Last of the Fathers


Known and loved

 

 

A is for Advent

In Seasons of Celebration, Thomas Merton reflects on the writings of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. Saint Bernard spoke of three advents of Christ.

The first advent is “that in which He comes to seek and to save the lost.”

The third advent is “that in which He comes to takes us to Himself.”

The second advent, the one which I’ve been thinking on ever since reading about it, is the present advent which “is taking place at every moment of our own earthly life as wayfarers.”

Thomas Merton said, referring to the second advent, the one between the first and third,

To meditate on these two Advents

is to sleep between the arms of God

with His left hand under our head

and His right hand embracing us. 

It is also to sleep ‘between the lots’ —

that is to say to

‘live at peace in the midst of our inheritance’.


Bud snuggling with Laurel.

A Year With Merton

2019 is the year of Encouragement.
(I wrote about it here.)

2019 is the year of No Snark.
(I decided this after laboring over a response to an upset swim mom in December. She had been rude and unreasonable, so the first things I thought about saying were on that level. Then I went snarky. Then I wrote a reasoned response. I thought, I need to train myself so that the reasoned response comes more readily. So I’m setting snark aside.)

2019 is the year of Merton.
(Thomas Merton, that is. I realized that I’ve read essays and quotes but never a whole book of his. I’m going to start and keep going to see how many Merton books I can complete in one year.)

I finished my first Merton book today — Ishi Means Man. If you’ve never heard of it, don’t worry. I don’t think it’s one of his better known works.

Honestly, I thought I had grabbed Seeds of Contemplation. That sounded like a nice way to begin the year. But when I settled in my chair on the morning of January 1, I saw that I must have pulled off the shelf the book next to Seeds of Contemplation. 

Chapter One — The Shoshoneans. Merton comes out with guns blazing. Literally. He goes back to the days of our country when the Native Americans were called Indians and considered a problem. We found a solution.

In putting the Indian under tutelage to our own supposedly superior generosity and intelligence, we are in fact defining our own inhumanity, our own insensitivity, our own blindness to human values. In effect, how is the Indian defined and hemmed in by the relationship we have imposed on him? His reservation existence… is as close to non-existence as we can get him without annihilating him altogether. I fully realize that this will arouse instant protest.The Indian is not confined to his reservation: he has another choice. He is free to raise himself up, to get out and improve his lot, to make himself human, and how? Why, of course, by joining us, by doing as we do, by manifesting business acumen and American know-how, by making money, and by being integrated into our affluent society. Very generous indeed.

Was Thomas Merton just snarky?

In another chapter, Merton tells the haunting story of Ishi, the last of the Mill Creek, or Yana, Indians in California. I always thought that genocide was something that happened other places — Nazi Germany, Rwanda, Bosnia. But we annihilated an entire tribe. I can’t read the story without feeling sick inside.

Honestly, one of the things that has bothered me about Germany’s holocaust is the question of what the people who lived on the other side of the death camps did. How can someone live on one side of a wall enjoying warmth and food and relative prosperity, while on the other side people are being slaughtered? I never want to be the idle bystander.

What would I have done if I lived in turn-of-the-twentieth century California?

What will I do in 2019?

Ishi Means Man seems an inauspicious beginning to 2019. A little foreboding.

But Seeds of Contemplation seems to be missing now from the shelf and I’m not sure where to go.

How about here?

 

Unwrapping

Every man, however matter-of-fact and prosaic, likes to receive his presents wrapped… He hesitates to cut the string; he prefers to untie the knot, to unfold the paper, and so to come slowly upon the fond surprise awaiting him. The contents element he will be able to enjoy for months, perhaps for years; the parcel element he can only enjoy for a few blissful seconds; he therefore lingers over it that he may taste its drawn out sweetness to the full.  It is part — and a striking part — of our human love of mystery.

Like so many other things that are pregnant with romance, brown paper and string look commonplace enough; yet, in reality, they embody all the wistfulness, the tenderness and the sacredness of Christmastide.

… I have an old hymnbook in which the words [to a classic Christmas hymn] are rendered:

“Wrapped in flesh the Godhead see,
Hail the Incarnate Deity!”

Wrapped in flesh! It is the phraseology of the parcel! The child’s eyes sparkle as he catches a glimpse of the present through the paper. Human eyes have been entranced as they have beheld the unspeakable gift ‘wrapped in flesh‘ — the Deity Incarnate!

From My Christmas Book, by F. W. Boreham

I read that passage the other morning and immediately thought of my mother. She could unwrap carefully with the best of them.

Below is a post I wrote in 2013 about my mom unwrapping a Christmas present.

“Mom, the suspense is killing me,” I told my mother yesterday.  She took, oh, I don’t know, close to twenty minutes to unwrap a single gift.

My mother has always been a careful unwrapper.  I would blame it on our Scottish heritage, except that’s my father’s side of the family.  Are the Danish thrifty too?  For as long as I can remember, though, she has carefully peeled the tape off packages so as not to tear the wrapping paper.  It can be reused, don’t you know.

Alzheimer’s hasn’t taken that trait away from her.  Old age has slowed her down.  When you combine the two, well, let’s just say, it can take a painfully long time to unwrap a gift.

“Here’s a gift from Donabeth,” I said, placing it in her lap yesterday.  She looked at me with watery eyes.  I wasn’t sure she understood.

“Open it, Mom.  Let’s see what’s inside,” I said.

She held it on her lap for a long time.  I suggested, cajoled, encouraged, prodded, goaded, urged.  Nothing seemed to work.  Finally I said the line about suspense.

“That’s the name of the game,” she said. “Suspense.”  Maybe she was more aware than I gave her credit.

She turned the package over and began picking at the tape.  Did I mention that this was a slow process?

So slow, in fact, that she fell asleep while doing it.  Fortunately it was just one of the doze-y little catnaps that lasts only a few minutes.

Once the pretty paper was removed we found that my sister had the nerve to also wrap the gift with a layer of bubble wrap.

I began the same “encouragement” process, but Bud came over and simply removed the bubble wrap.  None of this waiting around stuff.  The suspense was killing him, too.

Inside was a music box that played “Amazing Grace.”  My mother listened to “Amazing Grace” over and over.  When I thought she had lost interest, I put the music box on the table.  I went to do something else and heard it playing again; my mother had retrieved it and opened it again.  Over and over.

Music still touches something deep inside.

I’d say she liked it.

Merry Christmas, Mom.

Boreham’s Introduction to Advent

I hate the saying “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission.”

And yet… I’m going to do that.

If F. W. Boreham was alive, by all means, I would ask. “Could I please, please, please, put your introduction to My Christmas Book on my blog? I promise to give you credit and direct people to where they can buy the book. It’s just so relevant to today.”

 

But he died in 1959, before I was even born.

I wish I could remember how I stumbled across Boreham. I read one of his books earlier this year — A Bunch of Everlastings.

Then I did that other thing that I hate for people to do. I bought something for myself that was on my Christmas wishlist. I bought a second Boreham book — My Christmas Book: A Handful of Myrrh, Aloes and Cassia.

I was going to wait for Advent to start reading it — but I couldn’t. Since reading the intro about a week ago, his hope-filled words have been running through my mind.

From Boreham’s “My Christmas Book”:


By Way of Introduction

A Child is Born! That is Forever and Forever
The Message of Christmas.

A Child is born!  In the early days of the nineteenth century, men were following with bated breath the march of Napoleon and waiting with feverish impatience for the latest news of the wars. And all the while, in their own homes, babies were being born. Just think of some of those babies. Why, in one year, lying midway between Trafalgar and Waterloo, there stole into the world a host of heroes! During that year, 1809, Mr. Gladstone was born at Liverpool; Alfred Tennyson drew his first breath at the Somersby rectory; and Oliver Wendell Holmes made his initial appearance in Massachusetts. On the very self-same day of that self-same year, Charles Darwin made his debut at Shrewsbury and Abraham Lincoln in Old Kentucky. Music was enriched by the advent of Frederick Chopin at Warsaw and Felix Mendelssohn at Hamburg.

But nobody thought of the babies. Everybody was thinking of battles. Yet, viewing that age in the truest perspective which the years enable us to command, we may well ask ourselves which of the battles of 1809 mattered more than the babies of 1809. When a wrong wants righting, or a work wants doing, or a truth wants preaching, or a continent wants opening, God sends a baby into the world to do it. This is why, long, long ago, a Babe was born at Bethlehem.


You may not agree with his list of heroes, (or the comment about “opening continents”) but you get the gist.

Hope is here. It’s born every day. An echo of the ultimate Hope born in Bethlehem.

 

Treasure

At church on Sunday, the visiting pastor asked people to share “God moments” during a time when people usually share prayer requests. I knew exactly what I would say if only I were brave enough.

My God moment had started at the end of September, when my anxiety was at an all time high. I received an unexpected package in the mail that contained a t-shirt and coffee. Coffee is one of my love languages — and the t-shirt, soft and gray, with a rabbit and the rhythm of a beating heart, was perfect. I pressed it against my cheek and thought of the dear friend from Indiana who had sent it.

wearing the shirt at Hutchmoot (photo credit Lisa Eldred)

St. Teresa of Avila said, “Christ has no body now, but yours. No hands, no feet on earth, but yours. … Yours are the hands with which Christ blesses the world.”

In that moment, my far-away friend was Christ to me, soothing my anxieties and reminding me that I was loved.

A few days later, another Indiana friend unexpectedly pressed a little package into my hand — a tiny clay rabbit she had made for me. Rabbits are another my love languages.

In the weeks that followed, as I dealt with a lot of interrupted sleep because of my father, my husband being quite ill with what we now know to be Lyme’s Disease, and my youngest daughter suffering a concussion, other packages showed up at my house.

A hand-crocheted hat and scarf.

Mary borrowing my new hat.

A mug to replace one I broke years before and never thought I would hold another like it.

A FreeWrite — a portable smart typewriter that I had off-and-on looked at wistfully for a couple of years.

The packages came from Alabama, Florida, and Michigan.

On a day when I was feeling overwhelmed, one would arrive.

I sat one morning drinking good coffee from my new mug, feeling very rich indeed, and a story came flooding back to me. It was a Dr. Purple story that I stumbled across when I was researching this 19th century physician from the village of Greene.

In 1826, Dr. Purple has acted as clerk for a trial in the village of Bainbridge, a nearby town. Joseph Smith (yes, that Joseph Smith) was on trial. He claimed to have a stone that could reveal to him where treasure was buried. For a fee, he would tell the landowner where to dig. When the man started digging, the treasure would recede and never be actually found. The landowner would be disappointed. Until, of course, Joseph Smith with his seer stone claimed to have found the treasure again in a different spot on his land. For a fee, he would tell the landowner where to dig.

I thought about the disappointment of that treasure that could never be grasped — and the depth of the treasure I held in my hand in the form of a mug sent by the generosity of a friend.

All that ran through my head when the pastor asked for a God moment — I had had a whole month of God moments, and then some.

The riches we have in Christ are riches indeed.

Sometimes they come in the form of rabbits and hats and typewriters.

And sometimes it’s a mug full of coffee.

Yes, definitely coffee.