Category: reading

The Seven Storey Mountain (Part 1)

This morning I completed the first part of The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton.  The book is the story of his “search for faith and peace.” (according the back cover of the book)  This section of the book covers the time of his childhood through his college years at Columbia.  At this point in the book, I don’t really like Merton, though I suspect that Merton himself didn’t like Merton at this point in his life.  Perhaps, as the note to the reader suggests, this is just a matter of perception.  The Catholic church and the world at large were much different places in the years immediately following World War II.  This is surely part of it, however, there were numerous times that I was put off by the arrogance of “Father Louis” (Merton’s monastic name) and how it related to Thomas Merton the child and young adult.

Perhaps the most telling example of this occurs in a scene after his father has died:

First a scene from right before his father’s death:

    Of us all, Father was the only one who really had any kind of a faith.  And I do not doubt that he had very much of it, and that behind the walls of his isolation, his intelligence and his will, and not hampered in any essential way by the partial obstruction of some of his senses, were turned to God, and communed with God Who was with him and in him, and Who gave him, as I believe, light to understand and to make use of his suffering for his own good, and to perfect his soul.  It was a great soul, large, full of natural charity.  He was a man of exceptional intellectual honesty and sincerity and purity of understanding.  And this affliction, this terrible and frightening illness which was relentlessly pressing him down even into the jaws of the tomb, was not destroying him after all.

[…] We thought he was done for, but it was making him great.  And I think God was already weighing out to him the weight of reality that was to be his reward, for he certainly believed far more than any theologian would require of a man to hold explicitly as “necessity of means,” and so he was eligible for this reward, and his struggle was authentic, and not wasted or lost or thrown away.

However, just over a year after his fathers death, the young Merton (through the eyes of the monastic Merton) seems to have forgotten his earlier admiration of his father’s faith, during what could be considered the beginning of Merton’s conversion experience:

    Suddenly it seemed to me that Father, who had now been dead more than a year, was there with me.  The sense of his presence was as vivid and as real and as startling as if he had touched my arm or spoken to me.  The whole thing passed in a flash, but in that flash, instantly, I was overwhelmed with a sudden and profound insight into the misery and corruption of my own soul, and I was pierced deeply with a light that made me realize something of the condition I was in, and I was filled with horror at what I saw, and my whole being rose up in revolt against what was within me, and my soul desired escape and liberation and freedom from all this with an intensity and an urgency unlike anything I had ever known before.  And now I think for the first time in my whole life I really began to pray–praying not with my lips and with my intellect and my imagination, but praying out of the very roots of my life and of my being, and praying to the God I had never known, to reach down towards me out of His darkness and to help me to get free of the thousand terrible things that held my will in their slavery.

There were a lot of tears connected with this, and they did me good, and all the while, although I had lost that first vivid, agonizing sense of the presence of my father in the room, I had him in my mind, and I was talking to him as well as to God, as though he were a sort of intermediary.  I do not mean this in any way that might be interpreted that I thought he was among the saints.  I did not really know what that might mean then, and now that I do know I would hesitate to say that I thought he was in Heaven.  Judging by my memory of the experience I should say it was “as if” he had been sent to me out of Purgatory.  For after all, there is no reason why the souls in Purgatory should not help those on earth by their prayers and influence, just like those in Heaven: although usually they need our help more than we need theirs.  But in this case, assuming my guess has some truth in it, things were the other way ’round.

It really just amazes me that the “elder” Merton can look back on his father, a man who’s faith he could not question, and still think his father would not be in Heaven.  Is it just because his father was not a Catholic?  I can’t be completely sure, since this is my first real exposure to Merton’s works, but based on the way he speaks of the “Protestant” denominations elsewhere in the book, I suspect that is a large part of it.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.rhinoblues.com/thoughts/2006/the-seven-storey-mountain-part-1/

More Murakami

I just wrapped up “South of the Border, West of the Sun” by Haruki Murakami.  As it has been with all the previous novels, I loved it.  This novel is perhaps the most linear of the novels I’ve read so far.  An interesting tid-bit about this novel:  Murakami wrote this book while he lived in America for a few years during the 90s.

When I read, I normally have my moleskine somewhere nearby, and I often write down passages that move me while I read.  Here are a few from this novel that moved me:

She gazed at me steadily as I talked.  Something about her expression pulled people in.  It was as if–this is something I thought of only later, of course–she were gently peeling back one layer after another that covered a person’s heart, a very sensual feeling.  Her lips changed ever so slightly with each change in her expression, and I could catch a glimpse deep within her eyes of a faint light, like a tiny candly flickering in the dark, narrow room.

*****

I stood there a long time, gazing at the rainswept streets.  Once again I was a twelve-year-old boy staring for hours at the rain.  Look at the rain long enough, with no thoughts in your head, and you feel your body falling loose, shaking free of the world of reality.  Rain has the power to hypnotize.

*****

Her eyes were like a deep spring in the shade of cliffs, which no breeze could ever reach.  Nothing moved there, everything was still.  Look closely, and you could just begin to make out the scene reflected in the water’s surface.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.rhinoblues.com/thoughts/2006/more-murakami/

Murakami Madness

As of late, I have been obsessed with the novels of Haruki Murakami.  So far I’ve read five of his novels, plus a collection of short stories.  The latest was Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.  As with every one of his novels so far, I wasn’t disappointed at all.  This one has a bit of a sci-fi bent to it, however I wouldn’t classify this as a sci-fi novel.  I hesitate to go to much into the details of the book, as I think its best to discover Murakami on one’s own.  One of the things that amazes me about Murakami’s work, is that each novel is wonderful and amazing in its own special way.  While there are definately themes that are constant throughout, they at least feel like they are being used in a different way.

A few of the things I like about Murakami are: music plays a big part in the lives of his characters.  his novels are full of love, spirituality and encourages us to seek out the connections with others.  There is room for the reader inside his stories.  It is both simple and complex at the same time.  Often it feels like a dream, that you could just get lost in for all eternity.  And sometimes, you do.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.rhinoblues.com/thoughts/2006/murakami-madness/

Love and Sin

“In a sense, this terrible situation is the pattern and prototype of all sin: the deliberate and formal will to reject disinterested love for us for the purely arbitrary reason that we simply do not want it.  We will to seperate ourselves from that love.  We reject it entirely and absolutely, and will not acknowledge it, simply because it does not please us to be loved.  Perhaps the inner motive is that the fact of being loved disinterestly reminds us that we all need love from others, and depend upon the charity of others to carry on our own lives.  And we refuse love, and reject society, in so far as it seems, in our own perverse imagination, to imply some obscure kind of humiliation.”

–Thomas Merton “The Seven Story Mountain

It is an interesting idea that sin is really just a rejection of love.  To be honest, I had to go to the dictionary to make sense of the term “disinterested love.”  My first thought when reading this paragraph was “how can you love something disinterestly?”  What the dictionary reminded me was disinterest is not the lack of interest, but the lack of self-interest.

I think that this is one of the most powerful aspects of the character of Jesus.  His complete disinterested love for the whole world.  It is an ideal that is simply amazing in scope.  Just a fraction of this type of love would make such a difference in this world.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.rhinoblues.com/thoughts/2006/love-and-sin/

Practicing Resurrection

So one of the suggestions of my discernment committee was to read the book Practicing Resurrection by Nora Gallagher. I finished the book this morning and there were three passages I bookmarked for further contemplation.

On discernment:

I had thought at the beginning that it would be a matter of looking for signs or listening for voices, not too many steps away from divining tea leaves. But it had become a different matter. It had been as if I were invited into a slow stripping away to expose what lay underneath. Some aspect of myself or a part of the past would rise up, something left unattended and unresolved, to which I’d grown so accustomed I did not see it, like the low-lying tree branch in the backyard I instinctively duck. Often a person would bump into this long-held secret I kept from myself, sometimes by accident or as if by accident, and insist that I take a look.

On monks:

I think they are men who do not expect their faith to end their own suffering.

On exile:

It is typical of exile that it changes you, and when you return, you don’t fit in the way you did before.

As I prepare for the Prov 8 Higher Ed & Young Adult Gathering this weekend, I have really been listening to the silence. I haven’t heard much…but I haven’t been as afraid of the silence either. As I “turn off the noise” this weekend…I will be keeping these three quotes in my head.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.rhinoblues.com/thoughts/2006/practicing-resurrection/