Archive for the ‘Silence’ Category

An excerpt from Thomas Merton’s beautiful poem, ‘Song: If you Seek…’:

Follow my ways and I will lead you
To golden-haired suns,
Logos and music, blameless joys,
Innocent of questions
And beyond answers:

For I, Solitude, am thine own self:
I, Nothingness, am thy All.
I, Silence, am thy Amen!

Viktor Frankl Institute

This is my opening lecture from the ‘Exploring Meaning With Thomas Merton and Viktor Frankl’ workshop held on 31st January 2015 at Bethlehem Abbey, Portglenone, Co. Antrim (and co-facilitated by Dr. Stephen Costello of the Viktor Frankl Institute of Ireland):

We gather here on this beautiful day, from many different places across Ireland, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of a man who was gifted with so many talents and interests. That man, Thomas Merton was born in France, on January 31, 1915 to Owen Merton, a talented New Zealand artist, and Ruth Jenkins, an American Quaker and artist.

Thomas Merton.  Picture used with permission of the Merton Legacy Trust.

Thomas Merton. Picture used with permission of the Merton Legacy Trust.

Merton himself reflected on his birth many years later in the classic ‘Seventh Storey Mountain’ and described it in these words:

“On the last day of January 1915, under the sign of the Water Bearer, in a year of a great war, and down in the shadow of some French mountains on the borders of Spain, I came into the world. Free by nature, in the image of God, I was nevertheless the prisoner of my own violence and my own selfishness, in the image of the world into which I was born. That world was the picture of Hell, full of men like myself, loving God and yet hating Him; born to love Him, living instead in fear and hopeless self-contradictory hungers.”

Powerful words indeed.

Today, and indeed in the run-up to today and for the remainder of 2015, there will be many lectures, retreats and get-togethers across the word celebrating, and reflecting on, the life, work and impact of Thomas Merton. The Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University and the International Thomas Merton Society have recently produced a press release which serves as a reminder to the wide-ranging impact Merton still has:

“Events celebrating the Merton centenary will be taking place around the world throughout 2015. A sampling of notable festivities in the United States includes events to be held at Bellarmine University, Columbia University, Pittsburgh Thomas Merton Center, and Burchfield Penney Art Center in Buffalo, NY, and Nazareth College in Rochester, NY. Celebrations and conferences are being planned in Australia, Brazil, Canada, England, Germany, and Ireland”.

Merton’s relatively short life, he died after all in a tragic accident at the age of 53, was one characterised by diversity – he has been, and still is – described variously as a monk, a mystic, a priest, a social activist, a writer, a proponent of non-violence and a poet.  In the latter half of his life in particular, he reached out and engaged in ecumenical and inter-faith dialogue. He counted among his friends Anglicans, Baptists, Presbyterians and many more besides, as well as Muslims, Jews and Buddhists – and even Atheists, whom he reached out to in a spirit of humility and a common desire for understanding.

Today,  Merton reaches out to people who want to understand the contemplative or mystical dimension of life.  Ironically, as the monasteries slowly empty, Merton retains his popularity, and in fact this popularity to continues to grow, impacting on people of all faith backgrounds and none.  Here in Ireland for example, the Merton Fellowship was borne out of a wide-ranging interest in how we apply Merton’s thinking in contemporary society, particularly as it relates to peace-building and contemplation.  And so perhaps it is of no surprise that our events have attracted a wide-range of participants from across the denominations – Moravian, Presbyterian, Anglican, Methodist, Catholic and Non-Denominational, and across the faiths – Buddhist and Baha’i as examples.

In today’s workshop, we’re going to be doing exactly what the International Thomas Merton Society/Thomas Merton Center suggests in their press release: The centenary offers an opportunity to consider how we too might set aside easy answers and wrestle with the urgent questions of our day”.

The questions of our day are many. But let me suggest to you that there is nothing more urgent, compelling and requiring attention than the issue of meaning.  Whether we collectively, and individually, wrestle with questions of ultimate and/or proximate meaning is one of the core questions of our time.  When we lack meaning, we lose focus and drive and our humanity is degraded.

Merton knew all about meaning.  In fact it could be said that the framework around which his own theology and worldview was constructed was rooted in meaning.  For him the ultimate was God and the proximate many; he derived proximate meaning from writing, activism, dialogue and contemplation, as well as those deep interpersonal relationships he cultivated throughout his life.

Merton has much in common with the second man in our workshop title today – Prof. Viktor Frankl.  An extraordinary character, Frankl was a holocaust survivor, psychiatrist, philosopher, neurologist and founder of Logotherapy & Existential Analysis.  And although they never met or conversed, Merton and Frankl understood the centrality of meaning; Indeed, Merton was aware of Frankl and recommended to his students (novices at Gethsemani Abbey) that they read him in order to get a better understanding of the subject.

There are many points of contact between Merton and Frankl, and I’ll leave it to Stephen to talk about those in more detail.  But there are two key issues it seems to me, that merit some thought in the meantime.

Both Merton and Frankl had a common understanding of striving for success, which is often seen as a positive attribute in contemporary society, and recognising and accessing meaning.  Merton said this in ‘Love and Loving’:

“If I had a message to my contemporaries it is surely this: Be anything you like, be madmen, drunks, and bastards of every shape and form, but at all costs avoid one thing: success . . . If you are too obsessed with success, you will forget to live. If you have learned only how to be a success, your life has probably been wasted.”

And likewise, these famous words from Frankl in his seminal publication ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’:

“Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long-run—in the long-run, I say!—success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it” 

So both Merton and Frankl are clearly on the same wavelength in this respect.  But there’s something else that links the two men in their thinking that perhaps is a bit more unexpected than their understanding of success and meaning.  And it’s the issue of love.

Merton writes, again in ‘Love and Living’:

“Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find it with another.” 

And here’s Frankl, writing beautifully  in ‘Man Search for Meaning’:

“For the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth – that Love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love.” 

We could spend the entire day unpacking these statements and exploring them in great detail.  But suffice it to say that these points of contact provide us with a vantage point from which we can see the bigger picture; it’s the bigger picture that Stephen, and to a lesser extent myself, will be looking at and guiding us through in the next few hours.  And it’s our hope that today will be a starting point for that inner dialogue and that we leave here with much to think about and to apply in our daily lives.

Merton Fellowship Title

To celebrate the 100th Anniversary of Thomas Merton’s Birth, The Viktor Frankl Institute of Ireland and Thomas Merton Fellowship Invite you to a One-Day Workshop:

‘EXPLORING MEANING WITH THOMAS MERTON AND VIKTOR FRANKL’

Facilitators:
Dr Stephen J. Costello, Director, Viktor Frankl Institute of Ireland
Rev. Dr. Scott Peddie, Thomas Merton Fellowship

Thomas Merton was much influenced by Viktor Frankl’s writings on meaning and often cited the latter’s Man’s Search for Meaning. This day will explore our spiritual search for meaning within a logotherapeutic perspective, relating it practically to our personal quest for purpose and values, through lectures, meditations, and reflective and experiential exercises.

Saturday January 31st: 11am-5pm, Bethlehem Abbey, Ballymena Rd., Portglenone, Co. Antrim (Cost: €55 or £50)

Note: this workshop will have different content to the ‘Meaning with Merton Workshop’ previously held in Dublin.

Bookings/Enquiries to scottpeddie@sky.com

Viktor Frankl Institute

About Thomas Merton (1915-1968): Trappist monk, poet, social activist and author of the spiritual classic, The Seven Storey Mountain.

Viktor Frankl (1905-1997): Neurologist, psychiatrist, philosopher, founder of logotherapy and existential analysis, concentration camp survivor and author of Man’s Search for Meaning.

As the Merton Fellowship for Peace and Contemplative Living met this weekend on a day retreat in All Souls Church in Belfast, I found myself reflecting on how far we have come in the four or so years we have been in existence.  Since the first tentative steps were taken in an initial meeting held in University Road Moravian Church, Belfast, we have met in a variety of locations across Ireland.  Indeed, we have found ourselves welcoming new and existing members in locations across Ireland that include the Tobar Mhuire Retreat Centre (Co. Down), Malin Presbyterian Church (Co. Donegal), the Avila Carmelite Centre (Co. Dublin), Drumalis Retreat Centre, Bethlehem Abbey, McQuiston Memorial Presbyterian Church and the Corrymeela Community (all Co. Antrim).

Photo courtesy of Tanya Jones.

Photo courtesy of Tanya Jones.

The topics for our retreats have been as diverse as the backgrounds of those who join us, whether on a regular basis or occasionally.  We have discussed meditation, contemplative prayer, the monastic life, non-violence, faith and meaning among an eclectic mix of people from a range of denominational backgrounds – Catholic, Moravian, Presbyterian, Methodist, Anglican and Non-Denominational.  In that sense our ecumenical journey reflects something of Merton’s thinking as explored in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander:

 If I can unite in myself, in my own spiritual life, the thought of the East and the West, of the Greek and the Latin Fathers, I will create in myself a reunion of the divided Church, and from that unity in myself can come the exterior and visible unity of the Church. For, if we want to bring together East and West, we cannot do it by imposing one upon the other. We must contain both in ourselves and transcend them both in Christ.

The Merton Fellowship has also been blessed with the presence of friends from the Buddhist and Baha’i communities, all of whom have enhanced our understanding of Merton immeasurably. Together we have explored that false divide between faith and action, sacred and secular, and so much more.

Thomas Merton.  Picture used with permission of the Merton Legacy Trust.

Thomas Merton. Picture used with permission of the Merton Legacy Trust.

Our eclecticism has also been enhanced by the life experience of those we count as Merton Fellows: teachers, lecturers, a novelist, a poet, a neuropathologist, monks (Christian and Buddhist), businessmen & women, activists, ministers, priests, therapists, nurses, physicians, nuns and a plethora of others, have brought their unique life experiences to bear on our discussions and spiritual reflections.

A blessed community indeed……

Learn how to meditate on paper. Drawing and writing are forms of meditation. Learn how to contemplate works of art. Learn how to pray in the streets or in the country. Know how to meditate not only when you have a book in your hand but when you are waiting for a bus or riding in a train.

Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton

The Merton Fellowship for Peace & Contemplative Living in Ireland will be meeting at All Souls Church, Elmwood Avenue, Belfast on Saturday 29th November from 11am-4pm.

The retreat, entitled ‘Merton on Meditation’ will consist of periods of meditation, reflection and discussion.

Our events are ecumenical and are open to all.

There is no need to have any prior knowledge of Merton.

Please contact me (scottpeddie@sky.com) to book your place. There will be a small charge (£10) to cover costs. Please bring along a packed lunch; alternatively there are a number of cafes nearby.

“A fine line separates the weary recluse from the fearful hermit. Finer still is the line between hermit and bitter misanthrope.” So wrote Dean Koontz in Velocity.

Koontz’s words carry some weight, especially if they are read in the context of a complex social phenomenon in Japan, known as Hikikomori (meaning “pulling inward, being confined”) which has a disturbingly high prevalence.  Social, economic and educational factors have combined to produce the perfect storm of reclusive, withdrawn adolescents and young (mainly) men in their twenties and beyond. Driven by a desire to ‘escape’ from an increasingly complex and unforgiving society, swathes of highly talented individuals drop off the radar screen, perhaps to emerge later at an unspecified date…….or perhaps not – nobody can predict how each story will unfold.

So the modern-day secular hermit of Japanese culture is widely accepted to be a negative influence – on both the individual and society as a whole.  Youngsters, instead of being drawn towards something positive, are instead retreating from the negative, disengaging and becoming progressively more narcissistic; this introspection is very far removed from the healthy reflection we can all benefit from.

As I watched a documentary on the Hikikomori the other day, I was struck by the sheer desperation that was all-pervasive.  The eremitical life, as lived out in this almost nihilistic context, was certainly not a force for good.  But it got me thinking nonetheless.

These modern-day hermits are very far removed from the faith-driven hermits of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Taoist among others. There is scant comparison between the Hikikomori and the Carthusian, Camaldolese, or some expressions of the Cistercian way of life for example.  That great Cistercian writer and one-time hermit Thomas Merton points towards a positive and constructive expression of solitary living; drawn towards a deeper, more authentic experience of the divine, Merton was a spiritual dynamo whose corpus of work has made an indelible impact on the life of Christians, as well as those of other faiths who understand the value of the contemplative life.

What seems clear, at least to me, is that wider society certainly does need to embrace the best aspects of the eremitical life – selflessness, solitude, reflection and contemplative prayer.  And it needn’t be that this approach to life is an all-or-nothing one; we can incorporate the contemplative in to our daily lives, no matter how hectic they may be.  So yes, we need to take one the mindset of the hermit, but not the Hikikomori.  A difficult task, but spiritually very rewarding nonetheless.

And I’ll leave you with some words from Merton himself, written in New Seeds of Contemplation: “Our vocation is not simply to be, but to work together with God in the creation of our own life, our own identity, our own destiny….To work out our identity in God.”   

The Other Side of Light Front Page

NEW PUBLICATION: The Other Side of Light by Scott Peddie & Columba O’Neill

In this short collection of poems, the echo of the spiritual life leaves its indelible mark on each page and in each word spoken. 

It is unusual in that it stems from what at first seems to be two divergent spiritual paths: one a Presbyterian Minister and the other a Cistercian Monk. But in actual fact the spiritual convergence is very clear for the reader to see as the poetry progresses. Common themes of silence, contemplation and reflection, among others, make their presence felt and witness to the fact that God is our reality, regardless of how we choose to express ourselves ecclesiastically. 

The Other Side of Light is a testament to the fact that God can be perceived in all things, and the joy of the Christian journey comes from discovering that reality and in expressing it in words.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS: Columba O’Neill has been a Cistercian Monk, living in Bethlehem Abbey in Co. Antrim, for more than fifty years. Scott Peddie lives in Co. Antrim and is a Presbyterian Minister and member of the Order of Ecumenical Franciscans. He has published two previous books of poetry ‘Embracing Imperfection’ and ‘Looking Inwards: A Bipolar Journey’.

The Other Side of Light is available in Kindle format from Amazon.  In the USA, you can purchase the book here: http://amzn.com/B00JJR3QA6.  In the UK or Ireland, you can download the book here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00JJR3QA6.

If you don’t have a Kindle device, you can download the Kindle reader for your PC, Mac, phone or tablet by visiting the Amazon website.

 

Orthodox Christianity has always fascinated me.  The continuity of beautiful liturgy and iconography makes for a unique expression of the Christian faith.

Nowhere is this continuity more evident than in Mount Athos in Greece. The holy peninsula reaches some 31 miles out into the Aegean Sea, and it is here that for over a thousand years vibrant communities of monks have lived out their vocations.  With no access to radio, television or newspapers, the monks live detached from the modern world; it is this detachment that allows them to commune more closely with God.  Theirs is a life of silence, prayer, chanting, reading and physical work and takes place in the Island’s 20 monasteries; each monk follows a unique path dependent on their talents and spiritual needs.

CBS recently produced a short documentary on the life of the Mount Athos monks which will give you a feel for this holy place. It’s certainly worth watching:

Portglenone Forest (Pic by Scott Peddie)

Portglenone Forest (Pic by Scott Peddie)

Walking in the forest today, I found my mind drifting, eventually settling on the words of Pablo Naruda’s beautiful poem, ‘Lost in the forest’. Although Neruda talks at one point of Autumn, the rest of the poem resonated with me. There is something so special about Portglenone Forest in Co. Antrim; it’s history of mature woodland cover since ancient times comes to life with colonies of Bluebell, Wood Anemone and the aromatic Wild Garlic. So much beauty.

Lost in the forest…

Lost in the forest, I broke off a dark twig
and lifted its whisper to my thirsty lips:
maybe it was the voice of the rain crying,
a cracked bell, or a torn heart.

Something from far off it seemed
deep and secret to me, hidden by the earth,
a shout muffled by huge autumns,
by the moist half-open darkness of the leaves.

Wakening from the dreaming forest there, the hazel-sprig
sang under my tongue, its drifting fragrance
climbed up through my conscious mind

as if suddenly the roots I had left behind
cried out to me, the land I had lost with my childhood—
and I stopped, wounded by the wandering scent. 

**************************************************
Portglenone Forest (pic by Scott Peddie)

Portglenone Forest (pic by Scott Peddie)

And then I found my mind settling on some words of Scripture that put all of that into what could be described as its ‘Cosmic Context’. Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, writes so movingly in Chapter 1, verses 16-17:

‘For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together’.

Portglenone Forest (pic by Scott Peddie)

Portglenone Forest (pic by Scott Peddie)

“I liked the solitude and the silence of the woods and the hills. I felt there the sense of a presence, something undefined and mysterious, which was reflected in the faces of the flowers and the movements of birds and animals, in the sunlight falling through the leaves and in the sound of running water, in the wind blowing on the hills and the wide expanse of earth and sky”.

Bede Griffiths

Portglenone Forest, Co. Antrim

Portglenone Forest, Co. Antrim