I was not going to blog from St. Scholastica Monastery in beautiful Fort Smith, Ark, while on retreat here this weekend and look what I’m doing and oh well, I blow where the Spirit blows me and besides—-I see this blog as an extension of my ministry as one called by God to the ordained life and ordained ministers called by God are never not doing ministry, so I have to blog because I see this blog as a way to share the good news of Jesus Christ, as a way to help people who put God into narrow boxes understand that God can’t be confined to a small box (or a narrow mind or narrow-minded theology), as a way to keep my own head and mind and body and spirit focused on God and the magnificent Mystery that God is in God’s love, grace, peace and joy and joy, incidentally, is just another word for jitterbugging, which is a joyously way to dance and have fun with God, who ain’t no stuffy God, yaw.
I also blog because for me it’s just fun and, frankly, therapeutical. It’s where I let my child out to play.
Besides, I’m a natural born writer and natural born writers gotta write and express themselves and so here I am, with some random thoughts for you:
– I love coming to St. Scholastica Monastery because it’s of the Benedictine Order and the Benedictine faith tradition is all about radical hospitality and believe you me, you get that old Benedictine radical love and hospitality from the Sisters here.
And the food’s good.
Personally, one reason I love it here is because they have so many wonderful spiritual directors–the most renowned being Sister Macrina, who leads retreats all over the country and who writes wonderful spiritual books filled with wonderful essays and her wonderful poetry.
I’m here this particular weekend for a retreat being led by Paul D’Arcy, an amazing woman whose husband and child were killed in 1972 when she was pregnant. She is a renowned writer herself of many fine books about grief and how to deal with it and transform it for healing. She also wrote a play in which she acts. Multitalented woman, a very nice and very grace-filled. She has dedicated her entire life since those huge losses all those years ago to helping people cope with grief and to transform it for the goodness of healing and restoration and life and the life more abundant of which Jesus came to give us.
I’ll be sharing what Paula shares with me and the others of us on retreat the next few days.
Her retreat will get into full swing tonight when more retreatees (is that a word? I dunno but I like it) come in from all over the place, including an ordained Baptist minister I met the last time I was here for a silent retreat back, I think, in January or February. I just remember it was very cold walking around the beautiful, sprawling, hilly, shady monastery grounds back then, and cold is not a problem today outside the monastery walls, believe me. It’s almost Texas hot. But only almost.
Sister Macrina is here this weekend, just back from the mountains where her friend Paula and a number of their friends spent some time celebrating Macrina’s 70th birthday this week.
Macrina is 70 going on 40 and I’d love to have about one half of her joy-filled energy.
—- I’ve ventured out into great Fort Smith some since arriving last night and really have seen in for the first time since I’m usually confined to the monastery and it’s acreage when I’m here but I have to say that Fort Smith is a very, very nice little city and beautiful and hilly and all Ozarky.
It also has one of the finest, most beautiful public libraries I’ve ever visited, and I always judge a town or city by its library. If the library is very nice and well stocked with plenty good books and materials of all kinds, you know you’re in a city that is progressive and civilized and has its priorities in order, or at least in balance.
A library is just as important, to my way of thinking, as good streets and city services and all those things a city provides.
Fort Smith also has beautiful parks, a huge mall, lots of really good restaurants, incredibly scenic views. It’s just a very likeable city.
No Hot Springs, mind you–it’s not a resort town, but sure looks like a place where you could find good quality of life and enough to do living here.
And that old Southern hospitality.
And a good hard rock station on the radio. (I know it’s only rock n roll but with Mick, I like it!)
– The monastery’s retreat center, incidentally, has that Merton Lounge and Library I mentioned in my blog last night when I was knocking around and pulling books off the shelf in the wee hours, being the night owl and insomniac that I am. (I am a vampire, only come out at night, hide the women and children, call Homeland Security, now you know.)
Jitterbugger’s know that Thomas Merton is my main man mystic and constant spiritual traveling companion and I don’t even have to bring his kazillion books he wrote, nor the kazillion books written about him and his amazing life, to the monastery. I can pull most any Merton book off the shelf in the Merton room here and sink into a recliner and all is right with the world.
— I also found a book in the Merton area last night titled “Meister Eckhart, from whom God hid Nothing: Sermons, Writings and Sayings.”
It’s a nice little primer on Meister Eckhart who was the German Domican priest whose preaching in Medieval times was immensely popular in his own time and remains popular still, especially among those interested in mysticism, as I obviously am, and in contemplative spiritual disciplines–as I obviously am, being as I’m at a Catholic monastery as we speak.
The Meister (Master) can be hard to slug through–not always the easiest writer to read–but one finds nuggets in his stuff that can be quietly exciting to discover and read.
The same, for that matter, could be said of Thomas Merton. I’ve read whole books and many of those journals of Merton’s, or tried to, in which I haven’t a clue what he’s talking about. Or, it’s taken multiple readings to get him in some book or another.
But Merton was a genuine mystic and wrote very clearly on matters of war and peace (all about peace and an inspiration always to the peace protesters in the sixties, including Joan Baez, who visited him at the monastery in Kentucky and went swiming with him and her husband!), consumerism and materialism and spirituality and justice and civil rights. He also wrote about Buddhism, and was on a pilgrimmage meeting the great Buddhist leaders of the world–including his good friend the Dalai Lhama, by the way–when he was electrocuted in a freak accident when he stepped out of a bath tub.
Merton is best known for his incredibly great spiritual autobiography–Seven Story Mountain a book that, oddly, many atheists and agnostics who claim to be spiritual find to be one of their favorite books. Many of my own nonbelieving friends have told me as much, that Merton made them see God and Christianity in more forgiving lights, or more understanding and tolerant ways. Such is the power and magic of Merton’s writing, that he could pull anybody in, the most devout Christian or Buddhist or Jew or anybody else, along with the nonbelievers.
Seven Story Mountain, however, was written when Merton was very young–not long after he’d given up the wild Bohemian life and his jazzy lifestyle with all the Columbia University intellectuals and hipsters and found his way into a Catholic Church in Manhattan and surrendered himself wholly and entirely to God, so much so that he was a monk living in a monastery in Kentucky in short order, and lived there till his death in the late sixties.
Seven Story is a great read, a story powerfully written and rendered, but always remember it was early Merton in early monkhood.
He grew, and grew, and grew, and grew, and like all of his, grew into something entirely different from the Thomas Merton who wrote the global bestseller Seven Story in the forties. He said himself in his journals that while he stood by everything he wrote in it, he was no longer that kid who wrote that bestseller.
At any rate, it made him famous, and it ensured that people read him and everything he churned out for the duration of his fifty-something years of life on earth, and his books are still bestsellers.
I tell people that a good introduction to Merton is always one of the many collections of nuggets, a book like Seeds or one of those compilations of his writing and thought.
But if one wants to know Merton and find one’s spiritual life deepened and renewed and refreshed by Merton, just go to a bookstore and pull some stuff off the shelf and browse awhile. He’ll have something in some book that will speak to you.
And as you many Anne Lamott fans know—Anne Lamott discovered the power of Thomas Merton’s life and writings and was never the same herself.
Merton is a very masculine writer–I think one thing I like about him is that he speaks to me and my male psyche and he’s just the kind of guy that any guy would like to sit and drink beer with. (Merton liked his beer and liked his beer a lot, which isn’t to say he was a heavy drinker. He just loved beer and loved life and lived it with gusto.)
Enough already on Merton.
Meister Eckhert said, very famously:
“Man’s (sic) best chance of finding God is to look in the place where he left him. As it was with you when you last had him, let it be now while you have lost him–then you shall find him again.”
I think I left God at about age 18 when I went off to college and had such a large time in college—I’d like to experience college again sober.
But I never quite let God go from my life entirely even then, and even years and years and even years when I thought and claimed I didn’t believe in God. Many people who claim they don’t believe in God are obsessed with God and all things spiritual, as I always was, and when someone tells you they don’t believe in God, they very well might be telling you they just don’t understand God, and how God can allow suffering and all that.
But that famous quote from Meister Eckhert appeals to me because I found God right where I’d left him, back in a small town United Methodist Church.
I’m all about God and the saving grace of Christ—and all about my beloved United Methodist Church, and proud to be an ordained United Methodist Minister.
– Dave Matthews and the Band will be back on Dave Letterman tonight their second performance of the week on Dave.
Dave Matthews and DAve Letterman–it don’t get better than that.
Thank you, Sisters of St. Scholastica–for that teevee you have in the Merton Lounge & Library and while you’re all sleeping . . . . .