BookNotes: Thomas Merton & The Celts

Part 2 of the book notes

Celts, even before migrating to Gaul and the British Isles, highlight devotion to nature and a world inhabited by Spirits.

  • The Greeks called them “mysterious neighbors” who preferred living in natural environments rather than urban cities.
  • a sacredness to everyday place
  • a great sense of imagination
  • seasonal rhythms (Nov 1 = new year, Feb 1 = spring, time for planting)
  • God + humanity + earth = a trinity of social interaction
  • divine harmony — no split between matter and spirit
  • “this=ness” of each animal — glorifying God in the dogness of a dog
  • “this-ness” of hills, woods, grasses, waters
  • thin place = where the “this-ness” collapses and heaven and earth are 3 feet part.
    • groves of trees
    • stone walls
    • mountains
    • springs of water
    • island, peaks, cliffs, valleys
  • Rhythms of 3
    • shamrock — 3 leaves, yet 1 shamrock
    • 3 splashes/drops of water
    • love for neighbor, friend, and foe
    • “to save, to shield, to surround” the household
  • Celtic Knot
    • timeless nature
    • interlacing
    • spiritual and physical, birth and rebirth
    • closed path = eternity, ever-present love of God
    • the “zen” of doodles
  • Not creation entered, but creation filled: “Our vocation is not simply to be, but to work together with God in the creation of our own life, our own identity, and our our destiny.”
    • intelligence, not learning or education, to understand art
    • work against ugliness by resorting beauty.
    • Welsh poetry–a striking sense that God’s grace is present and at work now, evident in the diversity and richness of creation, and in the way in which apparent opposites belong together and are at one.
    • Creation and redemption are one. Together they are the outpouring of a loving God.

BookNotes: Thomas Merton & The Celts

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Thomas Merton and the Celts
A New World Opening Up
By Monica Weis

Part 1 of the book notes

Definition and areas of overlap:

  • desert saints
  • scripture
  • pilgrimage
  • poetry
  • place
  • nature

Imagination fosters a distinctive way of seeing:

  • here and there
  • natural and spiritual
  • embraces a unity of natural (here) and spiritual (there)
  • landscape reveals the many faces of God
  • the “everywhere” God
  • John S Eriugena (C815-877) — God created all out of his essence therefore the world is a theophany
  • God’s presence makes the world
  • Holy “now moment”

Main Character of Celtic spirituality:

  • doctrine of creation (essential goodness)
  • doctrine of redemption (Christ is love incarnate)
  • Trinitarian
  • Incarnation
  • Held with vigor and clarity –> Christ the Word

Anamhara — soul friend, guide, not a mentor

  • periglour

A Celt is a entholiguist tribal society (societies) in central Europe during the Iron Age that migrated to the British Isles, southern France, Iberian Peninsula, and northern Italy.

  • the value of place
  • the value of tribe
  • the value of people
  • (i.e.: It is the Welsh in me that counts, page 12)
  • (leads to environmental responsibility as we learn the value of place)

Eremitic vs  Centobitic Monasteries:

  • eremitic — hermit monasticism (like St. Antony, 251-356), prayer work, spiritual work, reading
  • cenobitic — community living, communal, charity, humility, obedience, full spiritual lives. Village model, creation centered.
  • In Wales (Scotland and Ireland) when a chieftain became Christian, often the whole tribe became monks and the village became a monastery of sorts.
    • see Skellig Michael, Bangor, Derry, Durrow, Kildare, Clonfekt, Kells, etc
    • Iona and Lindisfarne both set up as village models.\
  • Celtic monasticism focused on allegiance to Abbot contrasted with Roman monasticism which focused on allegiance to Pope.
  • Whitby was
    • bishop vs abbot
    • date of easter
    • baptism
    • ACCD to Esther de Waal– not cataclysmic but local, took a long time to trickle down to all areas of “Celtic lands”

**Merton’s focus is on formation not information **

Celtic pilgrim: holy and insatiable curiosity, simplicity, practicality, tremendous endurance

Celtic Monasticism:

  • gentle way of life
  • retreats
  • sanctity and sweetness of life
  • significance of soul-friend
  • 3 labors of the day
    • prayer
    • work
    • reading
  • poetry
    • immediacy of the moment
    • simplicity
    • integrity of the spiritual
    • life purified from materialism in simple communion with nature
  • pilgrimage
    • a different way of seeing
    • peregrination — setting off on foot or in a small boat without a goal or destination, to discover the place of one’s resurrection
    • journey metaphor is deeply embedded in the human experience
      • exodus
      • odyssey
      • aeneid
      • divine comedy
      • Canterbury tales
      • etc
    • trasana — the crossing place, the divide, the challenge, between the familiar and the unknown
    • ethnic sense of romance and the lore of an ancient wonder-adventure
    • Phases of
      • the longing
      • the call
      • the departure
      • the pilgrim’s way
      • the labyrinth
      • the arrival
      • the bringing back of a “boon”
      • the new self-knowledge
      • the transformed self
    • The Voyage of Brendan
      • all creation is holy and everything is sacred because it is the very outpouring of God’s love.

How does one live out of a transfigured center?

  • cycles of time that revolve around the church calendar (and nature’s cycles)
  • spiritual creativity
  • travel (= aesceticism and discipline)
  • reckoning (=constantly watching so you stay on course)
  • constant care of vessel
  • See hymn — Be Thou My Vision
  • If you are facing in the right direction, all you need to do is keep walking
  • The earth, paradise, because we know in our inmost hearts that the earth was given to us in order that we may find meaning, order, truth, and salvation in it.

 

BookNotes: The Way of the Heart

The Way of the Heart: The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers
by Henri Nouwen

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“Arsenius, flee from the world, be silent, pray always . . ”

Solitude — Silence — Prayer :: a summary of the spirituality of the desert.

Solitude:  

  • the furnace of transformation
  • Temptations that face
    • to be relevant
    • to be spectacular
    • to be powerful
  • The very first thing we need to do is set apart a time and place to be with God.

Silence:

  • Silence is the way to make solitude a reality.
  • Silence makes us pilgrims.
  • Silence guards the fire (Holy Spirit) within.
  • Silence teaches us to speak.
  • We speak a great deal, but what good does it really do.
  • “wordy unbelief”
  • A word with power comes out of silence. A word that bears fruit comes out of silence.
  • Divine silence in which love rests secure.
  •   . . .  how to keep them from being so busy that they can no longer hear the voice of God who speaks in silence.”

Prayer:

  • Pray always . . . solitude and silence are never separate from prayer. They create space for prayer.
  • Hesychia — the rest which flows from unceasing prayer.
  • Prayer isn’t just talking to God or thinking about God.
  • Hesychastic Prayer:
    • prayer of the heart
    • to descend with the mind into the heart and stand before the face of God
    • Heart = the source of all energies: impulses, feelings, mood, wishes, perception, understanding, will, plans, decision, PERSONALITY
  • Hide Nothing :: Surrender All
    • Happy are the pure in heart: they shall see God
  • Prayer — simple, unceasing, all-inclusive.