Monday Morning With Merton: Those Little Distractions

“Yesterday at the solemn profession of Fathers Felician and Meinrad a priest from Louisville preached to us about Adam…. It was a delightful sermon.  All about what a great contemplative Adam was, before the fall:  a subject that has always appealed to me.  The preacher cried out so melodiously and his sentences got so much higher and higher that I thought he would start rising and fly away obliquely into the vaulting of the transept…. 

At all these pontifical functions they have been playing some weird music on the organ.  It reminds me of the stuff you used to hear at the movies before the silent movies went out and the talkies came in.  Now I discover that it is the hymn that the faithful sing at Fatima.  Mother of God, why do you let these things happen?”


[Thomas Merton: The Sign of Jonas, pgs. 53-54, June 14, 1947]


34 thoughts on “Monday Morning With Merton: Those Little Distractions

  1. Interesting. But I’m not sure if the sermon was really about Adam as a contemplative or if the homilist was was being sarcastic. Would have been grand to hear it though as Merton seemed to have been captivated by it.

  2. ROFL! Merton often noted the difference between pomp and reverence. Indeed, we don’t find God up at the ceiling, but rather, down here in the grit and dust, confected of our own offerings via consecrated hearts and hands.

    I confess that I don’t see how one can say Adam was a contemplative, for Adam had no choice in that. It was only he and God around amidst the creations.. and Adam wasn’t even happy with that status quo! (Well, I wasn’t there, but I feel it in my ribs.) Until then, what would he contemplate other than His creator? And after Eve showed up, he contemplated other than God, or he’d have said, “Leave that Tree undisturbed!”

    As for why does the Mother of God allow goofy things? What Mother doesn’t?

  3. We’re at a disadvantage not knowing what was said but at least here we find Merton to be human as the rest of us, with likes and dislikes, things that irritated and things that amused – and that’s good for us!

  4. The moral of this story (on a more personal note): the next time I feel the urge to laugh, while sitting in church, I may just give in to it…. 🙂

    I am reminded of a story that Ronnie told me, about when he and one of his brothers were teenagers, and as they sat together in church, something in the sermon hit them both as (very) funny, at the same time….his brother’s lip began to quiver, ever so slightly, and he said that was all it took….that they were (completely) helpless, and both burst out laughing, at the same time (uncontrollably). 🙂

    Carol, I wish there were some way that I could tell you how your comments have struck me, and how I just can’t seem to wipe this silly grin off of my face now, after reading them! 🙂
    (“feeling it in your ribs”… truly clever!)

    I really appreciate your sharing this w/us today, Gabrielle. How did you know that I needed this bit of humor (and truth)? 🙂

    YES! God has placed in us (well, most of us anyway) a SENSE OF HUMOR!! 🙂 It must be a very small (but wonderful) reflection of His own… 🙂

  5. Well, I have never laughed during Mass (if it wasn’t decidedly hoped for), but I have issued an enormous, theatrical sigh whenever the homily or mission-talk strayed past 6 or 7 days, as I can only behave for 58 minutes, tops. I blame that on Adam. Just because.

    And I had all I could do to make myself NOT look in here in the middle of the night, G, to see if Merton had Monday-appeared yet. It’s like NOT peeking at Christmas presents, even tho’ you KNOW one of them is cologne and you have been out of it for weeks. Plus, I still recall my mom’s trauma from when I opened her closet door where her one scrimped-for present for me was stashed — an enormous bouncing/rocking horse.

    I didn’t even see it–I was looking for dress-up shoes!

    I think the Lord Himself has a wondrous sense of humour, not only because I’ve been given 4 kids, but there He the middle of a huge and important discourse to hundreds — literally, hundreds of people were hanging on his words in one jam-packed building — when suddenly someone begins to rip up the roof directly above Him. Can you not see Him just staring up there and smiling at the ingenuity of the man on the pallet’s 4 friends? 🙂 (“We said we’d get you IN there to see Him, Bill, and we meant it!”) It is a nice thought, isn’t it –that Jesus has a sense of humour..for eternity. I love that thought.

  6. Well I have to confess to laughing during Mass – but I was of school-age and subjects to bouts of infectious hysteria – the sort that only occurred in restricted spaces and during imposed/ expected silences.
    Kristin, I agree with all you say about CH’s resident comedienne, and I, too, would like to thank Gabrielle, for cheering us up on Mondays, for somehow Thomas Merton seems to lift our spirits even when he’s being serious.
    I’m glad that Merton’s Mondays are continuing – and I’m off to bed now thinking about the young C looking for the shoes and missing the rocking horse! God bless all.

  7. Cathy, no, I’m sure that really was the subject of the sermon, and I’d like to find any musings Merton may have had on that topic. The experience of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden before the Fall was truly one of Divine Union, of pure contemplation, where they walked and talked with God with no veil of “unremembering”, where they were in primordial innocence, where what they saw was reality with no confusion of false selves or the lies of Satan or the unreal that the evil one introduced. Our contemplative journey here is to reach the Transforming Union, to return to this state of innocence, where all our first impulses are good and God-oriented. From some sections I have read, I believe JPII went into this as well in the Theology of the Body.

    Carol, I’m not too sure that the priest was displaying pomp rather than reverence. Indeed it distracted Merton, but the priest may have been so focused on his topic (and the fact that he was even giving a homily on contemplation must have been a wonderful thing in and of itself – I know we rarely hear one) that he may have been being carried into an ecstatic experience… re the second part of your comment, perhaps I have touched on it in my response to Cathy?

    Ann, I love sharing some of the things that make me laugh when I read Merton. We need that every once in a while, don’t we, and he is so honest about his own and others’ foibles…

    Kristin, I must admit to many a painful laughing experience during Mass and/or funerals with sisters/best friends when I was younger. Part of it was our off-beat senses of humour, and the fact that they were so similar and that the same things would set us off certainly didn’t help! My poor mother; how many times she must have wanted to disown us! And I’m sorry, I completely forgot to tell you, but I know you said you would love to read some of Carol’s poetry, so just look in the sidebar and click on “A Kind of Hush”, and your wish will come true!

    C, one of these times I’ll put up a trick-Merton post which you’ll peek at and be shocked by, then I’ll delete it before morning! 🙂

    Ann – My mama and the nuns would probably have wanted to disown you too! Just my kind of gal… 😉

  8. G.. the same lady who didn’t see a rocking horse amid the small selection of size 5 1/2 wedgies also got her thumb stuck in a convertible sofa while it was vertical–and you know she is still in danger of walking into overhanging bay windows on the sidewalk. Yet you’d consider posting a trick-Merton to fool her?? *Gasp! What kind of Gabrielle ARE you?? My poor Guardian Angel has already long been doing the work of 3!!

    (Kristin, I left what I thought my better lines with another long ago, and only ever have had honesty to work with, not trained talent, but let’s hope to see others’ lines there, more and more!)

  9. I seem to recall something about breaking your foot with a toilet seat, too, C…but I don’t think you were laughing that time…

  10. C, what kind of Gabrielle am I? Alas, a lesser spirit…in a fallen world…surrounded by those whom I love to tease…part of it must be genetics. My old-sod maternal grandmother and great-grandmother used to love to tell the little ones Irish ghost stories right before bed. How wicked is that?

    Pia, just the memory of it must be very painful! (I too am rather a clutz, when not forcing myself to look graceful. The other day I dropped the pliers on my bare left foot, point downwards. Suffice to say the area is a beautiful hue now, a melange of blue, yellow, purple).

  11. I guess it was better for me not to have grown up with my old-sod grandmother after all, ’cause after even half an Irish bedtime tale, I’d have slept in her eyebrows forevermore.

    Well, actually, now I do recall bursting into laughter at a wake. It was for my beloved uncle-like-a-dad. All his WWII buddies had showed up for the evening viewing along with other friends in their 70s or so. They lined 3 walls of the room. My cousin Mike leaned in close to me and very seriously said, “Don’t be alarmed–I’ll figure a way out for us– but we seem to be surrounded by dinosaurs.”

    Aw, Ow, G.. what’re you doing with pliers and bare feet?

  12. Pia, Pia.. I’m trying to forget that! And sewing through my fingernail on the old Singer.. and blistering a thumb on an iced Pop-Tart. (Seriously, I could’ve ended up utterly litigious.) And I don’t suppose anyone else ever encountered an entire cherry pit in one of those 8,000-calorie glazed cherry pie thingies? Wait, did G say she TOO is rather a clutz? Hmm..

    I don’t know if we all feel the same way, but I truly look forward to Mondays now,for Merton is such a gift. Such a gift.

  13. I’m at work now and couldn’t help peeking how do I get this grin off my face? Especially since I took a good, hard look at the accompanying photos? Gab, is that flying priest along the lines of my flying friars, or was he perhaps drawn by Merton himself? Funny!

  14. I have not read any Merton except on this blog on Mondays. I think I will be adding him to my list of required reading. Good to have such a brilliant and spiritual person that is also so grounded.

    I immediately recognized the sketch of Joseph of Cupertino, the Flying Friar. He is also a wonderful demonstration of God’s sense of humor. which I’m sure that Joseph himself would admit.

    And, I have, on more than one occasion, been forced to leave church because of an uncontrollable fit of laughing. Oh that I could find such humor in things now as I found in my undisciplined youth. Nothing more satisfying than a good cry or a fit of laughing.

  15. My brothers once showed me their envelopes for Sunday offering, on which they had written “5 bucks” and “5 buckaroos”. Suffice to say they had to mop me up at the end of Mass.

    Actually, now that I think about it, I had a laughing fit in church just recently, but it was nice… During the prayer of the faithful Padre Paolo repeated the words “Do not be afraid”, which he had expounded on during the homily, as he looked towards me. At the same time I heard a child behind me and I instinctively turned around, both because of the noise and because I was thinking “who, me?”. When I turned back towards the altar, he was smiling and shaking his head “yes, I mean you”, and then he started laughing. At that point I was in more than embarrassed stitches.
    His message to me was very encouraging because he knew I was facing an important moment which I’d spoken to him about a couple of weeks before, (he didn’t know it had already passed). The fact that he directed those words to me made me feel happy, moved, incredibly high (like Norberto’s and Joseph’s flying friars). A very good feeling indeed. 🙂

    Terry, you will love Merton. I love one line in his “Conjectures of a guilty bystander” (from which the “point vierge” quote that Gab mentioned a while ago was taken): “Every time Kennedy sneezes or blows his nose, an article is read about it in the refectory”.

    Gab, I just finished re-reading Sign of Jonas and am in the middle of Conjectures…again. I guess you have gathered that Merton is my perferred summer reading!

  16. C, what was I doing barefoot with pliers? Being stupid; and limping!

    Pia, as Terry says, it is Joseph of Cupertino. I tried to find a levitating priest, but to no avail (and in real life too). 😉 I am very happy you received this “not so secret” but edifying personal reference during the homily. I have never received anything that anyone else would know about, but three times or so I personally knew there were specific things for me because of questions I had asked my dear pastor, and he knew that I knew, and I knew that he knew I had got the message loud and clear. Don’t mess up your brain trying to follow what I just said…and please, when you have time, could you tell us about the Merton book you found at Christmas?

    Terry, I’m pretty sure you have read Merton’s “Ascent to Truth”. Don’t ask me why I can remember things like that but not know what day of the week it is. And I’m so glad you have admitted that you actually were forced to leave the church on occasion. I was hoping someone else would say it first. 🙂

  17. You folks are brave! I’m afraid to read Merton. Actually, I’m afraid to read any holy soul more than one book’s worth over (apparently) a 20-year span. They not only make me want to come close to Heaven, they make me think I can. But like Tears in Heaven, I don’t belong there. For me, it is far more a matter of “just tell me how to get through each day without snubbing God like Gestas did.”

  18. Well Gab, I don’t think the others in church noticed him, because it was quite imperceptible, but they might have noticed a very flustered lady who couldn’t keep still, but maybe they will have attributed it to some kind of dance…like the one i just posted about.

    Dear Esmy, that’s a great song, though Eric Clapton wrote it for his 5 year old son who died in an accident (but I never thought to interpret it differently…neat!)
    And I do believe that asking for help in getting through our days without snubbing God will get us where we think we do not deserve to go. 🙂

  19. Hmm 🙂 True.. I’ll be thinking about that today. I may deserve to go one day, but not until after I truly lay it all down..

    Well, I interpret everything too differently, but anyway, that’s the great fun of music, no? With the general exceptions of rap and Scr-Emo (and a great deal of Eagles stuff), many songs about love can be applied to (or even from) God. I’m too lazy to make up my own to Him.

  20. It’s such a good (great/amazing/wonderful/awesome/powerful) thing that it is not about “deserving” (who could EVER be so good/perfect/sinless?)…it’s about His grace/forgiveness/reconciliation/mercy/love….which, once we realize it is meant for us (me!), we are hungry to receive it into ourselves. If it were up to us, and our “works”, or our careful adherenece to the law, we’d NEVER (ever) make it (in this life, or in the next). This is the Gospel truth, in its raw and basic form.

    Esmerelda – oh yes you do “belong” there! Not because you “deserve” it, but because YOU are a recepient of God’s love! (BTW, I had to smile when I read what you said about “interpreting everything too differently”….only MOMENTS ago, I made a simliar comment to Carol…that my own view on poetry, art and music, was that each was such a “personal experience”, as well as a “personal expression”, that I tried not to “compare” them, but just to accept them, and to experience them. You don’t strike me as “lazy”, just realistic and honest! 🙂

    While reading in the book of Acts, just yesterday morning, I was reminded of the basic truth of tje Gospel message, as found in Acts, Chapter 15: 7After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. 8God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? 11No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

    IT’S ALL ABOUT GRACE! Praise God! 🙂

  21. Esmy, in any case I have a funny feeling you won’t be going anywhere until you “lay down”…. for the last time… 🙂

    Hey, that’s a great song, too…I’d never heard of Melanie, would you believe that?, though I’m old enough to have heard of her. I have, however heard a couple of the songs in the video list next to the one you linked to, so maybe I just forgot…

  22. I remember Melanie from my teenage years….so, it all depends on your “age-range”….if you are AS OLD as we (obviously) are!! 🙂

  23. Well, seeing as how it’s my blog, I thought I might join in on the fun; click my name.

    If hubby and I would just cut out this sort of thing, the house might actually be clean when the guests arrive…

    P.S.  I’ve always loved Melanie – all her songs.  What an amazing voice, and brings back such memories. 

  24. Here’s a trick: You should do this WHEN the guests arrive, so they’ll not stay TOO, too long… 🙂

    To Esmy from Quasi,

    I must admit I was having connection problems that day, so I didn’t see the whole video…I thought it was only “me” who sang of my pure love to Esmy, but then those two other guys got into the act… excuse-moi… 😦

  25. Alright, I need to know how Fred the Genius did that, ’cause I just tried it and wrecked the chandelier.

    Pia, it’s fine. 🙂 And I’m serious — even if one dances with a goat, one risks not only an innocent Quasi’s admiration, but also risks igniting an utter Herod of a Frollo, so it’s good that I just do the Chicken Dance, now.

    And I think Merton, while laughing at where this thread has gone, would’ve been distracted by our cantor at Mass today. Seriously, we need a moratorium on guys who sing everything at 33 1/3 speed. At the top of his lungs. Instead of lifting his arm to nudge us to join in, he points to the right, and I am beginning to see an invisible choir in nice robes. God bless him.

  26. What am I going to do with you two? Close the comments? 🙂
    Don’t you realize this is a very serious, contemplative blog???

    Ah well. Tomorrow’s another Monday. Hmmmmmmmmmm…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s