Conversations July 4 2010

Sunday, July 4, 2010

4 AM. Going to bed ever earlier, anticipating this exchange, and getting up earlier as well. I’ll lap the day if I’m not careful.

So we’re a long way before daylight, and the fruit stand is open early. Who and why?

Nothing. All right, let’s talk, papa. What is the rule, here? Sometimes I can scarcely get a word in and somebody’s off and running. Other times, as now, there’s a blankness, a waiting for me to decide what to broach.

Your question contains your answer. That is what’s going on, a gradual transfer of the initiative. And that’s worth a few words.

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Thomas Merton’s double birthday

December 10, 1941. Thomas Merton entered a monastery, putting an end to his previous life and beginning another that was to prove more fulfilling in many ways.

December 10, 1968. Thomas Merton was accidentally electrocuted. See previous sentence.

That makes today a double anniversary for one of the more interesting and creative men of the 20th century. He was an Englishmen who became an American, a hedonist atheist who became a monk, an intellectual who became a mystic, a Catholic who met the Dalai Lama as one monk to another.

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Thomas Merton on ambition

Thomas Merton was a Protestant before he became a Catholic, a very worldly writer and critic before he became a monk, an intellectual before he began to try to become something more profound than an intellectual.

His language does not speak to us, perhaps, couched as it is in words like God and sin. This is too bad, because he has profoundly important things to say to us in these final days of an old civilization and (one hopes!) the dawning days of a new one. The old civilization was rooted in individual ambition and competition; the new one will perhaps become rooted in a larger, higher kind of ambition of which, in this still benighted time, it is nearly useless to speak.

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