THOUGHTS IN SOLITUDE BY DAN PHILLIPS WHILE STUDYING
June 23, 1998 (Tuesday) - The Pieces of the Puzzle
I have missed these pages. My lack of writing describes the tale. Two months of tragedy, difficulties beyond compare, a "season when the winds gather against one" might describe it best. Certainly not a time to read "Merton." Just a time to skim for brief moments.
But, thankfully, Merton does arrive from beneath the seas at appropriate times. Yesterday, I received The Merton Seasonal, topped by a quote from Robert Giroux at the dedication of the Merton Center at Bellarmine College last October. A quote related to his original publishing of Seven Storey Mountain. "Why do I tell you this story? Because it is the reason we are here today." And that is the reason I write, or try to write!
Another card arrived yesterday. It says, "Greetings from Gethsemani! Your retreat time, July 13, is near and we have reserved your room as requested." Signed Father Alan- Guestmaster. Does anyone have any idea how long I have planned this visit? For at least 15 years. I am hoping I can make it! In fact, praying that I can make it and that it will be a time of retreat and renewal in a special place. I would ask your prayers on my behalf for this special time.
E-mail Brother Dan (dphillip.edge.net)
May 9, 1998 (Saturday)
As editor of the Thomas Merton Site I often receive requests that are very important. This week I received the following:
I am trying to find a lost uncle that may have joined a monastery in the late 1980's. He's been missing from the family for over ten years, and used to be a reverend in Hawaii from 1962 to 1974. I do know that right before he disappeared he was reading a book by Thomas Merton on monastery life, and was wondering if you knew of the monastery that Thomas Merton was at before he passed - I believe it was somewhere in California.
I'd like to contact them to see if they know anything about my uncle, whose name is Thomas Kazuo Kunichika. If you have any ideas about trying to track down my uncle if he is in a monastery, I'd certainly like your thoughts.
Is anyone able to help her? Reading Thomas Merton as he disappeared. Sounds like many of us!
April 29, 1998 (Wednesday)
On April 17-18 I led a retreat for several friends at the Rock Island State Park in Rock Island, TN. It was a wonderful time. We used writings by Merton, Frederich Buechner, and Kathleen Norris. It rained the whole weekend and we laughed about the Rain and the Rhinocerous. We learned to appreciate rain as Merton did. There has been little time for solitude since the retreat. I preached Sunday Night (Apr.26th) on the topic "When God works miracles in our lives.!" How we all need a time like that. The main question is, "What hinders you from being what God wants you to be?" A good question to think about.
April 15, 1998 (Wednesday) A Ministers Need
On August 18, 1959, Merton asks a question, "What do I need?" His answer is leisure, time to think, or a journey to a primitive place. Then he writes, "Seriously, I need silence, thought, solitude, to enter into myself to see and touch reality, to live the contemplative life."
I have hardly any time to even question his thought. "What do you need Dan, or Jim, or Betty?" The question seems a fiction today. The last two weeks have been filled with death. A lovely lady in our church fell over dead. Earlier, a little over a month ago, she said to me while she was in an intensive care room in a hospital as I was about to leave, "Brother Dan, I want you to know that I appreciate you!" How tender her words were to me, and meaningful! Now she is gone......
But these two weeks it has been like that. Five days later an older man's wife died. He too was my friend and we sat alone by her casket in the funeral home. Last Saturday night I sat by a dear older lady and her husband about to die. He died two days later and today I am going to his funeral. And on Monday the phone rings and there is a suicide in Texas. And I am called again to go to sit by a woman, whom I have preached her husbands funeral only 6 short months ago, and tell her that her only son is dead of a suicide. The weeping of eternity does not compare to that moment. Two weeks of death. Four friends. All of them I knew.
Sometimes the ministry is the loneliest place in the world. What do I need? Solitude -- so hard to come by when all one does is run from one funeral home to another. Silence-- the phone began its ringing at 5:40 a.m. this morning and will continue through the day. Strength -- How I need this as I sit by a grieving widow today while her husband of 52 years is buried.
What do you need? Think about that! April 2, 1998 (thursday)
What a delightful day. Sunny. 70+ degrees. This morning I walked two miles in Pinkerton Park and had a mini-retreat. Spent time in silence, then read some from Merton's Turning Toward the World. His April 2, 1961, entry was interesting: "Fr. Sylvanus was in town to the doctor and brouht back a newspaper story about a man in the Ky. mountains, a former coal miner, who for 13 years has been living as a hermit, with a dog, in a pitiful little shack without even a chimney and with an old car seat for a bed. (Because of all those wars.) A real desert father, and probably not too sure why." It reminded me of years past when I played taps for dead coal miners in East Tennesee. And, of course, the hermit I once met in Alabama. (see hermits)
Also read this morning from Kathleen Norris new book, Amazing Grace. Another winner!
Planned my next retreat. A Developing Your Spiritual Life retreat for May 9, 1998, in Franklin. For further details see Mertonretreats.
March 25, 1998 (Wednesday)
Yesterday was an absolutely stunning day in the Lord. Was enticed by a reading from Merton's Journal: "On my 46 th birthday they put an ape into space. In factthey shot him to far. But they recovered him alive. He flew through "space" at some fabulous rate of speed, pressing buttons and pulling levers, signalling with faultless regularity, as he had been trained to do. They picked him up out of the Atlantic and he shook hands with the Navy." What a delightful reading before sleep. This was from Feb.3, 1961 (Turning Towards the World)
Went last night to Christ Church Cathedral to an hour long Centering Prayer session. The 20 minutes of silent prayer was exceptionally meaningful.
When I got home the local Barnes and Noble had called to tell me my copy of the NEW BOOK by Kathleen Norris, Amazing Grace, was in. I will look forward to getting that tommorrow.
By the way, I had Robert Harrell's website related to the Cloud of Unknowing is worthy of checking out. Robert is a student at the University of Florida
Going to New Orleans with wife and daughter for a couple of days. Looking forward to it.
March 18, 1998 (Wednesday)
I have been sick a week with a cold. Some better today, although coughing kept me awake a little last night.
When I am sick I seem to read more. For the last couple of days I have been reading from Merton's
Turning Toward the World Journal(1960-1963). I am always amazed at how I identify with certain anti-religious sentiments of Father Louis. He says, I am among "those few who will always personally prefer silent and meditative prayer to anything else, even while respecting the liturgy and granting it all its rights.......solitary contemplative prayer is to me the source of the greatest joy and hope and strength, and I like it." (Dec.19, 1960). He always seems to be going against the grain. Private prayer over liturgy? You must be kidding, hi!
When all the great (?) preachers of my denomination get together, the superstars of our religion get on the platform and give their sugar sermons. It makes me want to gag! Is this what religion is suppose to be? I am the person who always votes for the "pastor who has never said a prayer at the associational meeting," rather than the high profile minister with 2000 baptisms last year. The Merton flaw has me to. Somehow I think Jesus would understand.
Merton continues, "I deliberately avoided the carol singing in the library, though at moments I was tempted to give in and "please" the community people......I have got to cling to some principles somewhere. My principles are principles of solitude, and God knows I am weak enough with any principle, even the kind I like." Janet's Aunt died yesterday. We will go to Monterey, TN tommorrow for the funeral. A neighbor called last night. His wife is in the nursing home where my Mom is and is being fed by a feeding tube. I will go check on Mother and Pauline (what a wonderful lady she was) after I check my e-mail. How time changes from Merton's time to ours!
March 11, 1998 (Wednesday)
I have just completed reading Dr. Daggy's essay, Question and Revelation: Thomas Merton's Recovery of the Ground of Birth. It is incredible! He gives much information about the early days of Thomas Merton, his relationship to his father, and new information that surfaced over a decade after Thomas Merton's death. A worthy read!
February 24, 1998 (Tuesday)
An absolutely fabulous day in the Lord. First, I received a surprise package. For the last few weeks I have been e-mailing Brother Patrick McFadden in Savannah, Georgia. He has been concerned about how little I know about catholicism and has been trying to enlighten me. Yesterday, he sent me a Breviary with some tips on using it. That has been a wonderful experience. How important that is - to have the right book hi! He also sent Rilke's Litury of the Hours book of poetry. I shall enjoy both of these books. Thanks Patrick a million. I would not have know even where to look for such a book.
This morning received an e-mail from Bro. Richard Oliver, webmaster for some of the best Cistercian sites on the web. He has included the Merton Site in the Cistercian-Index. He is also the webmaster of The Order of Saint Benedict, another wonderful site. Both are worth checking out. Thanks Brother Richard.
February 18, 1998 (Wednesday)
Wow! Found a terrific new Merton reference source on the web. Under Resources for Catholic Educators on the Net is a terrific section on Thomas Merton. Check it out!
February 10, 1998 (Tuesday)
I am rereading The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris. What a wonderful way to begin the day. One chapter a day does the trick. Wow!
Concerning the Thomas Merton Retreat!
Dear Thomas Merton: (
The retreat went well. Eleven persons were present. They were quite a diverse group. Only one of the 11 was catholic. All age groups from age 20 to 70 were represented. Many expressed a renewed interest in your works. Several of the retreatants bought several new Merton books after returning home. Some of the quotes of the participants include: "My overall impression was tremendous," "I was very impressed with it," and "I got my money's worth."
THE PROBLEM! After leading the Friday evening session, I went to bed only to be hit by a tremendous pain in my lower back. I spent the next two nights - and the rest of the retreat - in a local hospital with a kidney stone! Thanksfully, Brother Burns completed the rest of the retreat and received high marks. But I really hated missing most of it, or did I miss it?
For Tom, I did learn a few things:
(1) Prayer does make a difference. Prayers for the retreat were received from around the world. "I will keep you all in my prayers, that your retreat may be blessed by God through the spirit of Tom Merton. Enjoy! (Peter Richardson, United Kingdom), and "I wish you a wonderful retreat this weekend-- you'll be in my thoughts and prayers. (Theresa Sandok- Merton Center, Bellarmine College).
(2) God's work goes on in spite of us. . In spite of being suddenly laid up in a hospital, the prayers continued, the work continued, the message of God goes on. There is a comfort in that. And a humility!
I am sure another retreat will be planned soon. Thank you for your prayers!
January 21, 1998 (Wednesday)
Everything is on track for the Merton Retreat in Franklin, TN on Friday Night. So far 12 have registered and we will be having participants from Ohio, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Mississippi.
Also people from all over the world will be praying for this retreat. Peter Richardson in the United Kingdom writes, "I will keep you all in my prayers, that your retreat may be blessed by God through the spirit of Tom Merton." Theresa Sandok, head of the Merton Center in Louisville writes, "I wish you a wonderful retreat this weekend - you'll be in my thoughts and prayers."
And we received a special greeting from Abbot John Eudes Bamberger, Merton's friend and now Abbot at Genessee Monastery, "Prayers and blessings to all who are participating in the Merton Retreat this coming week-end. I think that Merton would be very gratified to know that the electronic media are being put to the service of the message that he sought to communicate to people concerning prayers as the way to union with Christ. May this be the first of many future such meetings and may God's grace be with you all."
So, we are looking forward to the retreat. Next time, I will let everyone know how it turned out. Please continue your prayers for the retreat.
January 21, 1998 (Wednesday)
This has been an exciting time, this getting ready for the Merton Retreat next weekend. The Lord seems to be pulling the people he wishes to attend to register. We have a couple of students, a video producer, a minister, an account executive, and a military person. Still room for a couple of more. Call 1-615-790-7129 or e-mail me.
In preparing for this, I have been drawn back to Esther de Waal's book A Seven Day Journey With Thomas Merton. Some of Merton's words have been especially meaningful:
"We have to remember that we look for solitude in order to grow there in love for God and in love for others. We do not go into the desert to escape people but to learn how to find them; we do not leave them in order to have nothing more to do with them, but to find out the way to do them the most good. But this is always only a secondary end. The one end that includes all others is the love of God."
While re-reading my notes, I found a conversation I had in 1983 with Raymond Bailey, author of "Thomas Merton on Mysticism." He was describing his selection as Director of the Thomas Merton Studies Center in the early 80s. (He was a surprising choice since he - like me - is a Southern Baptist minister). Bailey said, "Everybody thought they knew Merton but they didn't. He was everything to everyone." When I was being interviewed for the Merton job I said, "But I didn't know Merton." They said, "That's to your advantage."
And to us, more than a decade later, we are still discovering aspects of Merton that are new. It is as if the image of "Thomas Merton" is renewed in each of us.
January 17, 1998 (Saturday)
Got a wonderful note this week from Jakob Holtze Johansen. He writes:
"I hereby wish to thank you for having such a nice web-site on Thomas Merton, and especially for shring your own reflections in "More thoughts in solitude" - it was really nice to discover that I'm not the only one who is striken with "mertonidus".
I am 19-year old convert to catholicism, and Merton played an important role in my conversion, and in shaping my understanding of what Christianity, life, vocation etc.is all about. Since finding books and articles about Merton is quite difficult here in Denmark, it's been fantastic to get on the internet, where there is SO much good stuff. Well, I'll be back on your web-site. Thanks !"
It is amazing to me the world wide interest in Merton! Great!
January 10, 1998 (Saturday)
I am really getting excited about the Merton Retreat. So far we have 7 registered with 4 more tenative. It looks like the weekend of January 30-31, 1998 will really be exciting with a full crowd. Of course there could be cancellations.
Have continued my reading in his last three journals. I have one journal at work and two at home. I find it very refreshing just to pick up a journal and read a page or two, be reflective and meditative, and put it back down. This method brings a memorable experience to me.
November 24, 1997 (Monday)
I begin this web page with a sense of wonder and surprise. For some reason (I don't know why) my hits to the Thomas Merton Site has increased four-fold in the past week. One day I got 164 hits which is amazing, and from these hits come questions about Merton and requests for prayers and help. This Journal will be a response to this need of mine to share my own thoughts about Merton.
November 21, 1997 (Friday)
I have sinned again. I went to St. Mary's bookstore and bought Learning to Love by Thomas Merton. I was so short on money I asked the lady, "Do you give ministers a discount." "Sure," she said. It saved me ten per cent on the thirty dollar bill. Every bit helps.
But - the sin! Typical for those of us who suffer from "Mertonidus." This is a disease of obsession surrounding the writing of Thomas Merton. The obsession to read anything and everything written about him or by him.
Forgive me, Father!
November 20, 1997 (Thursday)
After talking with Wayne Burns last night, we decided on doing a Merton Retreat in Franklin, TN. on January 31, 1997. He also shared with me that he had completed the latest two journals by Merton. I realized I was behind him in that and went and bought Turning Toward the World on Thursday.
Of particular interest to me was a visit from Douglas Steere to Gethsemane on February 5, 1962. Merton said of Steere, "I liked them (his wife and himself) both and she especially struck me as a very spiritual person and a very typical Quaker, or what one imagines to be so. Very simple, direct, earnest, completely good."
It reminded me that Douglas Steere was one, if not the, most remarkable man I have ever met. He led a retreat at Penuel Ridge Retreat Center near Ashland City, Tennessee, on November 22, 1986.
At that retreat, he read selected sections of his book Gleanings and gave a brief overview of God's Divine Guidance in his life. Most of the retreat was in silence. It would be what I would call a "gathered meeting" from the Quaker tradition.
I genuinely felt after it was over that I had truly been in the presence of a saint. Steere autographied my book, Thomas Merton Contemplative Prayer, in which he wrote the introduction, with these words: "In fellowship. Douglas V. Steere, 22 Nov.-86."It was one of the most memorable days of my life.
November 18, 1997 (Tuesday)
"The more time we spend in silence, the more we can begin to savor the varying qualities and nuances that silence has." "Oh Lord, that I might have a kindled heart."
November 17, 1997 (Monday)
A person who read these pages writes and says, "I'm going through a dark period." I shall pray for my new friend. We have all gone through such times.
October 10, 1997 (Bellarmine College)
Wayne Burns and I left Franklin, TN before dawn and went to Bellarmine College for the dedication of the new Thomas Merton Center. The highlights included the dedication at 4:30 pm. Robert Giroux's message was especially pertinent to me. He shared how he published Merton's first book with tears in his eyes. And it hit me that without Robert Giroux no one would ever have heard of Thomas Merton. There will always be the need for Andrew's in the world who bring their brother to Jesus.
A second event, perhaps more surprising, was that Brother Burns kept having people come up to him and saying, "Father, we are looking forward to your speech tonight." Wayne became so unsettled by this that he left the room. Even Brother Paul from Gethsemane was glad to see him after so many years. It was a puzzling event, UNTIL the main speaker, Canon A.M. Allchin, the featured speaker for the evening arrived. Believe it or not, Canon Allchin and Brother Burns look like twins, separated by a few years. Don't you agree?
To me Canon Allchin's speech emphasized how he was brought to the United States by a former Dr. Dale Moody, a former professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Moody was a great scholar and a man of God, but Southern Baptist could not appreciate him and like so many Southern Baptist ended up ostracized from his own denomination.
We got home about midnight. A wonderful day.!
June 12-15, 1997 (Mobile, Alabama)
As an overview of the meeting in Mobile, I would say that more than anything else I feel I can "hear Merton better." Being with people who knew him causes me to understand him better. For me the highlight was the speech my Anthony Padovano called Rain and Grace. He was kind enough to allow me to print it on my web page.
MAY 26, 1997 (Monday)
On Saturday Wayne and Kay Burns came to visit. They were with me when I visited Gethsemane last October. (It was Wayne who told me of the Rooster Run Hat. He is on the left in the photograph). Wayne shares my love of Merton and we often spend hours dissecting our thoughts and discussing Merton.
In the late 60s while Wayne was a student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Glenn Hinson took his class to Gethsemane. No doubt it was to see Merton. For years Wayne has been searching for pictures he took of the trip in hopes of finding a picture of Merton. He has been unsuccessful so far.
Several days ago someone wrote me concerning other Southern Seminary students who went to see Merton in those days. One of them supposedly said to Merton, "Brother Merton, why would a man of such superior intelligence as you waste his time in such a wasted place as this?" To which Merton replied, "God called me here." I am amazed sometimes at our supposed superior intelligence hi!
On Saturday we downloaded the schedule for the International Thomas Merton Society Meeting in Mobile. I was amazed at how many different workshops had been added since the last time I downloaded it. When I saw how full the days were, and that sometimes 3 or more workshops were going on continuously, I thought of Merton perhaps looking down and saying, "30 minutes a day for Meditation isn't enough." I thought of how he would have probably thought of how ridiculous it was for us to spend this much time in workshops.
Before Wayne left to return to Phenix City, Alabama, where he lives, he bought a copy of The Genessee Diary by Henri Nouwen. He had worn out my copy while here.
Today I have begun reading Esther de Waal's A Seven Day Journey with Thomas Merton. It seems like a good starting point for the journey.
MAY 27, 1997 (Monday)
In reading Waal I remember the importance of the Psalms to Merton. "It was a question of savouring and absorbing the meaning of the psalms in the depths of one's heart ' he once said, 'repeating the words slowly, thoughtfully, prayerfully in the deepest center of one's being so that the psalms gradually come to be a intimate and personal as one's own reflections and feelings." (p.16)
Her prayer before beginning her journey echos my own desire in my own Merton journey. "My prayer is that I may approach this time with open heart, with open mind, with open eyes and that through it I may become more deeply aware of God's presence in my life." (p19) Her quote of Merton's last words are also meaningful. "What we are asked to do at present is not so much to speak of Christ as to let Him live in us so that people may find Him by feeling how He lives in us."
(p.29) I get delightful e-mail from many persons who read my web pages. Most of the time I do not have an answer for them. I do appreciate their thoughts. Here is an e-mail received today from Loretta Ross-Gotta:
I am looking for information about the woman Merton had a relationship with.In Mott's biography of Merton she is referred to as S. What has been written about her and this relationship beyond Mott's references and Merton's own references in his journals?I wish I knew the answer! Again I don't know the answer. Who is the authority on this subject?
I appreciate your site. Looks like you are doing good work.
MAY 28, 1997 (Monday)
After putting yesterday's Daily Journal on the web, I picked up Merton's "A Search For Solitude." I had the distinct teeling he was smiling directly at me and saying, "Boy would I have loved a web site!"
There was also the feeling that the picture was an indicator of a journey we are taking together. His mischievous grin tells me he is really getting a big kick out of all of this.
MAY 29, 1997 (Monday)
I have been reading Nouwen's Contemplative Critic. In it he shares many of the influences on Merton's life. Everyone from Robert Lax to Chuang Tzu. It has made me think of some those who have influenced me besides Merton: Freddie Buechner, Douglas Steere, and Richard Foster.
But something far great has begun to disturb me as I consider these influences. My favorite Buechner book is called The Alphabet of Grace. I have carried it with me many places, but in the last week I have misplaced it -- or is LOST IT a more effective term.
But it is not all I have lost. I have misplaced a favorite radio and my binoculars. And each day I struggle more to keep up from misplacement! You must also know that I am 53 years of age. Not far from the age when Merton died.
"Why is that important," you ask. That is certainly a valid enough question. The reason is that it may have something to do with Merton's death. His death has always perplexed me. To die of electrocution in Thailand seems a bit farfetched doesn't it? And I have heard the erroneous speculation surrounding his death. "Oh, the catholic church had him killed because of his relationship with a woman . They were afraid he was going to marry her and leave the monastery."
But this memory problem of mine may explain the electrocution. If Merton had become as absentminded as me, he could have accidently electrocuted himself. He is in a strange city, a different room with which he was unfamiliar, and he was excited about being an influence on the persons at the conference. To misplace a book, or accidently get electrocuted could be the same thing. Do you get my point? Anyway, it is something to consider. Now if I could just find that book.
Send any comments about More Thoughts In Solitude to Dan K. Phillips
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