Friday, February 10, 2006


i've spoken (or written as the case may be) a great deal about contemplation of late as i have/am put/putting together a workshop on contemplation and poetry.

one of merton's stern warnings is to those who read the mystical literature and wall themselves off from criticism under the guise that their occupation is heavenly and therefore beyond criticism.

these words cause me to tremble. for i have adopted this name contemplative, and the more i read, the more i come to understand how contemplative what i do is. yet, how do i keep from this perilous territory of walling out criticism by invoking something so untouchable as contemplation?

i do not know. but i have lived my life in openness and honesty before my friends. and there are at least five women, who at this moment know my greatest struggles and deepest fears. many others can take an educated guess after reading anything i write.

accessibility and lack of boundaries have become double edges of the same sword which skewers my heart. i must remember what nouwen says, i am the keeper of the drawbridge to my life and i must not yield that position to anyone. i do a good job usually, keeping what i presume to be the bad people out. but what about when fights break out in the marketplace among the good people? who do i toss out then?

priorities. my sister asked me recently,
what are your priorities?
i said,
i don't even know anymore. everything i thought i knew is gone. just look at my house, it's a wreck.
i heard or read somewhere a line which said, a cluttered room reveals a cluttered mind. (thanks to the author who laid that heavy load on me, like i didn't have enough condemnation of my own to contend with you had to lay a few savory morsels on me to eat away at me from the inside. that's some good writing, the kind that really sticks you).

my sister went on to say,
your house is a fluctuating thing, but priorities are priorities.

and i was speechless. i don't know anymore.

i've come to the place where i have to redefine everything. the things i thought i once knew, the tenuous grasp on understanding i once rested so solidly upon has evaporated from my clenched fist and i am left with nothing. no thing. but uncertainty.

it's not all bad. i expect nothing. i live momentarily (that is not the right use of that word but i like it very much, sometimes words have to come out of their comfortable habitations, like me, and take a new turn, cover new ground).

i trust my friends and family to keep me tethered to ... not even sure what to put there.

God? i could not be untethered from Him.

truth? they are not the final determiners of truth in my life, that's God's job.

community? they could no more keep me there than i could them.

there really is no word that is adequate. but they understand. you understand, i'm sure.

merton talks about breakthroughs in contemplative life coming "perilously close to mental breakdown" and the comtemplative life not so much a "profession of vision" as a profession of crisis and intellectual suffering. these words comfort me in ways you cannot imagine.

am i contemplative then because i'm out there and can find no better justification for my erratic and sometimes bewildering behaviour? or am i a contemplative because it is who God called me to be from the foundations of the earth? is it my personal charism or delusion?

i do not know the answers to those questions. it is not for me to decide.
it is for me to trust that as i follow the One i know to be my Shepherd, He will lead me in paths of righteousness (though they may not appear to be such to me or lookers on).

1 comment:

Deborah said...

On staying tethered. I used to do "freeform" contemplation, of the kind talked about in The Cloud of Unknowing. Maybe what Merton talks about.

But now, I stay tethered by the Creeds. And I check what comes up against Scripture and the Apostolic faith.

Choosing to believe the faith handed down from the eyewitnesses of Jesus' glory instead of letting myself float cuts out a LOT of mental chatter and distraction.

Another way of staying tethered is to make sure one stays conscious of one's body in th present moment.

That is still a big trick, but I'm sure as a poet you know that is essential. Being present. In the Presence.

I have a tendency for my mind to get so caught up in imagination, conversations in my head, things I might like to write, that I drive on automatic pilot, I put things in the wrong place.

I need to practice more contemplation, but tethered contemplation to say in the present in the Presence.

Another thing I love for that is doing the Rosary.