December 10 – Thomas Merton

From the Bible

Read Psalm 139:1-6

You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.

About Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton, known to the other monks as Father Louis, was born in 1915 in the south of France to a American mom (a Quaker) and Kiwi dad (a painter).  He was baptized as an Anglican. When Thomas was six years old his mother died of stomach cancer. He was sent to live in the US with his grandparents while his father, an artist, often travelled. As an early teen, he was reunited with his dad and was educated in Europe until his father passed when he was 16. After finishing school, Thomas was agnostic. In 1933, while in Italy, Thomas experienced a sense of spiritual emptiness, anxiety, and a hope that would lead to a dramatic conversion.

In 1938, while finishing up a M.A. in English (focus on William Blake), Thomas joined the Catholic church after experimenting with other forms of Christianity. He was rejected by the Fransicans and did not feel drawn to become a priest. In 1942, he was accepted as a novice monk at the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani in Kentucky.

His abbot directed Merton to write his autobiography, which became The Seven Storey Mountain. The book became an unlikely best-seller and is considered today to be one of the spiritual classics of the modern age.

Merton would go on to write poems, articles, essays, and more than 60 books, among them New Seeds of Contemplation, The Sign of Jonas, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, and No Man Is An Island.  In the latter decades of his life he became increasingly interested in Asian religions, particularly Buddhism.  His leadership helped spark Christian-Buddhist dialogue that continues to this day. Merton is an example of a devoted Christian who had dialogue with others respectfully and as a learner. He was particularly interested in Eastern ways of thinking and understanding of self. His conversations about these issues were largely with other monks, Christian and Buddhist as well as his superiors. His writing explored many of these concepts and process. His abby still receives revenues from his work. His work telling the stories of the Desert Fathers and Mothers has been inspirational and influential to many. His work has been translated into over 30 languages.

Merton died on this day in 1968 of an accidental electrocution while attending an interfaith conference of contemplative monks in Thailand at 53.

“You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.”

-Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

More: 

The Thomas Merton Center [link]

Director’s page for “Soul Searching,” a documentary about his life [link]

November 29 – Dorothy Day

From the Bible

Read Psalm 42:1-4

As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?

About Dorothy Day

Dorothy was born in Brooklyn Heights in 1897 to stable, Middle Class  and marginally Christian parents. As her family experienced several major relocations, Day was raised mostly in San Francisco and Chicago. After two years of college, Dorothy dropped out of school in Illinois and moved back to New York City. During these younger years, Dorothy’s interest in adventure grew to alternative social organization particularly socialist anarchism. She began working with several Socialist publications around 1916.

Although she had been baptized in the Episcopal church as a child, at this point she identified as agnostic. The next few years were full of adventure and rocky relationships including heartbreak, abortion, a  short marriage, and then an unexpected pregnancy and birth of her daughter, Tamar in 1926. She wished to baptize her child, which caused more tension in her relationship with Tamar’s father. A year later, Tamar was baptized and so was Dorothy, now part of the Catholic church.

In 1932 she met French immigrant Peter Maurin with whom a year later  she would found the Catholic Worker movement. The publication of The Catholic Worker (almost named the Catholic Radical) began in 1933 and continues to be published. It’s goals were to promote Catholic social teaching in the depths of the Great Depression and to stake out a neutral, pacifist position in the war-torn 1930s.  The vision grew to include” establishing houses of hospitality to care for the destitute, establishing rural farming communities to teach city dwellers agrarianism and encourage a movement back to the land, and setting up roundtable discussions in community centers in order to clarify thought and initiate action.”

She became famous for saying “I have long since come to believe that people never mean half of what they say, and that it is best to disregard their talk and judge only their actions.” By 1941 over 30 independent yet affiliated Catholic Worker communities had formed in the US, Canada, and the UK. While the Catholic leaders told her to change the name of the publication because it did not represent the Church, they refused. By the 1960s, Day became enamored by Catholics, organizers, and counterculture leaders. While maintaining radical social ideas and practice, she opposed the sexual revolution of the decade, describing the ill effects she had suffered years before. She continued to be critical of transnational companies like United Fruit and violent governmental policies and praised aspects of Communist movements in Russia, China, and Cuba.

Day was a prolific writer and joined movements for justice. At 75, she spent a week in jail helping Cesar Chavez working for justice for farm workers in California. Dorothy Day died on this day in 1980, three weeks after her 83rd birthday.

From Dorothy’s autobiography, written with Daniel Berrigan ““I have long since come to believe that people never mean half of what they say, and that it is best to disregard their talk and judge only their actions.”

More:

The Catholic Worker Movement homepage [link]

The Dorothy Day Collection [link]

November 27 – Thanksgiving Day

From the Bible 

Read Psalm 100:3-5

Know that the Lord is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.

About Thanksgiving Day

We find gratitude necessary for the spiritual journey every day. The government also gives us a federal holiday on the fourth Thursday of November to pause, give thanks, and eat. George Washington made the first proclamation of Thanksgiving Day in 1789. It was celebrated on various dates from state to state until Abraham Lincoln synced them in 1863. Canada, as well as several other nations have a holiday to give thanks around the traditional time of the harvest on different days.

The United States’ version of the holiday includes a unique mythology providing the central imagery for the festivities which include parades and feasts of traditional foods, usually shared among relatives. The central narrative is a re-telling of a poorly documented account of the events around 1621 and a treaty between the Wampanoag tribe and the Pilgrims of Plymouth colony involving thanks, friendship, and food. The development of Black Friday and expansion to the weekend has also moved backward. Many “Black Friday” sales this year will begin at 5pm today.

With a sordid history of relations between Europeans and the natives of New England and the forthcoming onslaught of consumerism, Thanksgiving Day becomes even more important. We must rest. We must be grateful. We have experienced many”feastworthy” things this year. God is good. Let’s be grateful for the good that is given.

More reading:

Last year’s article from Indian Country Today Media Network “What Really Happened at the First Thanksgiving? The Wampanoag Side of the Tale” [link]

US Congress’ Legislative Process [link]

A history of the movements surrounding the Puritans and Separatists [link]

November 26 — Sojourner Truth

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt from it

Read Joel 2:28-31

“In those days, I will also pour out my Spirit on the male and female slaves.”

More thoughts for meditation

Today we celebrate the prophetess Sojourner Truth, who died on November 26th, 1883 at the age of 86.  She is remembered for her relentless, Spirit-filled work as an abolitionist, women’s suffragist, and evangelist.

She was sold as a child into slavery in New York.   She worked on a farm and often retreated into the woods nearby where she prayed to God by a “temple of brush” that she had made.  In her twenties, she obeyed a vision from the Lord to take her baby, Sophia, and walk away from the family that enslaved her.   It was a frightening experience for her to live out on her own, and she considered going back to work on the farm, but Jesus appeared to her in a vision and prayed for her, giving her the strength to continue.

After these and other experiences with God, she saw her life and ministry as uniquely situated to be a leader involved in two movements in the United States: the abolition of slavery, and the right of women to vote.  As a woman leader and a former slave, she saw her gifts of leadership and freedom from slavery as something that God wanted for all women and all people who were enslaved.   She used her life story and experiences with God as the basis for her political and theological views.

She is also remembered fondly for her straight-gazed challenges to live by faith.  When some other notable abolitionists were advocating for violent uprisings to end slavery, Truth asked them the question: “Is God gone?”

Suggestion for action

Look racism and sexism straight in the face and expect the same Spirit of Jesus, who inspired Sojourner Truth, to say something through you, too.

November 22 – Eberhard Arnold

From the Bible

Read Matthew 5:43-45

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[i]and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

About Eberhard Arnold

Eberhard was born in Königsberg, Germany (now Kalinigrad of the Russian Federation) in 1883 to a middle class family. After a rambunctious childhood, he experienced an inner change at the age of 16. He became active in evangelism and had increasing compassion for the poor.

He married Emmy von Hollander. They would have five children. Both were growing more discontent with the new movements of urbanization and factorization in Germany. They criticized the state church of Germany for various reasons, later their critique would help motivate modeling another new movement. In 1915 Arnold became editor of Die Furche (The Furrow) and was a gifted and sought-after speaker in the region.

Arnold supported Germany during the first World War at first, even enlisting for a few weeks before being discharged for medical reasons. He sent copies of The Furrow to young people at the front lines. The returning soldiers had a profound influence on Eberhard, where he had an increasingly difficult time reconciling the gospel with war.

During the war, the Germans sustained incredible loss. Afterwards, hunger protests and strikes were common in the political upheaval and national shame. Among groups working for change, the Youth Movement inspired Arnold with their love of nature, rejection of materialism, and aspirations towards joy and love.  Eberhard and Emmy began meeting with Youth Movement people once or twice a week in homes.

In 1920, the couple along with Emmy’s sister Else moved to the village of Sannerz to found the Bruderhof (place of brothers) community with seven adults and five children. Their community was founded on the Sermon on the Mount and the witness of the early church. They grew and needed a bigger farm. Eberhard’s writing continued and he began corresponding with the Hutterite Brethren, an Anabaptist group that had fled to and flourished in the US. The Bruderhof’s values now also included a common purse as well as pacifism.

The rise of the Nazi party was a catalyst for the Bruderhof to send their children (school age and draft age) out of the country as war resisters. The rest of the community eventually also fled, and Eberhard sustained a leg injury during the travel that would lead to his death on this day in 1935. The Bruderhof groups re-assembled in England before being forced out of country. MCC helped them relocate to Paraguay, the only country that would accept a pacifist community with mixed nationalities. The Bruderhof communites are now in four states in the US as well as Germany, Paraguay, and Australia.

“Love sees the good Spirit at work within each person and delights in it. Even if we have just been annoyed with someone, we will feel new joy in them as soon as love rules in us again. We will overcome our personal disagreements and joyfully acknowledge the working of the good Spirit in each other.”

printed in Writings 

More:

http://www.eberhardarnold.com/

The Bruderhof website [link]

November 20 – Leo Tolstoy

From the Bible 

Read Luke 17:20-37

“The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.”

About Leo Tolstoy

 

Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy was the fourth of five children born to a family of old Russian nobility in 1828.  While financially well off, his mother died while he was young, so he and his siblings were in the care of his aunt.  His father died next, followed by the his aunt and caretaker.  He and his siblings moved under the care of another relative.

While struggling in his private schooling, Leo eventually became a farmer until his brother convinced him to join the military, where Tolstoy’s writing began to develop.  He grew into one of the most celebrated novelists of all time.  His two greatest works War and Peace and Anna Karenina are considered masterpieces.

After he enjoyed some success, Leo fell into a deep depression that ultimately led to his conversion to following Jesus.  He tried joining the Russian Orthodox Church, which he found corrupt.  While under watch of the secret police, he founded the new publication The Mediator in 1883.  He gave away nearly all his wealth and money, although signed the copyrights and proceeds from his writings pre 1881 to his wife.

During the last 30 years of his life, his richest spiritual and international movement-building work flowered.  In 1894 his magnum opus The Kingdom of God Is Within You inspired practitioners of non-violent resistance, as it continues to do.   Ghandi cited this last book as one of the three paramount texts of influence. The two developed a relationship in which Tolstoy strongly urged nonviolence as a means of social change.  Tolstoy’s beliefs and regular visits from disciples plagued his wife. He finally fled with his daughter and began an incognito pilgrimage that he was never able to complete.  He died on this day in 1910.

Thoughts:

On revolution: There can be only one permanent revolution — a moral one; the regeneration of the inner man.
How is this revolution to take place? Nobody knows how it will take place in humanity, but every man feels it clearly in himself. And yet in our world everybody thinks of changing humanity, and nobody thinks of changing himself.

On progress : People usually think that progress consists in the increase of knowledge, in the improvement of life, but that isn’t so. Progress consists only in the greater clarification of answers to the basic questions of life. The truth is always accessible to a man. It can’t be otherwise, because a man’s soul is a divine spark, the truth itself. It’s only a matter of removing from this divine spark (the truth) everything that obscures it. Progress consists, not in the increase of truth, but in freeing it from its wrappings. The truth is obtained like gold, not by letting it grow bigger, but by washing off from it everything that isn’t gold.

On passions: The whole world knows that virtue consists in the subjugation of one’s passions, or in self-renunciation. It is not just the Christian world, against whom Nietzsche howls, that knows this, but it is an eternal supreme law towards which all humanity has developed, including Brahmanism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and the ancient Persian religion. And suddenly a man appears who declares that he is convinced that self-renunciation, meekness, submissiveness and love are all vices that destroy humanity (he has in mind Christianity, ignoring all the others religions).

On Nietzche: One can understand why such a declaration baffled people at first. But after giving it a little thought and failing to find any proof of the strange propositions, any rational person ought to throw the books aside and wonder if there is any kind of rubbish that would not find a publisher today. But this has not happened with Nietzsche´s books. The majority of pseudo-enlightened people seriously look into the theory of the Übermensch, and acknowledge its author to be a great philosopher, a descendant of Descartes, Leibniz and Kant. And all this has come about because the majority of pseudo-enlightened men of today object to any reminder of virtue, or to its chief premise: self-renunciation and love -virtues that restrain and condemn the animal side of their life. They gladly welcome a doctrine, however incoherently and disjointedly expressed, of egotism and cruelty, sanctioning the idea of personal happiness and superiority over the lives of others, by which they live.

Want more?

A flawed saint: http://articles.herald-mail.com/2012-03-15/opinion/31199031_1_yasnaya-polyana-estate-leo-tolstoy

More bio: http://www.gradesaver.com/author/leo-tolstoy/

November 17 – Hild

From the Bible

Read Matthew 10:5-15

You received without having to pay. Therefore, give without demanding payment.

About Hild

Today is the feast day of Hild of Whitby, who died on this day in 680.

She lived in the 7th Century and made her hay in the medieval English kingdom of Northumbria.  She took her first vows as a nun at the age of 33, but later helped start several monasteries and became the founding Abbyess at Whitby.  Her reputation for wise counsel made her a crucial advisor to several kings and crucial to the conversion of much of the island to Christianity.  She also is known for her great love and devotion to the ordinary folks.
While her Celtic people were pushed further and further North by the pagan groups such as the Saxons, a vital mission to the invaders remained.  The church in Rome often competed with the Celtic tradition, and Hild was known for helping to settle the big question of when Easter would be celebrated.  This was just one example of the peacemaking she was known for, in rather turbulent times.
Want more?
From an Anglican church named after her: http://www.sthildas.net/abbessnew.html
Another church’s rendition: http://www.wilfrid.com/saints/hilda.htm