Yesterday afternoon I was poking idly at some work stuff when my boss IM'd me to say that I'd missed a pretty sizable earthquake, which took down the clock tower building (killing two people) in Paso Robles and apparently would have done pretty serious damage if it had hit closer to a dense urban area. I was on the verge of complaining to my friends that I miss all the fun (I've missed one or two other quakes by being out of town), but then I remembered that I managed to be in western New York State during the big blackout this past summer.
Reading Thomas Merton is kind of a trip, because he writes about an inner life that I recognize very clearly from my readings and learnings in Zen Buddhism and aikido, and my more limited knowledge of things like Sufism, Jewish Kabbalah, and the endless variety of Hindu mysticism. Except that he's thoroughly orthodox (as far as I know) Catholic, and so he also reads almost exactly like Jerome or Augustine or another of the Church Fathers. To be sure, the differences are not merely of terminology: for Merton, each day of the monastic life is spent in moment-to-moment work, prayer, and devotion, letting the ego become unimportant in a humility that, as he says, clears the way for the grace of God to enter. For him, when a monastery burns down or fails, or someone dies, or someone I might consider sadistic is promoted to abbot, he sees God's plan for His Church. It may be difficult to make generalizations about Zen, but at its essence, Buddhism does not reject gods but does leave them at a certain level of irrelevance: the gods are trapped in the same cycle of rebirth and suffering that we are, except that as human beings, we have the ability to free ourselves. Clinging to gods, who are trapped in their paradises, will leave us trapped with them. So Zen ignores God. The practice of Zen is still the moment-to-moment, so the ego drops away and perhaps one might attain enlightenment--or one might not. Enlightenment also needs to be irrelevant. What matters is the practice, the moment-ness of work and play and food and sex and talking and listening. Enlightenment is that, if anything, and if you can see the shining sparkling Now, what does anything else matter?
Pater NosterI think at the end of the day my fascination with Christianity has to do with intuiting the cause of religion. Clearly people don't need to believe in the Christian God to be happy, peaceful, or wise, and I would venture to say that the overwhelming majority of Christians are none of those things. It's a question I get to answer in my own way, in my own time.
Our Father which art in heaven
And we will stay on earth
Which is sometimes so pretty.
- Jacques Prevert
I trained at the dojo here last night...I had forgotten over the past year how much harder they play than I'm used to, and why I don't train at a USAF dojo normally. One of the women at my old dojo, currently taking a break from aikido after 20 years, was a refugee from that sort of training. I'm amazed she stuck with it that long--to some extent it's just not fun to get thrown that hard, or to train most of the time in silence. At least I got them to smile a bit.
I do love the sound of Latin:
Ubi caritas et amor Deus ibi estPeninsula Cantare sang the Maurice Durufle setting, which apparently omits several pretty verses. I also found another recording with a better balance of parts and, let's be fair, a more polished performance, although I like mine better.
Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor
Exsultemus et in ipso jucundemur
Et ex corde diligamus nos sincero.