Wednesday, June 16, 2021

June 16: Drink Poems, Recite Prayers, Earn Tenure

Merton finds a new way of living . . . 

But I am getting ahead of my story. For in these days, in the late summer of 1940, it was not yet that way. The Breviary was hard to learn, and every step was labor and confusion, not to mention the mistakes and perplexities I got myself into. However, Father Irenaeus helped to straighten me out, and told me how the various feasts worked together, and how to say first Vespers for the proper feast, and all the other things one needs to find out. Apart from him, however, I didn’t even speak of the Breviary to any other priest. I kept quiet about it, half fearing that someone would make fun of me, or think I was eccentric, or try to snatch my books away from me on some pretext. I would have been better off if I had been acting under the guidance of a director, but I had no understanding of such a thing in those days. 

Meanwhile, I put on my best blue suit and hitch-hiked out to St. Bonaventure and spoke with Father Thomas Plassman, who was the president of the college, and the picture of benevolence. He listened kindly and soberly to my answers to his questions, filling a chair with his huge frame and looking at me through his glasses, out of a great kind face built on pontifical lines and all set for smiles paternal enough to embrace an archdiocese. Father Thomas would make a wonderful prelate, and, as a matter of fact, all the students and seminarians at St. Bonaventure held him in great awe for his learning and piety.

Back in Olean his reputation was even greater. Once I had someone whisper to me that Father Thomas was the third best educated man in America. I was not able to find out who were the other two ahead of him, or how it was possible to determine who was the best educated, or what that might precisely mean. 

But in any case, he gave me a job at St. Bonaventure’s, teaching English, for it fell out that Father Valentine Long, who wrote books and taught literature to the sophomores, had been transferred to Holy Name College, in Washington. 

In the second week of September, with a trunkful of books and a typewriter and the old portable phonograph that I had bought when I was still at Oakham, I moved in to the little room that was assigned to me on the second floor of the big, red-brick building that was both a dormitory and a monastery. Out of my window I could look beyond the chapel front to the garden and fields and the woods. There was a little astronomical observatory out there behind the greenhouses, and in the distance you could tell where the river was by the line of trees at the end of the pasture. And then, beyond that, were the high, wooded hills, and my gaze travelled up Five Mile Valley beyond the farms to Martinny’s Rocks. My eyes often wandered out there, and rested in that peaceful scene, and the landscape became associated with my prayers, for I often prayed looking out of the window. And even at night, the tiny, glowing light of a far farmhouse window in Five Mile Valley attracted my eye, the only visible thing in the black darkness, as I knelt on the floor and said my last prayer to Our Lady. 

And as the months went on, I began to drink poems out of those hills.

I love the last line from this Merton passage.  In particular, I love the phrase "I began to drink poems out of those hills."  Merton has found some peace of mind after much chaos and disappointment.  He is learning a new way of living, and, by so doing, a new way to God.  Through prayer, teaching, and poetry.

I usually start my day with prayer of some kind.  Sometimes, it sort of goes like this:  "Oh, my God, not another day!"  Other days, it's a little more positive:  "God, thanks for not letting me die in my sleep!"  Or, "Wow, I never saw that one coming!"  These thoughts are laced with self pity and self absorption.  However, I'm still talking to God.  It counts as prayer.

In everything that I do every day  , I teach, whether it's creating programs for the library or lesson plans for the university.  It's all about educating people about some subject, whether it's cooking brown rice asparagus bean salad or conjugating an irregular verb.  I can check this one off my list, too.

And, of course, all of my days are filled with poetry.  It's my passion and joy.  Writing and reading poetry is always a part of my day.  Usually, after I finish my morning prayer, I read or listen to a poem.  This practice grounds me and provides inspiration for the rest of my day.

So, considering Merton finds his way to God through those three things, I should be well on my way to sainthood.  At least, that's the way I see it.  And, if canonization is not in my future, I should at least be able to win the Nobel Prize in Literature.  And, if THAT is out of the question, how about a full-time professorship at a university?

I'm not asking for much--just sainthood, a Nobel Prize, or tenure.  One of those things shouldn't be too tall of an order.  It's not like I'm praying for world peace or a winning lotto ticket.  (Well, actually, the Nobel Prize is worth about one million dollars.  Plus, you can pretty much pick which university to teach at, including immediate tenure.  So, it's sort of like winning the lotto, with a fancy ceremony, diploma, and a dinner.)

Tonight, however, after a pretty long day of work that started at 7:30 a.m. and didn't end until almost 11 p.m., I'm too tired to think about any of that.  I'm just going to drink some poems from Natalie Diaz and go to sleep.  

Maybe Marty will dream of becoming a tenured saint.

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