Tuesday, November 16, 2021

November 16: Strangled Cry, Joy Harjo, Friend of Mine

Merton shares in the story of Holy Week . . . 

There was one thing the Cistercians had in their favor. The Carthusians had a kind of recreation in which they went out for walks together and conversed with one another, to prevent the possibilities of strain that might go with too uncompromising a solitude, too much of that sola beatitudo. Could there be too much of it, I wondered? But the Trappist with his unbroken silence—at least as far as conversations were concerned—had one advantage! 

And yet what did it matter which one was the most perfect Order? Neither one of them was for me! Had I not been told definitely enough a year ago that I had no vocation to any religious Order? All these comparisons were nothing but fuel for the fire of that interior anguish, that hopeless desire for what I could not have, for what was out of reach. 

The only question was not which Order attracted me more, but which one tortured me the more with a solitude and silence and contemplation that could never be mine. 

Far from wondering whether I had a vocation to either one, or from instituting a comparison between them, I was not even allowed the luxury of speculation on such a subject. It was all out of the question. 

However, since the Carthusians were, after all, far away, it was what I had before my eyes that tortured me the most. The Carthusians were more perfect, perhaps, and therefore more to be desired: but they were doubly out of reach because of the war and because of what I thought was my lack of a vocation. 

If I had had any supernatural common sense I would have realized that a retreat like this would be the best time to take that problem by the horns and overcome it, not by my own efforts and meditations but by prayer and by the advice of an experienced priest. And where would I find anyone more experienced in such matters than in a monastery of contemplatives? 

But what was the matter with me? I suppose I had taken such a beating from the misunderstandings and misapprehensions that had arisen in my mind by the time that Capuchin got through with me, in his confessional, the year before, that I literally feared to reopen the subject at all. There was something in my bones that told me that I ought to find out whether my intense desire to lead this kind of a life in some monastery were an illusion: but the old scars were not yet healed, and my whole being shrank from another scourging. 

That was my Holy Week, that mute, hopeless, interior struggle. It was my share in the Passion of Christ which began, that year, in the middle of the night with the first strangled cry of the Vigils of Holy Thursday.

Sharing in the Passion of Christ.  Through great suffering comes salvation and joy.  

That's what I want to talk about.  Joy.

Last night, I had the privilege of being in a Zoom meeting with U. S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo.  Around 6:45 p.m., I was sitting in front of a computer in my office, waiting.  I'd spent the entire day preparing for the moment.  Practicing with the technology.  Writing and rewriting my introduction for Joy.  Answering dozens of texts and emails.  It was chaotic.  Exciting.  Exhausting.

At 6:50 p.m., Joy Harjo's name appeared on my screen.  A few seconds later, I was having a conversation with the Poet Laureate of the United States.  The first Native American to hold the position.  Only the second person in history to hold the title for three consecutive terms.  Joy.

It was one of the greatest moments of my life.  In a time of personal struggle and loss.  

Here's the thing--it's easy to lose sight of joy when faced with darkness.  Last night, there was music and celebration in the library where I work.  People coming together to celebrate.  For an hour, I sat in in the presence of Joy.  Basked in joy.  Drove home in joy.  Drank a glass of wine with joy.

Tonight, I am thinking about a friend of mine who has taught me a great deal about what joy is all about.  Spreading joy has been her life's work.  She's seen me through some very difficult times in my life.  She's taken my hand in darkness and led me back to light.  Made me laugh in the middle of sorrow.  Given me poetry in moments of profound silence.

The saying goes that the price of love is grief.  I'm not sure what the price of joy is.  Tears, maybe.  Despair, perhaps.

Saint Marty gives thanks tonight for his joy mentor.

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