Trying To Say ‘God’ – Update

This month I’ve spent bouncing around the world from the Pelicam Film Festival in Romania (with the sponsorship of the US Embassy), to the ITMS (International Thomas Merton Society) Conference at St. Bonaventure University, and most recently the literary conference, Trying to Say ‘God’as put on by Sick Pilgrim and Notre Dame‘s Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts. 

You can learn a lot hanging out with a bunch of people that feel deeply, love with vulnerability, and are open-minded to the insights of one another. At Trying to Say ‘God’, I was surrounded by humans that companion the suffering soul like no other group I’ve ever come across. My heart is not full, but it is alive. My wounds are not healed, but they are tended to. The wisdom and insights I heard at Notre Dame have stimulated my hope, opened my eyes, and quite literally breathed new life into all my anxious uncertainty. I was lucky enough to present on two panels with a few dear friends (see below). I was honored to be with some of the people dearest to my heart. The people that know the bottomless pit of my heart, and still care for it with an unquestioning tenderness. The people that remind me it is so good to be alive. To feel. To touch. To truly see one another with an unbroken attention. Trying to Say ‘God’ wasn’t just a literary conference – it was a soul-touching, faith-filled, vulnerability-doused, honest space of love.

Some of the same full-hearted people were at the Thomas Merton conference where I was able to ignite old and new friendships with soul-touching people. Some highlights from the ITMS 2017 conference include two presentations of the documentary film I helped co-produce, In Pursuit of Silence (releasing in Los Angeles theaters this weekend) and being elected as Secretary of the board for 2017-2019. 

But perhaps the biggest highlight from ITMS comes from my final evening at the Conference. On a cool summer day, I rode with a few friends to a nearby abandoned cottage full of life. It was in this cottage that Poet Robert Lax and his friend Thomas Merton spent the summers of 1939 and 1940. They spent their time there writing, exploring their futures together, and carrying on in their lifelong friendship. As I stood there with my three friends on the porch, taking in the creativity and momentum this small abandoned cottage witnessed; we considered the importance of friendship, the brevity of life, and the never ending communion of prayer. There, I gazed with these three friends past all the human hands pointing to the moon* to graciously embrace what our time there was saying. Over a growler of beer, we took in our poetic moment together. And, in true Lax form, we ever so briefly spoke into the sunset air that surrounded us. Check out more on Lax and Merton in Michael McGregor’s beautiful book, Pure Act: An Uncommon Life of Robert Lax (see below for an excerpt on Lax’s response to Merton’s death).

*”I must state clearly that my teaching is a method to experience reality and not reality itself, just as a finger pointing at the moon is not the moon itself. A thinking person makes use of the finger to see the moon. A person who only looks at the finger and mistakes it for the moon will never see the real moon.” Buddha

Trying to Say ‘God’ Panels:

The Inner Room: Untrying to Say ‘God’, Allowing Silence to Speak God’s Name” with Kevin M. Johnson and Cassidy Hall

“Notes from a Contemplative: Thomas Merton on the Art of Writing as Resistance and Protest” with Dave Griffith, Gordon Oyer, Kathleen Tarr, Cassidy Hall (you can listen to this one below). 

From Pure Act: An Uncommon Life of Robert Lax by Michael McGregor (New York, Fordham University Press, 2015) pp. 292-94.

“That evening, as Lax was going into town, he saw a single star and a single cloud above a hill. A poem came to him and he wrote it down, not realizing until later that it was about Merton. A few days later he enclosed it with a letter to Antonucci in which he wrote, “Think somehow night and day about [his death] & him …. Basically feeling o.k. Glad to be here where every part of landscape makes sense.” Antonucci illustrated the poem and published it under the title ‘A Poem for Thomas Merton’:

sin

gu

lar

 

star

 

sin

gu

lar

 

cloud

 

sin

gu

lar

 

hill

 

sin

gu

lar

 

cloud

 

sin

gu

lar

 

star

 

sin

gu

lar

 

hill

one

cloud

 

one

star

 

one

hill

 

one

hill

 

one

cloud

 

one

star

 

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