If you want to find God, sin flagrantly to invite divine retribution.
How to find things, Dave Bonta
Took an intercity bus to the train station. I like highways but not buses: car-sickness. I like trains and their tracks both. On the ride north, I read Thomas Merton’s journal, one of the early ones. He sounds pompous throughout. Someone once told me Merton loses his holier-than-thou attitude after a crises of faith of some kind, which he details in those journals. Read the later journals too, she urged me. I was reading entries mostly from September 1948. I like Merton, partly because his self-righteous is familiar to me, as my own.
In Chapter today Dom Columban, speaking in French, made the point that it was not the strictness with which we kept the Rule that counted, but the love with which we kept it: his logic being, I suppose, that, generally, strictness will be proportionate to live. But it is not necessarily so always. So he added that it is possible for a monastery to be very observant of the Rule and yet have very little interior life, if the observance is based on imperfect motives.
I can think of no better place to learn poverty of spirit than in our choir in which there is positively nothing to please the senses.
I know why I will never write anything about prayer in a Journal, because anything you write, even a Journal, is at least implicitly somebody else’s business. When I say prayer, I mean what happens to me in the first person singular.
Entering the Silence: The Journals of Thomas Merton, Volume II 1941-1952
I got off at Yongsang Station. I met a brother for lunch, and then we headed over to the sangha meeting together in the bright bitter cold.
I had a backgammon-and-coffee date on Wednesday. I was trounced in a half-set, 8-4. We quit early when the cribbage team next to us finished and began to fidget. This move probably benefitted my pride, since I was not anticipating a second-half comeback. I remember backgammon as something a step above checkers and several below chess in terms of complexity, but re-learning the game ten years later with someone who has a head for strategy and a nimble elegance on the board schooled me.
We ate lunch at a Jordanian restaurant and discussed sangha issues informally. Then we split up to run errands, and scattered into the cold evening.
There is a breakfast place in Seoul that serves American-style diner-like breakfasts. We met, a group of us, for an early brunch. I had a vegan omelet. We all shared a brownie with ice-cream (because where else, once we all scatter again to our various home temples and schools, will we find a homemade brownie with chocolate sauce?) after our various plates and pans of hash browns and toast, eggs and cheese. Then WSSn and I went back to the train station and rode back down to North Jeolla. It had snowed heavily the past couple of days in the provinces. Seoul had been dry but freezing, and I had shivered the entire 36 hours under piercing blue skies.
It was WSSn’s first visit to my home temple. We made a nest of blankets on the heated ondol floor, the typical way to stay warm in Korean homes, and brewed coffee at regular intervals all day. She was just in time to see our kindergarten’s antics’ festival, which we hold around this time each year.
Dim Light, Saturday
A little before 1 a.m., I woke with a headache. Not a warning, but a regular-strength attack. Not a bad headache, either, in the balance of things. But it kept me up a couple of hours and left me exhausted. Napping the next morning, another headache developed. That these were only mild attacks, and not the terrible serial ragers that devoured an entire month last winter, nearly incapacitating me and leaving me terrified, was not lost on me. Nor was the blessing of having a good friend around, who could keep me company whether healthy or ill, and was unfazed by the quirks of pain. She was sitting with me in dim light, chatting softly, when the headache lifted as suddenly as it had landed.
Breaking the Sabbath, Sunday
WSSn left after lunch. I came home, my room suddenly empty. I cleared away our accumulated coffee mugs and realized I’d taken nearly a week off of both my so-called “daily projects,” the small stones and Cold Mountain. So be it. My life has an unusual rhythm to it, a feast-or-famine quality that allows for a highly structured and regulated aspect to my solitudes, when I work on several projects during any given day, for the most part alone, and attend to duties in my home temple’s community. Then comes the other extreme, throwing all those structures and regulations and solitude that help me to work and the evenly timed events of an average temple day out the window in order to be with my brothers and sisters, who I often see only once or twice a year. I barely checked email, and forget FaceBook or Twitter, for the past six days: when will I sit over a backgammon board again? When will we be able to eat dessert before noon together? When will I have a chance to watch someone meet Mr. Bennet for the first time, laughing out loud (as I still do) reading the first chapter of Pride and Prejudice in a used bookstore? When will we swap stories, laugh at each other’s jokes, shake one another’s hands, offer consolation and advice, encouragement and strength?
It is not what you think a particular life excludes that makes it what it is. It is what you do not realize it will include. What you do not yet know you will be able to embrace.