Perfection versus eclectic stupidity
'How does it happen that even today a couple of ordinary French stonemasons, or a carpenter and his apprentice can put up a dovecote or a barn that has more architectural perfection than the piles of eclectic stupidity that grew up at the cost hundreds of thousands of dollars on the campuses of American universities?' - Thomas Merton writing in The Seven Storey Mountain
Trappist monk, advocate of inter-religious dialogue, poet and peace activist Thomas Merton was born in this house in Prades in French Catalonia. I took the photos recently and the house, which is still a private residence, has hardly changed since Merton was born in 1915. Back then his artist father rented the upper two floors and the lower storey was used as a wine store. The French inscription on the plaque simply reads "Here was born the American author Thomas Merton".
This article is rich in paths. Our journey to Catalonia was inspired by the Forgotten Kingdom project from that great Catalan musician Jordi Savall who shares Thomas Merton's enthusiasm for inter-religious dialogue. In the 1960s Merton claimed to be a "Catalan in exile", a title which he shared with another resident of Prades, Pablo Casals. We had walked from the nearby L'espace Casals to Merton's birthplace to take these photos. Mount Canigou can be seen from the balcony at the rear of the house and this holy mountain had a particular resonance for both Casals and Merton. The Catalan cellist championed the folk music of Catalonia and Merton's own poetry was set to music by the American folklorist John Jacob Niles. All these paths are translated into sound in my musical homage to Catalonia, listen to the podcast here.
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Path's Collide again. I'm reading Merton's Thoughts on Solitude. Merton reveals that he is unsure of the journey ahead, that he cannot see clearly ahead, that he does not know for certain where the journey will end and who he himself is. When Merton wrote those words he had lived through seventeen years of monastic discipline and contemplative prayer as a Cisterican. It is helpful to know he was as insecure and confused. Also, just to point out that I have commissioned Dmitri Yanov Yanovsky to write a new work based on Merton's great friend and mystic Robert Lax from his book Circus days and Circus Nights which was described by the New York Times as a masterpiece of the 20th Century.
As we move deeper into the cycle of Kali Yuga (time of troubles) the choice seems to be polarising between existential despair or exploring the spiritual, and the latter path does, thankfully, seem to be attracting many.
This is a subject I will be returning to.