Skip to main content

Friends who Sing

I enjoy reading Thomas Merton.  In many ways Merton’s life is so different than my life.  And yet so much of what he says makes sense to me.  And so often what he says helps me think about my own life and how I am trying to make sense out of my life.  I suspect Merton speaks to so many people because he experienced so much in his life.  Merton lived through both big wars of the 20th century and, then, was active through the Vietnam War.  He was an unlikely person to join a rigorist monastery in the middle of Kentucky.  But again, he made that experience something that spoke to people well beyond a Catholic monastery.  And he still speaks to people long after his untimely death in 1968.
In a very real sense I consider Merton a friend.  I never met him, although I do know and am friends with people who did know him.  I think the idea of friendship is a good way to enter the world of spirituality.  Friendships are relationships that reveal so much about who we are, what we think, and to what we aspire.
I am sure my take on friendships is what made me stop abruptly when I read the following line from Merton’s book, Confessions of a Guilty Bystander.  Merton wrote,
"There are people one meets in books or in life whom one does not merely observe, meet, or know.  A deep resonance of one’s entire being is immediately set up with the entire being of the other (Cor ad cor loquitur---heart speaks to heart in the wholeness of the language of music; true friendship is a kind of singing)."  These words rang true to my experience.  I began to think about the people I have met in the books I have read.  Merton counts as one such person who fits this quotation.
All of us have met a large number of people either in real life or in the books and other things we have read.  I wonder how many different people I have read on my way to getting a doctoral degree so that I could teach?  It must be thousands.  I have observed countless people in my life.  I have met many of those folks.  And I even have come to know quite a healthy number of people.  Add these to all the authors I have read and the number has to be quite large.
But then there is another, much smaller, number of people.  These are the ones with whom Merton says there is a deep resonance.  As he wrote, there is a deep resonance of our own being with the entire being of the other.  I can think of a few people who fit this experience.  I like the word and the idea of “resonance.”  To resonate means there is a harmony---a synchronicity.
Merton puts it well when he moves to the Latin phrase, cor ad cor loquitur---“heart speaks to heart.”  I recognized immediately that he was referring to the coat of arms for John Henry Cardinal Newman, a nineteenth English churchman.  Newman was one of Merton’s favorite figures.  That is a great way to express the deep resonance that happens between two people who meet soulfully.
However, it is how Merton elaborates this, which I find intriguing.  Heart speaks to heart, says Merton, in the wholeness of the language of music.  It is interesting to think about music having “language.”  Certainly music does speak to us.  And the kind of music that speaks “heart to heart” provides the language of this deeply resonating experience of two people meeting at the level of soul.
Then Merton finishes the amazing sentence when he says that true friendship is a kind of singing.  When I read this, I had a double response.  On the one hand, I felt like I knew exactly what he was talking about.  I have true friendships where there was a kind of singing.  And that is said by one with little musical talent!  But the resonance and relationship of this spiritual friendship was musical---it was a kind of singing.  On the other hand, I was not sure I had a clue what Merton meant.  True friendship is a kind of singing.  What does he mean?a
What I do know is singing is so much richer that merely speaking.  Singing adds melody and tonality to the true friendship.  Probably the common language on the street talks about people “being on the same page.”  That is such a bland way of putting a relationship.  Compare that to Merton’s idea of true friendship is a kind of singing and we see the difference.
I understand true friendship in two ways.  In the first place true friendship characterizes the relationship Christians have with Jesus or with the Divinity Itself. It is not without reason Jesus called those disciples “friends.”  In this sense true friendship is spiritual friendship with God.  And surely this is characterized well by a kind of singing. 

The other understanding of true friendship is the relationship that many of us are graced to have with other spiritual people.  I can count a few people who have graced my life in this way.  We have a deep resonance that can only be called soulful.  There is a spiritual harmony that results from our soulful relationship. When we are together, we are indeed friends who sing.W

Popular posts from this blog

Inward Journey and Outward Pilgrimage

There are so many different ways to think about the spiritual life.And of course, in our country there are so many different variations of religious experiences.There are liberals and conservatives.There are fundamentalists and Pentecostals.Besides the dizzying variety of Christian traditions, there are many different non-Christian traditions.There are the major traditions, such as Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and so on.There are the slightly more obscure traditions, such as Sikhism, Jainism, etc.And then there are more fringe groups and, even, pseudo-religions. There are defining doctrines and religious practices.Some of these are specific to a particular tradition or a few traditions, such as the koan, which is used in Zen Buddhism for example.Other defining doctrines or practices are common across the religious board.Something like meditation would be a good example.Christians meditate; Buddhists meditate.And other groups practice this spiritual discipline. A favorite way I like to …

A Pain is not a Pain

A rose may be a rose, but a pain is not a pain.  Maybe somebody has said that before, but I have never heard it.  So I am assuming (for the moment) I made it up.  Of course, most of us have heard that line, “a rose is a rose.”  I don’t know who said it first or if I should give it a footnote, but I do know that I did not create that line.  Furthermore, we all could explain what the phrase, a rose is a rose, means.

However, if I say, “a pain is not a pain,” the reader may not be too sure what I mean by that.  And if the reader is unsure, he or she does not know whether to agree with me or say balderdash!  So let me explain it by some development.

For sure, every adult knows what pain means.  It is difficult to imagine living into adulthood and not experiencing some kind of pain.  There is physical pain; we all know this.  There is emotional pain----a pain many people know all too well…and others may barely know.  There may be something like spiritual pain, but this one is tricky.  Not …

Spiritual Commitment

I was reading along in a very nice little book and hit these lines about commitment.The author, Mitch Albom, uses the voice of one of the main characters of his nonfiction book about faith to reflect on commitment.The voice belongs to Albom’s old rabbi of the Jewish synagogue where he went until his college days.The old rabbi, Albert Lewis, says “the word ‘commitment’ has lost its meaning.”
The rabbi continues in a way that surely would have many people saying, “Amen!”About commitment he says, “I’m old enough when it used to be a positive.A committed person was someone to be admired.He was loyal and steady.Now a commitment is something you avoid.You don’t want to tie yourself down.”I also think I am old enough to know that commitment was usually a positive word.I can think of a range of situations in which commitment would have been seen to be positive.
For example, growing up was full of sports for me.Commitment would have been presupposed to be part of a team. If you were going to pl…