Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Dirge For The Proud World
by Thomas Merton

Where is the marvelous thief
Who stole whole harvests from the angry sun
And sacked, with his bright sight, the land?

Where he lies dead, the quiet earth unpacks him
And wind is waving in the earth's revenge:
Fields of barley, oats, and rye.

Where is the millionaire
Who squandered the bright spring?
Whose lies played in the summer evening sky
Like cheap guitars?
Who spent the golden fortunes of the fall
And died as bare as a tree?

His heart lies open as a treasury,
Filled up with grass and generous flowers.

Where is the crazy gambler
Amid the nickels of whose blood have fallen
Heavy half dollars of his last of life?
Where is he gone?

The burning bees come walk, as bright as jewels
Upon that flowering, dark sun:
The bullet wound in his unmoving lung.

Oh you who hate the gambler or his enemy,
Remember how the bees
Pay visits to the patient dead
And borrow honey from their charitable blood.

You who have judged the gambler or his enemy
Remember this, before the proud world's funeral.


Remember, O Man, that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return. With these words from Genesis we mark the beginning of Lent on Ash Wednesday. As a boy I never cared for Lent. I always thought of what I would be giving up, often candy or sweets: the candy that would become infinitely more desirable in the moment of renouncing it. I thought of fasting and abstinence, confession and penance. The whole thing seemed to add gloom to the dreariest part of the year.

Certainly all of these things are part of traditional Lenten observance. Just as certainly, I had made a mistake in emphasizing them. At best they are only half of it, probably less than that. It took me years to see the beauty in Lent: to see something of its true purpose. Truly we are dust, and to the dust we shall return. That is our fate. Yet these words point not only to our insignificance, but also to our importance: to the absolute miracle that we are here at all.

Think of it: you and I and everything around us: dust, yet what wondrous dust. The stark beauty of trees in winter, a barren field, a frozen waterfall: all dust, yet what becomes of this dust in the hands of the Lord. Look into the eyes of a child: all dust, yet how clearly we see the Light reflected in them. We are surrounded by miracles, called forth from the dust.

Our Lenten practices are not an end in themselves, but a means to an end. Like pruning a vine, they strengthen us and prepare us for new growth. We pray not because God needs our prayers, but because we need to offer them. Why fast? Because you will learn things you cannot learn any other way. Like spring cleaning, Lent is a time to clear away the clutter of our lives and make room for what is truly important. We strip away all that is useless to seek the essence of our souls.

Where is the thief, the millionaire, the gambler? They have returned to the dust. What has become of their souls is not for us to judge, but Merton shows clearly what has become of their dust. It has been made new: transformed into fields of grain, beautiful flowers, sweet honey. Remember this, Merton tells us. Remember this.

Remember, O Man, that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return. Yes, we are dust. One day we shall return to the dust. That is the way of it. Yet miracles have been brought forth from the dust: beauty, love, life itself: all dust, but dust in the hands of the Lord who makes all things new.

Remember that you are dust: not in fear, but to better see the miracles that surround us. Absolute miracles, called forth from mere dust.

Respectfully Yours,



Suldog said...

You want to talk miracles? You make me yearn for the Catholicism of my youth.

As much as I consider myself a decent sort of Christian, you remind me of the void unfilled since I left the church. This sort of philosophy - the complex rooted in the simple, and vice-versa - is best absorbed in the presence of incense, candles, old wood, stained glass, warm organ music, icons, and the sort of caring neighborhood clerics that (from my experience, thus far) do not inhabit Protestant spaces.

You make me yearn for stations, veneration, reconciliation, and ritual.

You make me realize I must at least give further consideration.

Land of shimp said...

Like Suldog above, you make remember some of the things I so dearly loved about the Episcopal church. The beauty of the words, the fantastic intent behind them. The clearly marked path for understanding, and just how lovely it all was. How the phrasing really was about joy, and true reverence. I used to love to look at the stained glass windows during sermons, our church had truly intricate, glorious windows, and they just fit the words.

That's what your post made me think about.

We shall return to dust, it is true. One of my brother-in-laws is very attached to the concept of the Totality, which from my very limited knowledge of it, suggests that all things on this earth are as one. Not merely people, all things are made from the same material, and will return to that pool of material. That all things, all people, everything in the world, longs to fulfill a purpose.

I've always liked that, and sometimes it is easy to see when others have found the path to their own purpose. Every time you write about this subject, Cricket, I think of that. Cricket and his purpose, the one you found, and express so wonderfully. By the way, from what I understand finding is only part of fulfilling.

I don't know why all of that seems to fit with "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust." but it does, to me :-) Perhaps I need another cup of coffee.

Cricket said...

Suldog - It is not I who makes you yearn for these things.

Shimp - There is only one purpose for all of us. Perhaps there are different paths. Perhaps, in the end, we will find that we were on the same path after all. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so I would have told you.

Ananda girl said...

I still observe Lent. But today with clearer eyes and brighter thoughts. Thank you.

Hilary said...

Nicely expressed. It truly is a wonder to be here.. to be part of the connection.

Cricket said...

To The Chinese People - The information you have on file is incorrect. Please direct all further debt collection attempts to:

George W. Bush
P.O. Box 47825
Crawford, TX 76638

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Suldog said...

Your comment directly to me - You're right, of course. Still, you are the messenger and you at least deserve the tip of a nice comment.

Your comment to the Chinese - You owe me a new pair of pants. Coffee dribbled from my mouth when I started to laugh with a mouthful.

lime said...

i appreciate reading your perspective and suldog's. i was raised by an atheist and a unitarian and such liturgical seasons were befuddling to me as a child when i'd hear others speak of them.

when i did come to faith and began attending a liturgical protestant church with my grandparents i came to traditions in great ignorance and found great meaning because i hungered to understand. although i do not regard the observation of lent as a requirement of faith i do find great value in spending the time in contemplation of the sacrifices made.

and yeah, the comment to the chinese commenter...loved it.