“The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. More than that, it is cooperation in violence. The frenzy of the activist…destroys his own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of his own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”—Thomas Merton, as quoted in Courtney Martin’s weekly column for On Being, "The Spiritual Art of Saying No"
You might know Dan Barber best as the chef of Blue Hill in NYC. But, behind the kitchen maestro, is a big thinker who really gives the farm-to-table movement a whole new meaning. Well worth listening to… especially for the story about the mokkum carrot!
“As I look around, I see the crumbling ruins of civilization like a vast heap of futility, yet I shall not commit the grievous sin of losing faith in man.”— Rabindranath Tagore, as quoted in this show on his life and modern resonance.
“Now we have half-stepped away from our long centuries of despoilment, promising, ‘Never again.’ But still we are haunted. It is as though we have run up a credit-card bill and, having pledged to charge no more, remain befuddled that the balance does not disappear. The effects of that balance, interest accruing daily, are all around us.”—Ta’nehisi Coates, as quoted in Courtney E. Martin’s column, "To Be White and Reckon with the Death of Michael Brown"
To be totally honest, I don’t know who I am. And I don’t think people ever will know who they are. We have to be humble enough to learn to live with this mysterious question. Who am I? So, I am a mystery to myself. I am someone who is in this pilgrimage from the moment that I was born to the day to come that I’m going to die. And this is something that I can’t avoid, whether I like it or not, or — I’m going to die.
So, what I have to do is to honor this pilgrimage through life. And so I am this pilgrim — if I can somehow answer your question — who’s constantly amazed by this journey. Who is learning a new thing every single day. But who’s not accumulating knowledge, because then it becomes a very heavy burden in your back. I am this person who is proud to be a pilgrim, and who’s trying to honor his journey.
“None of us can truly know what we mean to other people, and none of us can know what our future self will experience. History and philosophy ask us to remember these mysteries, to look around at friends, family, humanity, at the surprises life brings — the endless possibilities that living offers — and to persevere. There is love and insight to live for, bright moments to cherish, and even the possibility of happiness, and the chance of helping someone else through his or her own troubles. Know that people, through history and today, understand how much courage it takes to stay. Bear witness to the night side of being human and the bravery it entails, and wait for the sun. If we meditate on the record of human wisdom we may find there reason enough to persist and find our way back to happiness. The first step is to consider the arguments and evidence and choose to stay. After that, anything may happen. First, choose to stay.”—
After checking in and liking a bunch of stuff over the course of an hour, there were no human beings in my feed anymore. It became about brands and messaging, rather than humans with messages. …
This is a problem much bigger than Facebook. It reminded me of what can go wrong in society, and why we now often talk at each other instead of to each other. We set up our political and social filter bubbles and they reinforce themselves—the things we read and watch have become hyper-niche and cater to our specific interests. We go down rabbit holes of special interests until we’re lost in the queen’s garden, cursing everyone above ground.
But maybe worse than the fractious political tones my feed took on was how deeply stupid it became.
Recently, I moved from Harvard to a place near Toronto called Daybreak. That is, from an institution for the best and brightest to a community where mentally handicapped people and their assistants try to live together in the spirit of the Beatitudes. In my house, 10 of us form a family. Gradually, I’m forgetting who is handicapped and who is not. We are simply John, Bill, Trevor, Raymond, Rose, Steve, Jane, Naomi, Henri, and Adam.
I want to tell you Adam’s story. After a month of working with Adam, something started to happen to me that had never happened before. This severely handicapped young man, whom outsiders sometimes describe with very hurtful words, started to become my dearest companion. As I carried him into his bath and made waves to let the water run fast around him and told him all sorts of stories, I knew that two friends were communicating far beyond the realm of thought.
Before this, I had come to believe that what makes us human is our mind. But Adam keeps showing me that what makes us human is our heart, the center of our being where God has hidden trust, hope, and love. Whoever sees in Adam merely a burden to society misses the sacred mystery that Adam is fully capable of receiving and giving love. He is fully human—not half human, not nearly human, but fully, completely human because he is all heart. The longer I stay with Adam, the more clearly I see him as a gentle teacher, teaching me what no book or professor ever could.
Once, when Adam’s parents came for a visit I asked, ‘Tell me, during all the years you had Adam in your house, what did he give you?’ His father smiled and said without hesitation, ‘He brought us peace.’ I know he is right. After months of being with Adam, I am discovering within myself an inner quiet that I did not know before. Adam is one of the most broken persons among us, but without doubt our strongest bond. Because of Adam there is always someone home. Because of Adam there is a quiet rhythm in the house. Because of Adam there are moments of silence. Because of Adam there are always words of affection and tenderness. Because of Adam there is patience and endurance. Because of Adam there are smiles and tears visible to all. Because of Adam there is always time and space for forgiveness and healing. Yes, because of Adam there is peace among us.
“I cannot discover God in myself and myself in others unless I have the courage to face myself exactly as I am, with all my limitations, and to accept others as they are, with all their limitations. The religious answer is not religion if it is not fully real.”—Thomas Merton, quoted in this radio pilgrimage to L’Arche.
“We do not ask for what useful purpose the birds do sing, for song is their pleasure since they were created for singing. Similarly, we ought not to ask why the human mind troubles to fathom the secrets of the heavens. The diversity of the phenomena of nature is so great and the treasures hidden in the heavens so rich precisely in order that the human mind shall never be lacking in fresh nourishment.”— Johannes Kepler, quoted in this program on exoplanets and the cosmos with research astronomer Natalie Batalha.
“Man came silently into the world. As a matter of fact he trod so softly that, when we first catch sight of him as revealed by those indestructible stone instruments, we find him sprawling all over the old world from the Cape of Good Hope to Peking. Without doubt he already speaks and lives in groups; he already makes fire…. Thus, in the eyes of science, which at long range can only see things in bulk, the ‘first man’ is and can only be a crowd, and his infancy is made up of thousands and thousands of years….”—Teilhard de Chardin, in The Phenomenon of Man
“Ah, but I love to draw beautiful words, like trumpets of light…I adore you, words who are sensitive to our sufferings, words in red and lemon yellow, words in the steel-blue colour of certain insects, words with the scent of vibrant skills, subtle words of fragrant roses and seaweed, prickly words of sky-blue wasps. words with powerful snouts, words of spotless ermine, words spat out by the sands of the sea, words greener than Cyrene fleece, discreet words whispered by fishes in the pink ears of shells, bitter words, tornado and storm-tossed words, being beaten, evil words, festive words, tornado and storm-tossed words, windy words, reedy words, the wise words of children, rainy, tearful words, words without rhyme or reason, I love you! I love you!”—James Ensor, belgian printmaker and painter on language.
Dear God, I cannot love Thee the way I want to. You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see and my self is the earth’s shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon. The crescent is very beautiful and perhaps that is all one like I am should or could see; but what I am afraid of, dear God, is that my self shadow will grow so large that it blocks the whole moon, and that I will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing.
I do not know You God because I am in the way. Please help me to push myself aside.