Writings About, By or Inspired by Robert Lax

Victor Hugo on the Patmos Within Us

Dan Siegel, who, with his wife Jenny Yancey, runs a wonderful summer writing program on Patmos called GoodWorld Journeys, sent me the following quote from Victor Hugo yesterday.  It is worth contemplating, not only for what is says about how we live or might live but also for how well it reflects the life Robert Lax lived on the actual island of Patmos.

“Every man has within him his Patmos. He is free to go, or not to go, out upon that frightful promontory of thought from which one perceives the shadow. If he does not, he remains in the common life, with the common conscience, with the common virtue, with the common faith, or with a common doubt; and it is well. For inward peace it is evidently the best. If he goes out upon those heights, he is taken captive. The profound waves of the marvelous have appeared to him. No one views with impunity that ocean, henceforth he will be the thinker, dilated, enlarged, but floating; that is to say, the dreamer. He will partake of the poet and of the prophet. Henceforth a certain portion of him belongs to the shadow. An element of the boundless enters into his life, into his conscience, into his virtue, into his philosophy. Having a different measure from other men, he becomes extraordinary in their eyes. He has duties which they have not. He lives in a sort of diffused prayer, and, strange indeed, attaches himself to an indeterminate certainty which he calls God. He distinguishes in that twilight enough of the anterior life and enough of the ulterior life to seize these two ends of the dark thread, and with them to bind his soul to life. Who has drunk will drink, who has dreamed will dream. He will not give up that alluring abyss, that sounding of the fathomless, that indifference for the world and for this life, that entrance into the forbidden, that effort to handle the impalpable and to see the invisible; he returns to it, he leans and bends over it, he takes one step forward, then two; and thus it is that one penetrates into the impenetrable, and thus it is one finds the boundless release of infinite meditation.”

 

By the way, the teachers for Dan and Jenny’s program on Patmos July 9-19, 2018 will be Mary Karr and George Saunders.  You’ll find full details here.

 

Book of Robert Lax Writings Wins 2017 Catholic Press Association Award

In the Beginning Was Love: Contemplative Words of Robert Lax, a book of Lax quotes edited by S. T. Georgiou, has won first place in Poetry in the 2017 Catholic Press Association Book Awards.

New Book by Robert J. Wicks Features Lax as Mentor

[*Note: After making this post this morning, I received a message from Robert J. Wicks offering readers of this blog 30% off on his new book.  To receive the discount, go to the Oxford University Press page for Night Call and use the promo code ASPROMP8.]

 

The popular writer and psychologist Robert J. Wicks, author of 50 books, has included a section on Robert Lax as a mentor in his new book Night Call: Embracing Compassion and Hope in a Troubled WorldThe book just arrived in my mailbox yesterday so I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but it looks like an important book for these unsettled days.

Wicks features Lax in a chapter called “Profile of a Future Mentor.”  He quotes several passages from my book Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax, first to illustrate that Lax felt mentored himself by the Indian guru he met in college, Brahmachari, and then to show how Lax, in turn, mentored others.  In addition to discussing my relationship with Lax, Wicks talks about Lax’s mentoring of Steve Georgiou, quoting from the book Georgiou wrote about their relationship, The Way of the Dreamcatcher.

Wicks concludes his section on Lax as a mentor with these words:

“Both Georgiou and McGregor were bringing their life experiences to Lax, in this case, in the hopes of making greater sense of their stories than they could on their own.  The were seeking a form of wisdom that would allow them, in turn, to continue to share with others in need–possibly on a deeper level–what they had and would learn.”

Later in the book, Wicks returns to Lax briefly, mostly to quote (again from Pure Act) a brief Lax poem that suggests the goal of self-evaluation and renewal:

not

so

much

finding

a

path

in

the

woods

as

find

ing

a

rhythm

to

walk

in

 

 

 

A Lax Poem and a Children’s Book About Thomas Merton

In April 2016 I wrote about the luminous paintings based on Lax’s poetry done by a talented young painter named Abbey Ryan.  Lately, I’ve been corresponding with Abbey’s father Greg Ryan, who knew Robert Lax for many years.  Greg sent me this image of the kind of thing Lax often included with his letters:

Greg and his wife Elizabeth Ryan are the author and illustrator of a lovely new children’s book about Thomas Merton called The ABCs of Thomas Merton: A Monk at the Heart of the World.  It is a well-pitched and pleasingly illustrated introduction to Merton and his world for children age 6-10.  You can find it on Amazon.  Here’s the cover:

By the way, the featured image for this entry is a note Lax sent to Greg and Elizabeth when they were expecting Abbey, the “bright newcomer from the sky.”

7 p.m. this Friday, June 16: Thomas Merton Society Keynote Address on the Merton-Lax Friendship to be Live-Streamed

I just learned that my keynote address at the International Thomas Merton Society conference at 7 p.m. (Eastern time) this Friday, June 16, will be live-streamed.  The talk is titled “Harpo and the Clown of God: The Seven-Storied Friendship of Thomas Merton and Robert Lax.”

The other keynotes–by Scott Russell Sanders, M. Shawn Copeland, and Luke Timothy Johnson–will be live-streamed too.

To tune in, go to http://merton.org/2017/default.aspx#stream when it’s time for the talk and look for the blue box (where you’ll find the schedule too):

June 15-18: 2017 International Thomas Merton Society Conference Will Feature Presentations on Robert Lax

The 2017 International Thomas Merton Society Conference is coming up next week, June 15-18.  Because it is being held at St. Bonaventure University in Olean, NY, Robert Lax’s hometown, it will feature a number of presentations on Lax, including my keynote address, “Harpo and the Clown of God: The Seven-Storied Friendship of Thomas Merton and Robert Lax.”

The other keynote speakers will be: M. Shawn Copeland, Luke Timothy Johnson, and Scott Russell Sanders.

The other Lax features will be:

  1. a general session titled “Robert Lax: In His Own Words.”
  2. a showing of the Nicolas Humbert/Werner Penzel film “Why Should I Buy a Bed When All That I Want Is Sleep?” featuring a look at Lax in his Patmos home and reading his poetry.
  3. Lax’s Psalm with spoken word, dance and piano by Christine Bachich and Jacqueline Chew

Click here for registration information and here for a full list of conference presentations.

Finding Lax in a Simone Weil Quote

I found the quote below in The Saint and the Scholar, Jon M. Sweeney’s short, fascinating new book about how the split between faith and reason got started back in the 12th century.  The book is the story of the different approaches to faith and learning followed by Bernard of Clairvaux and Peter Abelard (of Heloise affair fame) and how their conflict has echoed down through the ages.

The quote, from Simone Weil, is a good description of how Robert Lax lived:

“There is no entry into the transcendent until the human faculties–intelligence, will, human love–have come up against a limit, and the human being waits at this threshold, which he can make no move to cross, without turning away and without knowing what he wants, in fixed, unwavering attention.”

A PURE ACT Reading in Boston

If you live in or near Boston, I hope you’ll come out to 279 Harvard St. in Brookline this coming Thursday, May 18, for a 7 p.m. reading at Brookline Booksmith bookstore.  The new paperback version of Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax will be for sale at the reading.

Patmos Poet–a poem by Chris McDonnell

The following poem came in the mail the other day.  According to its author, Chris McDonnell, a retired headteacher in the UK, a slightly different version of it was published in the Merton Journal in the UK shortly after Robert Lax’s death in 2000.  It’s language and rhythms capture the feeling of the “anti-letters” Lax and Merton sent to each other over several decades.  (Chauncey was one of the playful names they used to address each other.)

 

Patmos Poet

 

O Chauncey

Its sorrows

Now

for everyone

My letters

from islands

chased

your letters

from pine

tree bottoms

paper voices

through whole

dark

night

here

or there

 

The sorrows

is now

done plenty

 

these other

letters

tells

the story

friends, faces

we knew

or just

peoples

who read

the books

us

is just

words

to them

but us

was

to us

much more

than that.

Decoding the Anti-Letters Between Lax and Merton

At the International Thomas Merton Society conference at Sacred Heart University in 2013, I gave a talk on the lifelong correspondence between Robert Lax and Thomas Merton titled “Decoding the Anti-Letters: A Whirling Dance of Wisdom and Wit.”  Last spring, that talk was published in The Merton Journal in Great Britain.  And now the Journal has made it available as a PDF online.  You can read it here.

I’ll be talking about the friendship between Lax and Merton again as a keynote speaker at this year’s ITMS conference, to be held at St. Bonaventure University in Lax’s hometown of Olean, NY, June 15-18.  My talk this time will be titled “Harpo and the Clown of God: the Seven-Storied Friendship of Thomas Merton and Robert Lax.”  You’ll find full conference details here.  I hope to see you in Olean in June!