Monday, August 29, 2011

Autologous Dissections

What I wear is pants. What I do is live. How I pray is breathe. — Thomas Merton

I'm jealous of Merton's ability to sum up his way of life in three lean sentences, fifteen spare words. I'm teaching a course this fall on the contemplative traditions in the West. The desert fathers and mothers, Rabia and Rumi, Teresa of Avila and Ignatius of Loyola, Thomas Merton and Madeleine Delbrel.

It means I'm teaching out of both sides of my brain this semester: a humanist in the morning, a quantum mechanic in the afternoon, and in all likelihood, a puddle on the floor by evening.

It's giving me an identity crisis. The course is framed around space: the desert, the monastic enclosure, the world. I realized this afternoon that my usual way of organizing my identity (identities?) is precisely by space and less by time. At home, I'm a writer, principally a Catholic writer. At the college, I'm a scientist. Now what I write about so often — the desert fathers, Ignatius, Merton — has leaked into my classroom. I feel a bit as if I've put my own body on the dissecting table, lecturing away as my class peels off my skin and peers at my heart and my lungs.

Sketch is from Thomas Merton's journals in Dialogues with Silence: Prayers and Drawings


  1. Peeling back your body and showing the world what's on the inside can be a good thing. Don't overexert yourself this year, my favorite aunt.

  2. Hemingway said writing was opening up a vein - but peeling back the body works much better. Still, layers and layers left as you go and, like an onion, each stronger, more pungent and healing than the one before.

  3. Thanks, Becca!

    And Following the Lede...that's an amazing image for writing, not just the peeling, but the volatility of what is revealed, the wisps of vapor that can bring tears to your eyes, or flavor a sauce!

  4. before the silence there was a meal where we spoke, I brought up teaching science which led to a woman asking me how evolution explains the human soul. My hope is that some things always remain a mystery, at least to me. Peace and good luck to what will be an amazing adventure