Book Reviews

A Review of "The Martyrdom of Thomas Merton: An Investigation"

For years I have spoken out about how fishy the official story of Thomas Merton’s sudden death smelled to me.  I have also, over the years, met three CIA agents who were present in Southeast Asia at the time and asked them pointedly whether they killed Thomas Merton.  One said: “I will neither affirm it nor deny it.” The second (who spoke to a friend of mine, not to me) said: “We were swimming in cash at the time with absolutely no accountability.  If there was just one agent who felt Merton was a threat to the country he could have had him done in with no questions asked.” The third I met a month after my book A Way To God: Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality Journey came out and he answered: “Yes.  And the last 40 years of my life I have been cleansing my soul from what I did as a young man working for the CIA in Southeast Asia in the 1960s.”

Now, Hugh Turley and David Martin offer The Martyrdom of Thomas Merton: An Investigation - a solid and very convincing investigation that provides what seems to be a thorough inquiry of all the parties involved including the four religious (three men and one sister who was also a doctor, falsely called a “nurse” in official documents) who first discovered the body.  

The book includes important information about the body and the room, revealing, among other things, that there was blood coming from Merton’s neck and his body was neatly staged.  How could this be anything other than 1) a gunshot wound from a silencer gun? or 2) A stab with a pick knife or something similar? The problem is, of course, that no autopsy was performed.  Now whose decision was that?

The cover up was immense, involving the Thai police (very much in league with the American military at the time); the American Embassy; the American Army; even key members of Merton’s Gethsamine monastery including the abbot and Merton’s secretary, Brother Hart.  The latter two deserve a certain leniency since surely the monastery was threatened and urged to keep silent about the facts. But to make a cover story—that Merton stepped out of a shower soaking wet and plugged in a fan and was electrocuted—is a lie and a cover up.  

Turley and Martin provide detail after detail refuting the false information that has been disseminated for five decades.  There is even a Judas figure—a Belgian monk, whose room in the retreat center was above Merton’s, and who was the last person seen talking to Merton before he entered his fateful cell.  Others report this monk acting peculiarly after the murder. Strange to tell—or perhaps not so strange—he seems to have totally disappeared. Even his monastery claims to have no idea on earth where he could be.  It would seem he is either 1) sipping mai-tais on some island some place having been paid far more than 30 pieces of silver or 2) resting not at all in peace six feet under the sod.

So Thomas Merton, Cistercian monk and one of the greatest spiritual writers of the twentieth century, died a martyr. A martyr to peace (because he was a loud voice against the Vietnam War and a mentor to the Berrigan brothers and others committed to nonviolent protest).  And he died at the hands of the American government in the very year, 1968, that Martin Luther King Jr and Robert Kennedy also suffered a similar fate.

Pope Francis, who praised Thomas Merton’s work in his speech to Congress, might want to canonize three American martyrs together and do it swiftly (since in Catholic theology a martyr goes directly to heaven): Dr Martin Luther King Jr, a prophet for social and racial justice; Thomas Merton, a prophet for peace and deep ecumenism or interfaith; and Sister Dorothy Stang, a prophet for eco-justice gunned down in the Amazon by paid thugs for large land owners and corporate big shots.

History evolves and it is ironic that today’s CIA is less an enemy of the people than yesterday’s - in fact acting in some ways a welcome buffer against today’s enemies of American democracy, whether emanating from Russia or from internal bodies beholden to Russia.  But lessons abound. First among them is what a martyr is about: As Jesus put it, “no greater love has a person than this, to lay down one’s life for their friends.”

Thank you, Thomas Merton.  Thank you Hugh Turley and David Martin for getting to the truth.  

 

Recommended Reading: The Lion of God Archangel Ari'El by Carol Vaccariello

Frequently I have asked audiences I speak to to shut their eyes and then raise their hands if they have had encounters with angels or someone they trust has had such encounters.  Usually about 80% of the audience raises their hands.  

We need the help of the spirits or angels today not only because otherwise angels eager to help us are unemployed but especially because as a species we are doing badly and it is clear we need all the help we can get.

I am happy to share a portion of my Forward to this extraordinary book by Carol Vaccariello, on the immense support that awaits us from the angelic realms...if we are willing to ask. 

The Lion of God Archangel Ari'El

Forward

by  Matthew Fox

Reading this surprising book with its surprising ending reminds me of two encounters in my life.  The first was with the widow of David Paladin, the Navajo painter who was initiated as a shaman through a particularly painful episode as a young soldier.  Lying about his age at sixteen to get into the army in the Second World War, he was sent to Europe to fight and was almost immediately captured.  He was imprisoned not in a GI camp but in a concentration camp where he was the only Native American among the other inmates and was tortured periodically.  For example, one Christmas one foot was nailed to the floor and he was ordered to twirl on that foot for twenty four hours.  When after four years the Americans liberated that camp they found David’s comatose body—which weighed all of 65 pounds—at the bottom of a pile of dead bodies.  He was returned to his reservation in Arizona and after two years, on coming out of his coma, his elders said to him: “You have a choice.  You are a paraplegic so you can go into a veteran’s hospital where you will live in a wheelchair the rest of your life.  Or: We can try to heal you in the ancient way.”  

He chose to be healed in the ancient way so they took him to an ice cold river and threw him in over his head.  He said when he hit the water he was more angry at his elders than at the Nazis who tortured him.  But it worked.  He got his legs backed and made two pilgrimages to Mexico in back on foot.  Being an artist, he also met Marc Chagall and Picasso as a young man and Chagall said to him: “Don’t paint the stories of your people; paint your dreams of the stories of your people.”  This, he testified, gave him his freedom to be his own kind of artist.

I learned about David through his wife who invited me to contribute to an exhibit of his work after he died since, as it turned out, he had read my books such as Original Blessing and appreciated how my theology helped reconcile his Native American and Christian spiritual traditions.  Later I visited his widow Lynda Paladin in the home where they had lived and he had painted over the years and she told me this story.  “Often,” she said, “dead painters would come and visit my husband during the night and ask him to paint a picture which he did and it was their picture, not his.”  Then she left the room and came back with a picture and as soon as I saw it I said, “That’s by Paul Klee.”  And sure enough it was signed “Paul Klee” at the bottom.  “I remember the night that Paul Klee came to visit him and dictated this picture,” she said.

I share this story to remind the reader that life is more interesting and boasts far more dimensions than our culture dares to tell us.  We live in many worlds at once.  David Paladin’s elders told him late in his life that the reason he suffered so much as a young man was to initiate him as a shaman.  Shamans are often people who went through deep struggle in their youth—a shattering experience that often has the effect of shattering the psyche with the result that they live in more than one world at once.

The stories that Carol Vaccariello  shares in this moving book are of this kind as well.  Her visitations with angels is special but also very real and it bears close attention.  “By their fruits you will know them,” says Jesus.  Carol, whom I have known for over twenty years, is very real, very grounded, very hard working; she is a keen serious listener and teacher, a seasoned student and administrator.  She is committed to service and lives a simple life style of service to others.  She has lived and worked as a Catholic sister for five years; as a wife and supporter of a union organizer in Ohio for thirty years; as a Protestant pastor for thirty-one years; and as co-director of the Doctor of ministry program at my school the University of Creation Spirituality for nine years; and later at Wisdom University; she has served as an interim pastor at a number of UCC churches, often called in to resolve conflicts or to help heal wounded congregations.  Her feet are very much on the ground.  The fruits of her healthy and giving life are there for anyone to see.  The stories in this book reveal another and more hidden side to Carol yet they are stories we can all heed and learn from.  It is courageous of her to share them.

More....

"Catholic Boy Blues" - A Breakout Book

CatholicBoyBlues Just last month, Greystone Press released an eloquent testament to the shattering impact of childhood sexual abuse, and the power of truth-speaking in the healing process, in Catholic Boy Blues: A Poet's Journal of Healing by Norbert Krapf, past Indiana Poet Laureate, Pulitzer Prize nominee, emeritus prof. of English at Long Island University, and author of twenty-five critically acclaimed books. In his Introduction, Matthew Fox speaks to the depth of Krapf's message:

"The late poet Derrick Walcott, in accepting the Nobel Prize for poetry in 1992, declared that “the fate of poetry is to fall in love with the world in spite of history.” This powerful statement reminds us of the darkness that so much history contains—the wars, the injustices, the mistakes, the crimes, the malfeasance, the lies. History tempts us to give up on life. Poetry (and other art forms) are that gift from the gods that allows us to endure, to heal and to thrive in spite of history.

Lately, first in the Roman Catholic Church, and now in the football hierarchy of Penn State University, one shadow side of history, the rape and abuse of children and the cover up by powers that be, has been making headlines and telling us things about ourselves and our institutions that we prefer not to hear. Denial reigns. Adultism rules when institutional ego and reputation take precedence over the safety of children whether that institution is a university or a church. In this book, from an acclaimed poet laureate, we hear the truth that burns through denial and we pray once again that the truth will.

After armies of lawyers and (somewhat) contrite bishops and football coaches and in-denial popes there cometh the poet. A poet-victim to tell the truth, sing the truth, speak the truth, gather the truth with facts and heart and the only weapons victims have ever possessed—the truth-telling that alone leads toredemption, prevention, healing and ultimately compassion and forgiveness.

These poems tell what a steep price the soul pays for childhood abuse. How many years (over fifty in the present poet’s life) of keeping the secret; how much damage was done in his and other families, he keeps asking. What a price a community pays as well. A close-knit German Catholic community no less. Former Pope Benedict XVI would do well to take a retreat immediately with these poems in hand and read and pray these poems and then tell the world why his all-powerful office of the Holy Inquisition, responsible for wayward clergy, did not end child abuse by priests, some of whom, such as the infamous Father Maciel, were so highly favored by his boss, Pope John Paul II, who is getting canonized. And, while he is at it, let Cardinal Ratzinger (retired Pope Benedict XVI) tell the world why his office kept the lights on late at night to beat upon holy and hard-working theologians but kept mum on perverse pedophile priests.

In these poems the poet speaks the truth not just about the facts but also about the feelings. The stories. The broken lives. The betrayals. The many others also abused. The hypocrisy. The religious hypocrisy. The spiritual hypocrisy. The losses. The anger. The sadness. The grief. The distance traveled from religion, from church, from oneself.

The probing here of the depth of passion and loss (what the mystics call the “Via Negativa”) is profound. And universal. All grief speaks this way. All grief is angry and wild, sad and sorry, mute and silent, even secret. But not for ever. Breakthrough is so needed. Breakout is so important. This book is a breakout book. The truth must be spoken (not just adjudicated, not just financially reimbursed through fines in civil court). This is why Walt Whitman can say “the true Son of God comes singing his song.” The Jesus story reminds all men and women that the truer we be sons and daughters of God, the surer we will be crucified. Innocent boys, like the innocent Christ, wanted only to love life and explore it fully and, with an overly naïve and trusting parish community and sister and parents, were befuddled by the adult lies, the religious lies going on. They are, sadly, still going on. The church is not reforming or even trying to reform itself. Quite the opposite, it has slid (and even rushed) backward into a defensive mode again of superiority “beyond which there is no salvation,” a mode of authoritarianism that condemns the whistle blower, the prophet, the thinker as trouble-maker. The church is what it is, unfortunately.

But the poems live. They are organic and truthful. They speak the truth more loudly than sermons and rituals and papal bulls; more appropriately than fancy colored vestments and rote readings from holy books. They reach to the soul, to the heart, to the Spirit. They bear the mark of authentic preaching of salvation and of a living Christ of compassion...."

See the full introduction, and experience the depth of Norbert Krapf's passionate poetry, in Catholic Boy Blues: A Poet's Journal of Healing. See the growing number of rave reviews here.

"The Pope's War" Book Reviews from Germany

Matthew Fox's "The Pope's War" came out in German in September. Below are three reviews from Germany about the book. An Italian version should be released next year.

Much Truth and Insights into Ratzinger’s Style of Leadership: A Review from Germany

M. Plotzki

This book is a must-read for every Catholic and interested Christian because it points out Ratzinger’s schemings and his way of fraudulently concealing facts in clear and factual language without becoming spiteful or biased.  (My compliments to the translator for the excellent translation.)

The book explains a “theology of obedience” that affects our every day lives.  A theology that conceals crimes against children and teenagers, deliberately keeps them secret and even shields, protects and promotes the bishops and cardinals involved.  Ratzinger argues for compassion where openness and justice should be called for. Is this an “intact theology.” one that can reach people and is open and willing to reform?

This book, that I highly recommend to every interested and questioning person, raises serious concerns in me and stirs me up.  As a former member of the Roman Catholic Church, I too belong to those Christians who lament the deterioration of a society that with this behavior sees itself deprived of another one of its supports.  The great amount of people leaving this institution point the same way.

Here and all over the world we find many examples showing how the Vatican operates--Ratzinger has silenced good theologians who had been teaching inspiring, stimulating messages – for instance in the issue of women’s rights - that could bring change. This has been done by dismissing them from the church against their own will.  This book explains the background and mechanisms involved in these cases. Matthew Fox, for whom I wish many readers for his book, belongs to this group of theologians compromised by the Vatican.

Perhaps this book will lead to an enhanced exchange between its readers, so that together we can focus on these grievances!  That would be desirable! As always change can only be brought about when we ourselves as members of our society become active and express ourselves!

Clarification and Truth About Ratzinger: A Review from Germany

Bernd Wagenbach, director of studies (retired)

Helga Simon-Wagenbach

For a long time I have critically studied the history of the church and vigilantly watched the scandalous ideas and activities from Ratzinger that have nothing to do with the teachings of Jesus. Of all the publications dealing with these problems, the outstanding book “Ratzinger und sein Kreuzzug”(in English, “The Pope’s War”) by Matthew Fox is particularly worth reading.

It contains very interesting information about the current pope including some that is to this point unknown and appalling – for example information concerning Opus Dei and the Legion of Christ.  Such an extraordinary and thrilling book as this, that serves the purpose of clarification and truth, should be warmly recommended like hardly any other!  It most definitely deserves a much larger dissemination.

Pope Benedict XVI– A Man of War and a “Murderer”of Theology? A Review from Germany

Roland R. Ropers

philosopher of religion and publicist

The American theologian and former Dominican Monk Matthew Fox, who is known worldwide, describes with brilliant clarity Ratzinger’s thirty year long dictatorship in the Vatican and his part in the cover-up of pedophile scandals and inquisition-like crusades against a large number of theologians and spiritual teachers who don’t conform to his political views and his course back into the religious Dark Ages.

It is obvious that Joseph Ratzinger has exchanged his soul for power.  Matthew Fox refers to Pope Benedict XVI as a “murderer of theology” and a “man of war.”  The current book of the now 71 year old professor of Creation Spirituality is appalling and illustrates how fraudulent and far from Christ the institution of the Roman-Catholic “faith corporation” has been steered.

At the end of his diagnosis Matthew Fox, among other things, points out 25 tangible steps for the revitalization of Christian communities.  Everyone who still relies on Pope Benedict and the cardinals, bishops and priests enslaved by him should very attentively read this book. It is about the urgently needed revolution of spirituality.

Cosmic Wonder, Human Opportunity

This is a review of:  THE NEW UNIVERSE AND THE HUMAN FUTURE: HOW A SHARED COSMOLOGY COULD TRANSFORM THE WORLD by Nancy Ellen Abrams and Joel R. Primack        Yale Press, 2011 This book is in every sense of the word, a prophetic book. Its message ranks right up there with those of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Joel. Like the prophets, it is at times poetic, demanding, grounded, soaring, empowering, and always awe-inspiring.

Rabbi Heschel says the essence of the prophet’s work is to interfere, and Joel Primack and Nancy Abrams are doing nothing if they are not interfering. They are interfering with apathy, couch-potato-itis, anthropocentrism, and despair by inspiring us with the newly found reasons we have for waking up, getting involved, and resisting dumb media, amoral education, and frozen religious ideologies. They inspire us to do what prophets do: give birth to justice from a newly born heart, a newly born consciousness. And to shout the dangerous paths, the ways of folly, we are on. This book does all that and more.

I should offer a disclaimer here. I know and truly love Joel and Nancy. I know their marvelous book, The View from the Center of the Universe and recommend it to everyone I know. I know their sterling credentials as teachers of the new cosmology and the great respect Joel carries in the scientific community. Above all, I know their humility. While helping us access new scientific knowledge to recover our sense of the Cosmos, they also show up at spiritual events, dance circle dances, laugh with us lay people (meaning non-scientists), chant, meditate, make music, write poetry, and just plain participate. I like that about them. They are human beings as well as scientists. They are not preaching from an ivory tower or to the scientific choir alone (though they have the courage to take on the cynics and pessimists in that circle). Their message is for all of us: “Wake up before it is too late. Drink in the new good news of the universe. Join and build up a ‘cosmic society.’”

Wisely the authors point out that human consciousness evolves from self-awareness, to tribe, to religion, to nationality, to species, to Earth, and ultimately to Cosmos. We, like the universe, need to keep expanding (I think of Meister Eckhart: “God is delighted to watch your soul enlarge.”) We can so easily get stuck in any one of these smaller groupings — self (narcissism), tribe (tribalism), religion (my God can beat up your God/goddess), nation (who is the empire de jour? We are number one and the exceptional one). But Gaia and her pain is calling us beyond all these earlier identities to embrace Earth, which needs so much embracing today, and now Cosmos as well. We don’t have to abandon the earlier soul periods; we can incorporate them into this great act of growing our souls, expanding our consciousness. We can love self without being narcissistic; we can love our tribe without being tribalistic and hating other tribes; we can embrace a religious path without denying others theirs; we can be Americans (or Egyptians or Argentinians) without having to go to war to prove we are superior. Of course we are on a path of consciousness expansion. After all, this universe is biased in favor of expansion. This is a scientific fact.

Joel and Nancy are clearly in love with what science is learning today. Their love is contagious. Their enthusiasm ignites all who drink it in. They have the children in mind when they say “today’s children could be the first generation ever raised in the universe they actually live in,” and they urge us to teach the “powers of ten” to the kids and resist teaching the easy metaphors of selfishness, cynicism, or despair. “Earth itself is not a mess but a jewel of the cosmos, rich with life and potential, and possibly unique in all the heavens,” they declare, like twenty-first-century Davids singing new psalms.

Joel and Nancy have looked hard and analyzed deeply the amazing findings of the Hubble Space Telescope and other instruments from the past two decades of explosive findings in cosmology. Here is one metaphor that they put forth for our understanding:

Imagine that the entire universe is an ocean of dark energy. On that ocean there sail billions of ghostly ships, made of dark matter. At the tips of the tallest masts of the largest ships there are tiny beacons of light, which we call galaxies. With Hubble Space Telescope, the beacons are all we see. We don’t see the ships, we don’t see the ocean — but we know they’re there through the Double Dark theory.

They take on the literalists of science (who have so much in common with the literalists of the Bible) when they say:

If taken literally, scientific cosmology is completely misleading. There was no loud bang at the Big Bang, and it wasn’t big. (There was no size to compare it to.) Metaphor is our only entrée into invisible reality.

I have often said that the most important things in life are metaphors, whether we are speaking of life or death, spirit or sex, love or body. And the universe too is metaphor and accessible by metaphor. All the prophets knew these things. Metaphor carries us on wings larger than despair, self-pity, talk of “selfish genes,” and pessimism — all of which is so often a cover-up and escape from responsibility.

This is a book on ethics, a book about renewing our foundation for ethics. The authors talk passionately about the folly of our race as we face our own potential extinction and the extinction of this marvelous planet as we know it. They see our uniqueness not just in terms of this planet but also in terms of what we know about the universe. They urge us to “crack open our imaginations” and to wake up to the “accident” of our being “born at the turning point.” And what turning point is that? It goes back to the fact of the rediscovery of how unique we are as a species: “It took a series of outrageously improbable events on Earth, plus multiple cosmic catastrophes to earlier species like the dinosaurs before humans could evolve.… Our level of intelligence (and higher) may be extremely rare” in the universe.

We Are the Self-Consciousness of the Universe

With our uniqueness comes a special responsibility, for if humans go down, like many primate species before us have, then something very precious will be lost in the universe.

From the point of view of the universe as a whole, intelligent life may be the rarest of occurrences and the most in need of protection…. We — all intelligent, self-aware creatures that may exist in any galaxy — are the universe’s only means of reflecting on and understanding itself. Together we are the self-consciousness of the universe. The entire universe is meaningless without us. This is not to say that the universe wouldn’t exist without intelligent beings. Something would exist, but it wouldn’t be a universe, because a universe is an idea, and there would be no ideas.

We are living at a “pivotal” moment in the history of the universe for today we can “see” the entire history of the universe, but there will come a time when, because of the expansion of the cosmos, the past will no longer be visible; distant galaxies will disappear over the horizon. We are able to take in more galaxies today than ever will be perceived in the future. And, in our own local group of galaxies, because of gravity at work, there will be a blending of the Milky Way and Andromeda that will shut our descendants off from the rest of the universe. No wonder Joel and Nancy feel so called to sing the universe’s story at this time.

The authors recognize our moral obligations to change as a species. With the human race now at almost 7 billion people, the inflation we have been undergoing is not sustainable. We could — and are — destroying our planet as we know it. This is why they call for an ethic of sustainability that is itself sustained by the wonder of the world we now know we live in, the universe at its pivotal moment. They point out how we do not know if there is other intelligent life out there but we do know what we have here. Moreover:

We randomly-alive-today people actually have the power to end this evolutionary miracle, or not…. Without human beings, as far as anyone knows, the universe will be silenced forever. No meaning, no beauty, no awe, no consciousness, no “laws” of physics. Is any quarrel or pile of possessions worth this?

We need to adjust to realities as we now know them. For example, talk of “space war” is beyond dangerous because if we launch just a truckload of gravel into space we will destroy not only all sophisticated weaponry but also the satellites that we all depend on for weather information, global positioning systems, and communication.

Enough Is a Feast

We must move beyond the inflationary period of economics, of judging things by growth of GNP. We have to realize that spiritual relationships can grow continuously — but economic ones can’t. Joel and Nancy write:

Our drive for meaning, spiritual connection, personal and artistic expression, and cultural growth can be unlimited … if we valued them above consumer goods, then we would have a new paradigm for human progress. For our universe the most creative period, which brought forth galaxies, stars, atoms, planets, and life, came after inflation ended, and this could also be true for humanity. A stable period can last as long as human creativity stays ahead of our physical impact on the earth.

If this isn’t a call for a simpler lifestyle I don’t know what is.

What is right action? “The goal should be sustainable prosperity, which is perfectly defined by the Zen saying ‘enough is a feast.’… Nonstop creativity will be essential to maintain long term stability.”

This is a daring book. The authors take on the hypothesis of multiple universes and draw a stunning conclusion:

If the theory of Eternal Inflation is right, then our universe — the entire region created by our Big Bang — is an incredibly rare jewel: a tiny but long-lived pocket in the heart of eternity where by chance exponential inflation stopped, time began, space opened up, and the laws of physics allowed interesting things to happen and complexity to evolve.

Just as our Earth is an “incredibly rare jewel,” so too is our universe, whether it has happened alone or is one among many. The authors of this book have not grown numb to awe and wonder.

The authors also take on the subject of God’s causation when they ask this question:

Is this then at last the place to credit God as the literal first cause? That’s an option. But rather than skipping lightly over eternity itself to paste in the idea of God ‘causing eternity,’ we might do better to think of the beginning as being just as unknown as the distant future, and ourselves, as true explorers, moving outward from the center in both directions. In cosmology both the distant past and the distant future are in a real sense ahead of us, the one waiting to be discovered, the other to be created.

As a theologian, I hear this as a clarion call to rediscover the apophatic Divinity, the God of Darkness, the pathway of letting go and letting be, the God who “has no name and will never be given a name” (Eckhart), where the alpha (beginning) and omega (ending) are both bathed in mystery and in darkness — a double darkness, we might say. It’s a call for a transcendence that is not “up” so much as deep down

There is wisdom and passion in these pages. There are sacred cows to let go of, inner work to do, and outer work to accomplish. But we have the tools. Do we have the will and the heart? Anyone who studies this book will be deepening and strengthening both. Read this book and grow your soul. Right behavior can and should follow.