I was in my friend Steve Bell's studio yesterday producing a new song called Divine Obedience, which I will be sharing in the coming weeks. I was asked to write the song by the folks who drafted the Barmen Today Declaration, inspired by the Barmen Declaration drafted by Karl Barth and others (and signed by Dietrich Bonhoeffer) in 1934. More on this later.
It is a 2 1/2 hour drive back home from Steve's studio in Winnipeg, and I found myself singing "come with me to the palace of nowhere, where all the many things are one", and thought, the Sunday Song and Rumination for this week will be Palace of Nowhere.
This week is about cosmic hope.
The reason I have been so drawn to making music and incorporating spoken word with James Finley, is because he walks in a lineage of mystics who discovered that mysterious place that belongs entirely to God; and then spent their lives trying to poetically describe this place, of dignity, of magnitude, of small simplicity, of love... the core of who and Whose we are.
Thomas Merton called it the True Self.
Another way it can be described is that we are "breathers of the breath of God".
Or the Psalmist said, "Where can I go from your Spirit O God?"
James Finley quotes Bonaventure in this song too when he says (about God)... "whose circumference is nowhere and whose center is everywhere.* The entire quote in the song by James Finley is a passage from his classic book Merton's Palace of Nowhere.
It is remarkable! That we get to walk in moments of conscious incarnation (which is not the same as self reflective) is an immense gift!
As I keep my eyes open to the times, I get sad sometimes because as I see the Christian religion being defended a lot, I don't see an awareness of the incarnation we claim to believe in, very much. We still have to look the part of some overreaching and empty purity claim, and often spend our whole lives not being aware of the miracle of getting to be a unique iteration of Divine Reality.
The Taoist philosopher Chuang Tzu (370-287 BC) said, "come with me to the palace of nowhere, where all the many things are one." He was one of Thomas Merton's most beloved Eastern philosophers, to the point where, after years of study, Merton wrote a modern version of Chuang Tzu's sayings and published a book called The Way of Chuang Tzu. Of course, in some circles this sparked threat, that a Christian monk would be reading something other than Christian writings, but as James Finley says in our album on Merton, "Merton recognized depth, wherever he found it".
I love the palace of nowhere phrase, because it doesn't confuse the many things as not many things, but it speaks to the Mystery at the heart of all of this, that makes each "scandal of the particular", one.
So in this track, you'll hear me singing the words of Chuang Tzu, you'll hear the spoken word of James Finley and then you'll hear audio of Thomas Merton speaking on the "kind of monasticism that cannot be extinguished" from the last talk he ever gave. At the end of that talk, he did a lunch, and then went up to his room, to have a bath, and he died of electrocution from a short in a fan. That these words were recorded, is a gift, and I am in gratitude to the Merton Legacy Trust and Now You Know Media for the use of the audio. Precious!
Alana Levandoski is a song and chant writer, recording artist and music producer, in the Christian tradition, who lives with her family on an aspiring permaculture farm on the Canadian prairies.