Robert Lax & Politics

A few days ago, I gave a talk at the latest gathering of the International Thomas Merton Society called “Making Ourselves Heard: Lessons from Merton’s Approach to Principled Dissent and Communal Renewal.” When it came time for questions, the first one wasn’t about Merton but about Lax: “Was Lax political at all?” I gave the answer I’ve given before: Lax was political in that he believed deeply in peace. In other words, the pursuit of peace was his politics. He started his broadside Pax to promote the idea that simply disseminating poetry and art is an act of peace.

But as I’ve continued to think about the question, I’ve realized that in today’s context, Lax was political in many other ways as well. He had an absolute belief in nonviolence, even in extreme situations. He believed that those who oppose violence should eliminate it, in all forms, from their own life first. He believed that finding common language is a step toward finding common purpose. He believed that peace starts with individuals trying sincerely to communicate with each other. He believed that people should be free to do what they feel moved to do, as long as it is in harmony with others. And he never gave up hope, even when things looked bleak. At a time when I saw conflict everywhere, he saw the possibility that turmoil and unrest might lead to progress and new freedoms.

“I’m hopeful,” he said to me, “that the world’s societies are caught up in an evolutionary moment, one that will bring us into the ideal city, where music will play and all will move to it. If you decide to put on all blue clothes and do cartwheels across the square, that will be fine and in time with the music.”

Above all, he believed that we should make every decision consciously and carefully, slowing down and even stopping—waiting—until we can discern what is best for all concerned. I suspect that if we did nothing more than slow down in this country, waiting for discernment before we act or speak, the peace we think is impossible now might soon appear on the horizon, however hazy.

“In every moment,” Lax said, “we make decisions, both large and small. True life comes in understanding that these decisions are of ultimate importance.”

And isn’t it true life we seek, rather than some temporary victory, moral or otherwise?

“I think we will steadily become more receptive
to what love really means. There will be a
collective understanding of where we came from,
where we are, and where we are going.
I feel that we will increasingly sense a greater
interconnection and unity with the whole of existence,
and so we will become more gentle, more intuitive,
more caring, more giving, more loving as a result.”

–Robert Lax to Steve Georgiou (p. 242, The Way of the Dreamcatcher)

Video: “Harpo and the Clown of God”: Michael N. McGregor Talking about the Lax/Merton Friendship

A video recording of Michael N. McGregor’s keynote address at the 2017 International Thomas Merton Society conference is now viewable online.  The talk, titled “Harpo and the Clown of God: The Seven-Storied Friendship of Thomas Merton and Robert Lax,” explores the extraordinary lifelong friendship of these two intelligent, spiritual, creative, and often silly men.  To view the presentation, go to the Merton Center Digital Collections.

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.