Thomas Merton’s Joy (by way of prayer)

“The true contemplative is not one who prepares his mind for a particular message. . .” Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton is portrayed as owning a great joy.  In Dialogues With Silence, a book of Merton’s writings and drawings, Jonathan Montaldo, editor, embodies Merton’s thoughts.  And captures the “joy” surrounding Merton with Merton’s own words:

(this is verbatim from pages xii and xiii)

. . .situated him among those rare human beings who love the life they are leading and who have found their own true place.  He reflects his typical joy as a monk in this journal entry dated May 21, 1963:

Marvelous vision of the hills at 7:45 A.M.  The same hills as always, in the afternoon, but now catching the light in a totally new way, at once very earthly and very etherial, with delicate cups of shadow and dark ripples and crinkles where I had never seen them before, the whole slightly veiled in mist so that it seemed to be a tropical shore, a newly discovered continent.  A voice in me seemed to be crying, “Look!  Look!”  For these are the discoveries, and it is for this I am high on the mast of my ship (have always been) and know that we are on the right course, for all around is the sea of paradise.

Monastic life inculcated in Merton this heightened awareness, an alertness to the possibilities of the hour, what he called “the grip of the present.”  Alert expectancy was a habit he cultivated for a fruitful, examined life.  His monastic stability and its closed horizons ironically made all the keener his innate tendency to be more ready to depart than to settle down in fixed ideas or perspectives.  Merton was never afraid to walk away from himself when, through experience, prayer, and study, he found himself still too narrow and noninclusive to be a thoroughly catholic human being.

By appropriating the insights of a long monastic tradition, Merton learned that waiting for a “word” he could not speak to himself was the essence of prayer.  Stillness, poverty of spirit, keeping vigil, guarding thoughts, and fasting from one’s own selfishness were essential attributes of his practice of monastic humanism.  In one of the last books that he prepared for publication, The Climate of Monastic Prayer, he defined contemplation as “essentially a listening in silence” and “an expectancy”:

The true contemplative is not one who prepares his mind for a particular message that he wants or expects to hear, but is one who remains empty because he knows that he can never expect to anticipate the words that will transform his darkness into light.  He does not even anticipate a special kind of transformation.  He does not demand light instead of darkness.  He waits on the Word of God in silence, and, when he is “answered,” it is not so much by a word that bursts into his silence.  It is by his silence itself, suddenly, inexplicably revealing itself to him as a word of great power, full of the voice of God.

Author: myasceticnotebook

Hi, I'm Jeff. Husband, Father, Christian musician. Free-thinker in Christ.

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