Trying to think about life and how God makes it full

Merton on the difference between Contemplation and Individualism

“Contemplation is a gift of God, given in and through His Church, and through the prayer of the Church. St. Anthony was led into the desert not by a private voice but by the word of God, proclaimed in the Church of his Egyptian village in the chanting of the Gospel in Coptic—a classical example of liturgy opening the way to a life of contemplation! But the liturgy cannot fulfill this function if we misunderstand or underestimate the essentially spiritual value of Christian public prayer. If we cling to immature and limited notions of “privacy,” we will never be able to free ourselves from the bonds of individualism. We will never realize how the Church delivers us from ourselves by public worship, the very public character of which tends to hide us “in the secret of God’s face.”

Seasons of Celebration [SC]. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1950: 26-27


March 28, 2007 Posted by | contemplative, god, merton, religion, wisdom | Leave a comment

Merton, asceticism, and how it can integrate with Lent

Christian asceticism is remarkable above all for its balance, its sense of proportion. It does not overstress the negative side of the ascetic life, nor does it tend to flatter the ego by diminishing responsibilities or watering down the truth. It shows us clearly that, while we can do nothing without grace, we must nevertheless cooperate with grace. It warns us that we must make an uncompromising break with the world and all it stands for, but it keeps encouraging us to understand that our existence in “the world” and in time becomes fruitful and meaningful in proportion as we are able to assume spiritual and Christian responsibility for our life, our work, and even for the world we live in. Thus Christian asceticism does not provide a flight from the world, a refuge from stress and the distractions of manifold wickedness. It enables us to enter into the confusion of the world bearing something of the light of Truth in our hearts, and capable of exercising something of the mysterious, transforming power of the Cross, of love and sacrifice.

Seasons of Celebration [SC]. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1950: 131-132

March 5, 2007 Posted by | contemplative, culture, god, jesus, merton, religion, wisdom | 2 Comments

The Wilderness, Part 4, Luke 4:1-13

As I think on all this stuff, I keep being reminded of someone’s words to me a few years ago: “You’re a very powerful person”. That surprised me, because I don’t consider myself as such. And I don’t try to be. But as I reflected on those words, perhaps I am – more than I think.

I know that I have a sense of ambition about me that wants to get on and do things, to see things change. I also know that I keep finding my way into influential circles, with some powerful people. So, do I like power? Am I manipulative? Am I destructive to others?

On the positive side, I do try to be pastoral with the people I work with and serve. I do take notice of their feelings, and take time to encourage them as they deal with the changes I may be bringing in their lives. I am keen to see change happen where its necessary, am willing to work hard for it, to argue for it, and to bring it about. I do try to treat with respect those with whom I don’t see eye to eye. Lord, please keep me clean and humble. At least I recognise my tendencies…

I know that I need to keep scripture and the example of Jesus always before me, and to ask the Holy Spirit to keep my ear open to him, and to be about to recognise the voice and tactics of the devil.

I’ve just been reading some of Thomas Merton’s ‘Thoughts in Solitude’. He was talking about the desert being created as a place of no use to mankind, and so it was a place supremely valuable in the eyes of God. That’s what the Desert Fathers thought. The desert offered mankind nothing, and so it could not be wasted or exploited. It was just to be itself.

It was a place, where to go, would be to become totally dependent on God.

But it was also a place of madness, and refuge of the devil.

And now the deserts of today are not immune to the encroachments of technological mankind who seeks to uncreate what God has blessed. The cities that spring up in them are full of corruption, vice, death, and madness – just like being in the house of the devil.

Merton says that the desert is no longer a place to go and fight the devil as Christ did; but the cities in the desert are the smiles of the devil, and the desert itself moves everywhere.

Interesting thought that: mankind used to go out to the desert, but now the desert comes to mankind. The despair of the desert fills mankind.

The Christian task, says Merton, is to live facing despair, but not to consent. To trample it down under the hope of the Cross. And in our fighting, we will find Christ at our side.

Solitude then, it seems to me, is like a place of desert where one can go, be dependent upon and sustained by, God. A place where some perspective can be sought and found.

When I go on Retreat, I go to my desert.

I also wonder whether there is some truth in the thought that the madness of the desert is also in the city where I live and work; hence, I am a continual wanderer in the desert.

I can see why Merton talks about the reality of despair, and why he says that the Christian must not succumb to despair. Christ has defeated despair, as he defeated the devil and his temptations in the desert.

February 22, 2007 Posted by | contemplative, god, jesus, liminality, merton, religion | 2 Comments

Merton and the Interconnectedness of humanity

I think this thought from Thomas Merton is counter-culturally radical in the context of our isolationism and fractured relationships with each other and our neighbourhoods. But it also rings true when you consider how connected the world is through globalisation. To understand what he’s trying to say (I think) requires a degree of humility and the ability to be self-critical – and then, for it to be really meaningful, means acting upon it.

Only when we see ourselves in our true human context, as members of a race which is intended to be one organism and “one body,” will we begin to understand the positive importance not only of the successes but of the failures and accidents in our lives. My successes are not my own. The way to them was prepared by others. The fruit of my labors is not my own: for I am preparing the way for the achievements of another. Nor are my failures my own. They may spring from the failure of another, but they are also compensated for by another’s achievement. Therefore the meaning of my life is not to be looked for merely in the sum total of my achievements. It is seen only in the complete integration of my achievements and failures with the achievements and failures of my own generation, and society, and time. It is seen, above all, in my integration in the mystery of Christ.

From: No Man Is An Island. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 16

February 19, 2007 Posted by | contemplative, culture, merton, religion, wisdom | 7 Comments

Merton on ‘The old and the new.’

merton2.jpegThomas Merton’s thoughts below, made just after I was born, remind me of the cry of Jesus’s heart as he taught them how to pray: “Your kingdom come (now), your will be done (now) ON EARTH, as it is in heaven.” It’s a cry for eternity to be made real right now – heaven on earth, in fact.

I get so frustrated with Christians who pray the Lord’s Prayer like this: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done. On earth. As it is in heaven.” There’s no sense of connection between the eternal aspect of heaven and what we experience here on earth – nor does there seem to be any expectation of God’s will being done NOW. I keep trying to get our congregation to pray it as I’ve shown in the top paragraph (and will continue to keep trying – some actually get it), but it seems that the old habits of saying a formal prayer have overcome the heart of engaging with the words as a cry to God for heaven to be experienced here, right now. No murder in heaven, no murder on earth. No abuse in heaven, no abuse on earth. No deceit in heaven, no deceit on earth.

This part of the Lord’s Prayer is about seeing the hope of heaven becoming a concrete reality today. The old idea of heaven being ‘pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die’ sounds very thin when placed alongside Jesus’s idea (which is older still, but needs to be heard anew) of the fulness of heaven being called into the concrete experience of everday life so that in effect, life get lived in all its fulness (John 10:10).

“For the “old man”—everything is old—he has seen everything or thinks he has. He has lost hope in anything new. What pleases him is the “old” he clings to, fearing to lose it, but certainly not happy with it. And so he keeps himself “old” and cannot change; he is not open to any newness. His life is stagnant and futile. …
For the “new man”—everything is new. Even the old is transfigured in the Holy Spirit and is always new. There is nothing to cling to, there is nothing to be hoped for in what is already past—it is nothing.
The new man is he who can find reality where it cannot be seen by the eyes of the flesh—where it is not yet—where it comes into being the moment he sees it. And would not be (at least for him) if he did not see it.
The new man lives in a world that is always being created, and renewed. He lives in this realm of renewal and creation. He lives in life.
The old man lives without life. He lives in Death, and clings to what has died precisely because he clings to it. And yet he is crazy for change, as if struggling with the bonds of death. His struggle is miserable, and cannot be a substitute for life.
Thought of these things after [holy] communion today, when I suddenly realized that I had, and for how long, deeply lost hope of “anything new.” How foolish when in fact the newness is there all the time.” [March 18, 1959]

Thomas Merton. A Search for Solitude. Journals, Volume 3. Lawrence S. Cunningham, ed. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1997: 268-269.

January 11, 2007 Posted by | contemplative, culture, jesus, merton, religion, wisdom | 5 Comments