Meditating with Merton on contemplation and the spiritual life

QUESTIONS/COMMENTS FROM Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, New York & Canada, New Directions, 1972 (1962).

p  15:   The love of God seeks us in every situation, and seeks our good.

p  45    The cowardice that does what is demanded, in order to escape sacrifice.

p  49     ..the complacency of a will that loves its own excellence.

p  50    The sin? of Christian activity.  In what way is Christian activity sinful?

p. 52f   Solitude is not separation from other humans..If you go into the desert to get away from people you dislike, you will find neither peace nor solitude; you will only isolate yourself with a tribe of devils…go into the desert not to escape other men but in order to find them in God.

p  54     There is no more dangerous solitude that that of the man who is lost in a crowd, who does not know he is alone and who does not function as a person in a community either. 

p  56    God does not give us graces or talents or virtues for ourselves alone.

p  57    In humility is the greatest freedom.

p  61f   The holiness of God is seen in God becoming man and dwelling among sinners. God was not holy enough for man so they crucified him.

p 68    The trinity is an example of fellowship being possible in one person.

p  71   Christ is massacred in His members, torn limb from limb; God is murdered in men.

p  72   Even saints cannot live with saints on this earth without some anguish. 

p  75   The root of Christian love is not the will to love, but the faith that one is loved. 

p 76    Contemplation is out of the question for anyone who does not try to cultivate compassion for other men.  

p  79   The flight from the world is nothing but the flight from self-concern…it is dangerous to go i into solitude merely because you like to be alone.

p  82f   Let there always be quiet dark churches in which men can take refuge… a place somewhere …where your mind can be idle, and forget its concerns, descend into silence, and worship the Father in secret.  There can be no contemplation where there is no secret.

p  84   Do everything you can to avoid the noise and business of men…Be glad if you can keep beyond the reach of their radios. Do not bother with their unearthly songs. Do not read their advertisements…no man who who seeks spiritual freedom, can afford to yield passively to all the appeals of a society of salesmen, advertisers and consumers. There is no doubt that life cannot be lived on a human level without certain legitimate pleasures. But to say that all the pleasures which offer themselves to us as necessities are not “legitimate” is quite another story.

p 85.    We must be able to say no to our appetites.

p 85f    No contemplative life is possible without ascetic self-discipline …drinking, smoking, eating, tv, sex and today data!…

p  86    Keep your eyes clean and your ears quiet and your mind serene. Breathe God’s air. Work, if you can, under His sky.

p  87   Keep your sense of compassion for the men who have forgotten the very concept of solitude.  You, at least, into that it exists and it is the source of peace and joy.

p 96f   Another characteristic of the devil’s moral theology is the exaggeration of all distinctions between this and that, good and evil, right and wrong. These distinctions become irreducible divisions. No longer is there any sense that we might perhaps be all more or less at fault. …the moral theology of the devil grants an altogether unusual amount of importance to …the devil…one soon comes to find out that he is the very centre of the whole system, that he is behind everything…and that there is every chance of his doing so because, it now appears, his power is equal to God, or perhaps superior to it. In one word, the theology of the devil is purely and simply that the devil is god.

p 100   It is not humility to insist on being someone that you are not….how do you expect to reach your own perfection by leading somebody else’s life?

pp104-111 Sentences:  To hope is to risk frustration. Therefore make up your mind to risk frustration

Do not be one of those who, rather than risk failure, never attempts anything.

Our minds are like crows.  They pick up everything that glitters, no matter how uncomfortable our nests get with all that metal in them.

If a writer is so cautious that he never writes anything that cannot be criticised, he will never write anything that can be read.  If you want to help other people you have got to make up your mind to write things that some people will condemn.

You cannot be a man of faith unless you know how to doubt.

True faith is never merely a source of spiritual comfort. It may indeed bring peace, but before it does so it must involve us in a struggle.

We are so convinced that past evils must repeat themselves that we make them repeat themselves.

The really “new” is that which, at every moment, springs freshly into new existence.

We need to learn how to renounce our resentment towards the absurdity and moral anarchy of modern society without becoming complicit or arrogant…we reject society’s  premise by the liberty given to us by our faith in God..we are commanded to come out of Egypt!

The poet enters into himself in order to create. The contemplative enters into God in order to be created.

p 125  Sinners are people who hate everything, because their world is necessarily full of betrayal, full of illusion, full of deception. And the greatest sinners are the most boring people in the world  because they are also the most bored and the ones who find life most tedious.

p127f  Faith is first of all an intellectual assent..faith is not expected to give complete satisfaction to the intellect …yet it does not frustrate the intellect or deny it…the act of faith is an act in which the intellect is content to know God by loving Him and accepting His statements about Himself on His own terms.

p 128  Faith is also a grasp, a contact, a communion of wills…one must assent to God.

p 130  Ultimately faith is the only key to the universe.

p 133  It is unwise to try to unlock the meaning of the three persons in one nature.

p 134  We feel the weakness and instability of our spirit in the presence of the awful mystery of God…a subjective sense of our own helplessness is perfectly compatible with true faith.  

p  139  φυχος (psuchos) = animal soul;    νους (nous)  = mind, reason, knowledge;   πνευμα (pneuma)   = spirit;  σοφια (sophia)  = wisdom, an alternative name for God in the Old Testament Wisdom literature.

p  142  The Church is at the same time esentially traditional and essentially revolutionary… Christianity is a living and perpetual revolution. 

p145   “…the dry outer crust of formality which the Church sometimes acquires.”

p 146  Mysticism and dogma are not opposed..they need each other. 

p 146   …therefore beware of the contemplative who says that theology is all straw before he has ever bothered to read any.

p 151   No one can be quite sure just how Christ looked….No one can dismiss the man Christ from his interior life on the pretext that he has now entered by contemplation into direct communication with the Word.

p 153  The “what” in Christ is vastly less important than the “who”. 

p 154   Do we need a “picture” of Christ to help us in our prayers?

p 160   People waste their whole lives in appalling labour and difficulty and sacrifice to get things that make real life impossible.

p 163   Life in Christ is life in the hidden mystery of the Cross.

p 165   Reference to “the real Presence” and p. 168 all graces come to men through Mary. 

p  169  Mary is as nothing in the presence of God. 

p 176  Do not think you can show your love for Christ by hating those who seem to be his enemies on earth…He loves them.

p  178   A man cannot be a perfect Christian – that is, a saint, unless he is also a communist. Try to share some or the poverty of the poor. 

p 180   Despair is the ultimate extreme of self-love…because our resources inevitably fail us, we are all, more or less, subject to discouragement or despair.

p 181    The beginning of humility is the beginning of blessedness…if we were incapable of humility we would be incapable of joy.

p187    Place no hope in the inspirational preachers of Christian sunshine!

p 196  We must distinguish between self-will and liberty.

p  204   …many never come to suspect how much they are governed by unconscious forms of selfishness, how much their virtuous acts are prompted by a narrow and human self-interest.

p 210 striving for complete emptinesscf 231 Be empty and see that I am God”…cf p 265 ..but in the contemplative, all complexities have now begun to straighten themselves out and dissolve into unity and emptiness and interior peace…cf p268 ..emptied of attachments..cf p 278 the experience of God opens out inside you as a terrific emptinesscf p287f  ..can such union with God be the object of inordinate desire?…you cannot inordinately desire that God’s will be done for  His own sake. But it is in these two desires perfectly conceived and fulfilled that we are emptied into Him and transformed into His joy and it is in these that we cannot sin. cf p291f ..the union of the simple light of God with the simple light of man’s spirit, in love, is contemplation. The two simplicities are one. They form, as it were, an emptiness in which there is no addition but rather the taking away of names, of forms. of content, of subject matter, of identities.

p 212   The most important thing in life is a feeling of interior peace.

p 217  Meditation…teaches you how to become aware of the presence of God : and most of all it aims at bringing you to a state of almost constant loving attention to God, and dependence on Him.

p221  If you have never had any distractions  you don’t know how to pray. 

p223 It is no use trying to clear your mind of all the material things at the moment of meditation if you do nothing to cut down the pressures of work outside that time.

p235 Let us never forget that the ordinary way to contemplation lies through a desert without tread without beauty and without water…ie contemplation comes through a suffering journey..with no refreshment for their imagination and intellect and for the desires of their nature. 

p 243  There is no such thing as a kind of prayer in which you do absolutely nothing.

p 247  Merton refers to “stigmata” but offers no comment on whether or not it actually happens.

p 250  Christ came on earth to form contemplatives??  Is this why Christ came?

p 253  A contemplative cannot operate in a situation of extreme poverty.

p 254  Contemplation …is the normal perfection of theology…unless they are united, there is no fervour, no life and no spiritual welfare in theology, no meaning and no sure orientation in theology. 

p 259  Do not look for rest in any pleasure, because you were not created for pleasure: you were created for spiritual JOY. And if you do not know the difference between pleasure and spiritual joy you have not yet begun to live.

p 266 [The contemplative’s] life is a prolonged immersion in the rivers of tranquillity that flow from God into the whole universe and draw all things back into God.

p 269  ..if your experience of God comes from God, one of the signs may be a great diffidence in telling others about it. 

p 271  No-one teaches contemplation except God.

p 279f  Merton introduces a definition of a human person which includes the person (the spiritual and hidden self, united to God) and the ego  (the exterior, empirical self…a kind of mask for the hidden self….it is our whole reality (not a distinction between “body” and “soul”). This insist self ..has its own way of knowing, loving and experiencing, which is a divine way and not a human one…. What do we think about this division?

p 285  Merton  refers to this perfect contemplation in which the should vanishes out of itself by the perfect renunciation of all desires and all things…is such perfect contemplation on earth possible?

p 288   [Contemplatives} are the strength of the world…they are the ones who keep the universe from being destroyed…. They shall inherit the land…They see God. He does their will, because His Will is there own… hmmm..

p 290  God made the world in order that He Himself might descend into the world.

p. 295  God’s presence in the world as Man depends, in some measure, upon men.

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