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Contemplation and Action

Mystics and Non-Dual Thinkers: Week 6

Contemplation and Action
Monday, August 17, 2015

The contemplative mind is the key to everything. Within all spirituality, nothing lasts and nothing goes to any depth without non-dual consciousness. It was Thomas Merton who almost singlehandedly pulled back the veil and revealed the Western Church had lost this essential wisdom tradition for the last five centuries. In 1985 I was invited to give an eight-day retreat to the Trappist monks at the Abbey of Gethsemani, where Merton had lived. They told me then that Merton was not very popular with many of the older monks because “he told us we were not contemplatives. We were just introverts saying prayers all day.” [1]

As Archbishop Rowan Williams, former leader of the Anglican church, told the Synod of Catholic Bishops in Rome “. . . contemplation is very far from being just one kind of thing that Christians do: it is the key to prayer, liturgy, art and ethics, the key to the essence of a renewed humanity that is capable of seeing the world and other subjects in the world with freedom—freedom from self-oriented, acquisitive habits and the distorted understanding that comes from them. To put it boldly, contemplation is the only ultimate answer to the unreal and insane world that our financial systems and our advertising culture and our chaotic and unexamined emotions encourage us to inhabit. To learn contemplative practice is to learn what we need so as to live truthfully and honestly and lovingly. It is a deeply revolutionary matter.” [2] Such is the importance of what Thomas Merton re-introduced to the Western world in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Scott Peck explains that Merton “‘left the world’ for the monastery . . . because he was afraid of being contaminated by the world’s institutionalized evil. . . . From within the confines of Gethsemani, he continued to consistently and passionately protest the sins of greater society. This burning desire to be in the world but not of the world is the mark of a contemplative.” [3] James Finley, who learned from Merton for five and a half years at Gethsemani, says that when he would voice a complaint about something, Merton would tell him, “We don’t come to the monastery to get away from suffering; we come to hold the suffering of all the world.” This can only be done by plugging into a larger consciousness through contemplation. [4] No longer focused on our individual private perfection—or what Merton called “Our personal salvation project”—we become fully human and usable by opening our hearts to God.

Merton wrote, “Paradoxically, I have found peace because I have always been dissatisfied. My moments of depression and despair turn out to be renewals, new beginnings. . . . All life tends to grow like this, in mystery inscaped with paradox and contradiction, yet centered, in its very heart, on the divine mercy . . . and the realization of the ‘new life’ that is in us who believe, by the gift of the Holy Spirit.” [5]

It was in the power of that Spirit that Merton struggled against “the evil [that] is in us all . . . [and] the blindness of a world that wants to end itself.” He fought against violence, war, racism, poverty, and consumerism. He said, “Those who continue to struggle are at peace. If God wills, they can pacify the world. For he[/she] who accepts the struggle in the name of Christ is delivered from its power by the victory of Christ.” [6]

Gateway to Silence:
“We are living in a world that is absolutely transparent and the divine is shining through it all the time.”  —Thomas Merton

[1] Adapted from Richard Rohr, Jesus and Buddha: Paths to Awakening (Center for Action and Contemplation, 2008), disc 4, CD, DVD, MP3 download.
[2] Archbishop Rowan Williams, Address to the Synod of Bishops in Rome on October 10, 2012.
[3] Thomas P. McDonnell, ed., A Thomas Merton Reader (Doubleday, 1989), 5-6.
[4] James Finley, Intimacy: The Divine Ambush, disc 4 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2013), CD, MP3 download.
[5] Thomas P. McDonnell, ed., A Thomas Merton Reader (Doubleday, 1989), 16-17.
[6] Ibid., 18.


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