Thomas Merton: Contemplation and Action
Saturday, November 28, 2020
Summary: Sunday, November 22—Friday, November 27, 2020
During my sabbatical in Merton’s hermitage, the world, my own issues and hurts, all my goals and desires gradually dissolved and fell into proper perspective. God became obvious and ever present. (Sunday)
The contemplative life is not, and cannot be, a mere withdrawal, a pure negation, a turning of one’s back on the world with its sufferings, its crises, its confusions and its errors. —Thomas Merton (Monday)
At some point, Merton’s personal agenda for self-improvement must have fallen flat, which allowed him to fall more deeply into God and his True Self. He became far less concerned with the “I” who prayed than he was with the “One” to whom, with whom, and in whom he was praying. (Tuesday)
We can no longer afford to equate faith with the acceptance of myths about our nation, our society, or our technology. —Thomas Merton (Wednesday)
I love the woods, particularly around the hermitage. Know every tree, every animal, every bird. —Thomas Merton (Thursday)
The race question cannot be settled without a profound change of heart, a real shake-up and deep reaching metanoia [Greek for repentance or change of mind] on the part of White America. —Thomas Merton (Friday)
Practice: Finding God’s Will
As this week featuring the teachings of Thomas Merton concludes, I invite you to enter a Centering Prayer practice inspired by the following prayer found in Thomas Merton’s book Thoughts in Solitude. He prays:
My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore I will trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
What feelings are evoked in you as you consider Merton’s words? What word or phrase do you connect with today?
To begin: Set a timer for 20 minutes. If you are new to the practice of Centering Prayer, begin with five or ten minutes. Sit comfortably and allow your body to relax. Close your eyes or lower your gaze. Notice your breath flowing in and out.
- Consider the word or phrase from Merton’s prayer that you connected with today. (Examples might be Lord God, hope, trust, I will not fear).
- Invite the mystery of God’s presence to be with you in this time of Centering Prayer.
- With your body and mind settled, silently say the sacred word or phrase. Allow it to be the only thought in your mind.
- As distracting thoughts, sensations, or experiences arise, gently let them go and return to your sacred word or phrase.
- At the end of the prayer period, abide in silence with your eyes closed for a couple of minutes. Feel gratitude for the opportunity to experience the gift of God’s presence in the silent stillness. Perhaps you would like to reflect further by writing about or illustrating the experience in your journal. You may also prayerfully dedicate your session to a person or concern.
 Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude (Farrar, Straus and Cudahy: 1958), 83.
Click here to hear Jesuit priest James Martin read Merton’s prayer from Thoughts in Solitude.
For Further Study:
James Finley, Merton’s Palace of Nowhere, 40th anniversary ed. (Ave Maria Press: ©1978, 2017).
Alana Levandoski and James Finley, Point Vierge: Thomas Merton’s Journey in Song (Cantus Productions: 2018), CD.
Thomas Merton, Contemplation in a World of Action, 2nd ed. (University of Notre Dame Press: 1998).
Thomas Merton, Faith and Violence: Christian Teaching and Christian Practice (University of Notre Dame Press: 1968).
Thomas Merton, When the Trees Say Nothing: Writings on Nature, ed. Kathleen Deignan (Sorin Books: 2003).
Thomas Merton: Spiritual Master: Essential Writings, ed. Lawrence S. Cunningham (Paulist Press: 1992).
We Are Already One: Thomas Merton’s Message of Hope: Reflections to Honor His Centenary (1915–2015), ed. Gray Henry and Jonathan Montaldo (Fons Vitae: 2014). This collection of short essays includes reflections from Richard Rohr, James Finley, Cynthia Bourgeault, Joan Chittister, Matthew Fox, and Kathleen Deignan.