Contemplation: Week 1
Knowing Our Source
Monday, December 10, 2018
Thomas Merton Day
Within Christianity, contemplation was not systematically taught for the last 400 or 500 years. Thankfully, Trappist monk Thomas Merton (1915–1968)—who died fifty years ago today—helped reintroduce contemplation to Western Christianity. Here’s just a taste of what Merton had to say about contemplation:
Contemplation is the highest expression of [human] intellectual and spiritual life. It is that life itself, fully awake, fully active, fully aware that it is alive. It is spiritual wonder. It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of being. It is gratitude for life, for awareness and for being. It is a vivid realization of the fact that life and being in us proceed from an invisible, transcendent and infinitely abundant Source. Contemplation is above all, awareness of the reality of that Source. It knows the Source, obscurely, inexplicably, but with a certitude that goes both beyond reason and beyond simple faith. . . . 
Contemplation reaches out to the knowledge and even to the experience of the transcendent and inexpressible God. It knows God by seeming to touch Him [sic]. Or rather it knows Him as if it had been invisibly touched by Him. . . . Touched by Him Who has no hands, but Who is pure Reality and the source of all that is real! Hence contemplation is a sudden gift of awareness, an awakening to the Real within all that is real. A vivid awareness of infinite Being at the roots of our own limited being. An awareness of our contingent reality as received as a present from God, as a free gift of love. This is the existential contact of which we speak when we use the metaphor of being “touched by God.”
Contemplation is also the response to a call: a call from Him who has no voice, and yet Who speaks in everything that is, and Who, most of all, speaks in the depths of our own being: for we ourselves are words of His. But we are words that are meant to respond to Him, to answer to Him, to echo Him, and even in some way to contain Him and signify Him. Contemplation is this echo. It is a deep resonance in the inmost center of our spirit in which our very life loses its separate voice and re-sounds with the majesty and mercy of the Hidden and Living One. 
The only true joy on earth is to escape from the prison of our own false self, and enter by love into union with the Life Who dwells and sings within the essence of every creature and in the core of our own souls. In His love we possess all things and enjoy fruition of them, finding Him in them all. And thus as we go about the world, everything we meet and everything we see and hear and touch, far from defiling, purifies us and plants in us something more of contemplation and heaven. 
 Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation (Shambhala: 2003), 1.
 Ibid., 3.
 Thomas Merton, “Seeds of Contemplation,” Silence, Joy, ed. Christopher Wait (New Directions: 2018, ©1961), 26-27. Used with permission.