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Thomas Merton: Contemplation and Action

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.

Reference:
[1] 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.

Image credit: Solitude in the Woods. Moon Night (detail), Ladislav Mednyánszky, 1870, Slovak National Gallery, Slovakia.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: It is necessary for me to live here alone without a woman, for the silence of the forest is my bride and the sweet dark warmth of the whole world is my love, and out of the heart of that dark warmth comes the secret that is heard only in silence, but it is the root of all the secrets that are whispered by all the lovers in their beds all over the world. I have an obligation to preserve the stillness, the silence, the poverty, the virginal point of pure nothingness which is at the center of all other loves. I cultivate this plant silently in the middle of the night and water it with psalms and prophecies in silence. It becomes the most beautiful of all the trees in the garden, at once the primordial paradise tree, the axis mundi, the cosmic axle, and the Cross. —Thomas Merton
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Thomas Merton: Contemplation and Action

Merton’s Call for Racial Justice
Friday, November 27, 2020

In the midst of the intense struggle for civil rights, Thomas Merton insisted that Christians had a moral duty to address racism—on a personal and systemic level. His words were prophetic at the time and continue to be relevant to this day. In Seeds of Destruction, he writes:

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. It is not just [a] question of a little more good will and generosity: it is a question of waking up to crying injustices and deep-seated problems which are ingrained in the present setup and which, instead of getting better, are going to get worse. [1]

The purpose of non-violent protest, in its deepest and most spiritual dimensions is then to awaken the conscience of the white people to the awful reality of their injustice and of their sin, so that they will be able to see that the Negro problem is really a White problem: that the cancer of injustice and hate which is eating white society and is only partly manifested in racial segregation with all its consequences, is rooted in the heart of the white people themselves. [2] 

In later writings, Merton elaborates on the pernicious evil of systems of oppression and how we must combat them through the use of faith, hope, and love.

When a system can, without resort to overt force, compel people to live in conditions of abjection, helplessness, wretchedness . . . it is plainly violent. To make people live on a subhuman level against their will, to constrain them in such a way that they have no hope of escaping their condition, is an unjust exercise of force. Those who in some way or other concur in the oppression—and perhaps profit by it—are exercising violence even though they may be preaching pacifism. And their supposedly peaceful laws, which maintain this spurious kind of order, are in fact instruments of violence and oppression. [3]

Growth, survival and even salvation may depend on the ability to sacrifice what is fictitious and unauthentic in the construction of one’s moral, religious or national identity. One must then enter upon a different creative task of reconstruction and renewal. This task can be carried out only in the climate of faith, of hope and of love: these three must be present in some form, even if they amount only to a natural belief in the validity and significance of human choice, a decision to invest human life with some shadow of meaning, a willingness to treat other people as other selves. [4]

References:
[1] Thomas Merton, “To a White Priest,” Seeds of Destruction (Farrar, Straus and Giroux: 1964), 310.

[2] “Letters to a White Liberal,” Seeds of Destruction, 45–46. Note: Minor edits made to incorporate gender-inclusive language.

[3] Thomas Merton, Faith and Violence: Christian Teaching and Christian Practice (University of Notre Dame Press: 1968), 7–8.

[4] Faith and Violence, 138. Note: Minor edits made to incorporate gender-inclusive language.

Image credit: Solitude in the Woods. Moon Night (detail), Ladislav Mednyánszky, 1870, Slovak National Gallery, Slovakia.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: It is necessary for me to live here alone without a woman, for the silence of the forest is my bride and the sweet dark warmth of the whole world is my love, and out of the heart of that dark warmth comes the secret that is heard only in silence, but it is the root of all the secrets that are whispered by all the lovers in their beds all over the world. I have an obligation to preserve the stillness, the silence, the poverty, the virginal point of pure nothingness which is at the center of all other loves. I cultivate this plant silently in the middle of the night and water it with psalms and prophecies in silence. It becomes the most beautiful of all the trees in the garden, at once the primordial paradise tree, the axis mundi, the cosmic axle, and the Cross. —Thomas Merton
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Thomas Merton: Contemplation and Action

Merton’s Love of Nature
Thursday, November 26, 2020
Thanksgiving in the U.S.

Part of Thomas Merton’s legacy, which I believe has been underappreciated, is his great love of nature. In the hills of Kentucky, he found his connection to God strengthened by every leaf, every tree, every sunrise. I felt it as well in my time at his hermitage. Theologian and GreenFaith fellow Sister Kathleen Deignan writes of Merton’s relationship to the natural world, which inevitably led to his activism on the earth’s behalf:

Curiously, what remains hidden or obscure in [Merton’s] very public discourse on matters of the sacred is the significance that the natural world played as the ecstatic ground of his own experience of God. But a close reading of his voluminous writings reveals his intimate rapport with and progressive espousal of creation as the body of divinity—at once veiling and unveiling the God he so longed to behold and be held by. [1]

[Merton] chose to live alone in the forest as refuge for his own existential pain, but also to make reparation for the violation of earth and earth peoples. Here he became a poet, a protester, a prophet . . .  [2]

Deignan’s selections from Merton’s journals demonstrate how his love for nature (he even calls the forest his “bride”) leads him to grieve and denounce nature’s abuse:

I love the woods, particularly around the hermitage. Know every tree, every animal, every bird. [3]

When I am most sickened by the things that are done by the country that surrounds this place I will take out the [Hebrew biblical] prophets and sing them in loud Latin across the hills and send their fiery words sailing south over the mountains to the place where they split atoms for the bombs in Tennessee.

There is also the non-ecology, the destructive unbalance of nature, poisoned and unsettled by bombs, by fallout, by exploitation: the land ruined, the waters contaminated, the soil charged with chemicals, ravaged with machinery, the houses of farmers falling apart because everybody goes to the city and stays there . . .

It is necessary for me to live here alone without a woman, for the silence of the forest is my bride and the sweet dark warmth of the whole world is my love, and out of the heart of that dark warmth comes the secret that is heard only in silence, but it is the root of all the secrets that are whispered by all the lovers in their beds all over the world. I have an obligation to preserve the stillness, the silence, the poverty, the virginal point of pure nothingness which is at the center of all other loves. I cultivate this plant silently in the middle of the night and water it with psalms and prophecies in silence. It becomes the most beautiful of all the trees in the garden, at once the primordial paradise tree, the axis mundi, the cosmic axle, and the Cross. [4]

Richard again: It is passages such as these which let you know why I, like so many tens of thousands, consider Merton a primary teacher of the spiritual life. In our time, maybe the primary teacher. He puts it all together (and with such good words, too).

References:
[1] Kathleen Deignan, “Introduction: ‘The Forest Is My Bride,’” When the Trees Say Nothing: Writings on Nature by Thomas Merton, ed. Kathleen Deignan (Sorin Books: 2003), 22.

[2] Deignan, “Introduction,” 33.

[3] Thomas Merton, journal entry (March 23, 1967). See Learning to Love: Exploring Solitude and Freedom, ed. Christine M. Bochen (HarperSanFrancisco: 1997), 208. Deignan, 168.

[4] Thomas Merton, “Day of a Stranger,” journal entry (May 1965). See Dancing in the Water of Life: Seeking Peace in the Hermitage, ed. Robert E. Daggy (HarperSanFrancisco: 1997), 240. Deignan, 170, 171–172.

Image credit: Solitude in the Woods. Moon Night (detail), Ladislav Mednyánszky, 1870, Slovak National Gallery, Slovakia.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: It is necessary for me to live here alone without a woman, for the silence of the forest is my bride and the sweet dark warmth of the whole world is my love, and out of the heart of that dark warmth comes the secret that is heard only in silence, but it is the root of all the secrets that are whispered by all the lovers in their beds all over the world. I have an obligation to preserve the stillness, the silence, the poverty, the virginal point of pure nothingness which is at the center of all other loves. I cultivate this plant silently in the middle of the night and water it with psalms and prophecies in silence. It becomes the most beautiful of all the trees in the garden, at once the primordial paradise tree, the axis mundi, the cosmic axle, and the Cross. —Thomas Merton
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Thomas Merton: Contemplation and Action

One God of the Earth
Wednesday, November 25, 2020

One way that our growth in love becomes stuck is when we identify so much with our group or country that it replaces our faith in the One God of all. As we see in politics in the United States, most people only know how to love people who are like themselves with regard to their race, their nationality, their religion, or their political party. Thomas Merton especially warned about the phenomenon we know in our day as “Christian nationalism.” When belief in country and religion merge as one, the alternative way of Jesus takes a back seat. I invite you to read Merton’s challenging words with willing mind and heart:

A “Christian nationalist” is one whose Christianity takes second place, and serves to justify a patriotism in whose eyes the nation can do no wrong. In such a case, it becomes “Christian faith” and “Christian heroism” to renounce even one’s Christian protest and to obey the dictates of the (unchristian) Nation without question. Instead of that Christian independence which realizes that the Nation itself may come under the higher judgment of God, there arises the notion of a “Christian” obedience in which the faithful are urged to accept the national purpose on the justification of any and every means. They renounce all judgment and choice in order to follow secular authority blindly since “the Government knows best.”. . .

The great question then is one of clarification. We can no longer afford to equate faith with the acceptance of myths about our nation, our society, or our technology; to equate hope with a naive confidence in our image of ourselves as the good guys against whom all the villains in the world are leagued in conspiracy; to equate love with a mindlessly compliant togetherness, a dimly lived and semi-radiant compulsiveness in work and play, invested by commercial artists with an aura of spurious joy. [1]

Richard again: While we can be grateful for any freedoms and privileges protected by our national governments, we cannot allow them to claim that they are themselves the foundational source of those rights. That role belongs to God! Our love and respect for human dignity must be extended to people of all nations, not just our own. I wrote this prayer almost ten years ago on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks. We need the grace of universal solidarity to join the One God in our ever-expanding love for the world:

God of all races, nations, and religions,
You know that we cannot change others,
Nor can we change the past.
But we can change ourselves.
We can join You in changing our only
And common future where Love “reigns”
The same over all.
Help us not to say, “Lord, Lord” to any nationalist gods,
But to hear the One God of all the earth,
And to do God’s good thing for this One World.

References:
[1] Thomas Merton, Faith and Violence: Christian Teaching and Christian Practice (University of Notre Dame Press: 1968), 203–204.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, homily, “From Self-Love to Group Love to Universal Love,” (May 6, 2018); and

Prayer of the Day,” Sojourners (September 11, 2012).

Image credit: Solitude in the Woods. Moon Night (detail), Ladislav Mednyánszky, 1870, Slovak National Gallery, Slovakia.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: It is necessary for me to live here alone without a woman, for the silence of the forest is my bride and the sweet dark warmth of the whole world is my love, and out of the heart of that dark warmth comes the secret that is heard only in silence, but it is the root of all the secrets that are whispered by all the lovers in their beds all over the world. I have an obligation to preserve the stillness, the silence, the poverty, the virginal point of pure nothingness which is at the center of all other loves. I cultivate this plant silently in the middle of the night and water it with psalms and prophecies in silence. It becomes the most beautiful of all the trees in the garden, at once the primordial paradise tree, the axis mundi, the cosmic axle, and the Cross. —Thomas Merton
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Thomas Merton: Contemplation and Action

Recovering Our Original Unity
Tuesday, November 24, 2020

What is the relation of [contemplation] to action? Simply this. He who attempts to act and do things for others or for the world without deepening his own self-understanding, freedom, integrity and capacity to love will not have anything to give others. He will communicate to them nothing but the contagion of his own obsessions, his aggressiveness, his ego-centered ambitions, his delusions about ends and means, his doctrinaire prejudices and ideas. —Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton was the first writer I encountered who spoke so clearly about the connection between contemplation and action. I believe that is true in part because he knew it from his own life. If you’ve ever read The Seven Storey Mountain, you know that Merton did not begin his faith journey as an activist. In fact, he lived his first two decades largely concerned with his own advancement, experience, and pleasure. It seems that he began his vocation to the priesthood motivated, at least to some extent, by the same egoic concerns, though pointed in a more holy direction. However, 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.

As Merton reflected: “We are already one. But we imagine that we are not. And what we have to recover is our original unity. What we have to be is what we are.” [1] He had finally recognized that the “programs for happiness” which he had pursued his whole life were never going to bring him the sense of worthiness he desired. Instead, he embraced this paradoxical statement: “In humility is the greatest freedom. As long as you have to defend the imaginary self that you think is important, you lose your peace of heart.” [2]

Merton had an uncanny ability to describe the truth of his own heart in a way the rest of us could understand. And he deeply believed that our inner healing was for the sake of the outer world. Near the end of his life, as Merton participated in ongoing dialogue between Eastern and Western monastic traditions, he shared the following prayer. It was radical in its time and remains just as necessary today:

Oh, God, we are one with You. You have made us one with You. You have taught us that if we are open to one another, You dwell in us. Help us to preserve this openness and to fight for it with all our hearts. Help us to realize that there can be no understanding where there is mutual rejection. Oh God, in accepting one another wholeheartedly, fully, completely, we accept You, and we thank You, and we adore You, and we love You with our whole being, because our being is in Your being, our spirit is rooted in Your spirit. Fill us then with love, and let us be bound together with love as we go our diverse ways, united in this one spirit which makes You present in the world, and which makes You witness to the ultimate reality that is love. Love has overcome. Love is victorious. Amen. [3]

References:
[1] Thomas Merton, informal talk in Calcutta (October 1968). See The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton, ed. Naomi Burton, Patrick Hart, and James Laughlin (New Directions Publishing: ©1973, 1975), 308.

[2] Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation (New Directions: 2007, ©1961), 57.

[3] The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton, 318–319.

Epigraph: Merton, Contemplation in a World of Action, 2nd ed. (University of Notre Dame Press: 1998), 160–161.

Image credit: Solitude in the Woods. Moon Night (detail), Ladislav Mednyánszky, 1870, Slovak National Gallery, Slovakia.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: It is necessary for me to live here alone without a woman, for the silence of the forest is my bride and the sweet dark warmth of the whole world is my love, and out of the heart of that dark warmth comes the secret that is heard only in silence, but it is the root of all the secrets that are whispered by all the lovers in their beds all over the world. I have an obligation to preserve the stillness, the silence, the poverty, the virginal point of pure nothingness which is at the center of all other loves. I cultivate this plant silently in the middle of the night and water it with psalms and prophecies in silence. It becomes the most beautiful of all the trees in the garden, at once the primordial paradise tree, the axis mundi, the cosmic axle, and the Cross. —Thomas Merton
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Thomas Merton: Contemplation and Action

Contemplative Responsibility
Monday, November 23, 2020

Thomas Merton has been a primary teacher and inspiration to me ever since I read his book The Sign of Jonas as a teenager. He was one of the most influential American Catholics of the twentieth century. It was Merton who reintroduced the Christian contemplative tradition to the Western church in the 1950s and 60s. By living a contemplative life, Merton grew in love for God and all of God’s children and creation—so much so that he became committed to doing what he could for the common good. Amidst the societal disruptions of the 1960s, it was not enough for him to simply pray. He also devoted himself to action—writing, collaboration, and teaching—though he never lost his deep yearning for solitude and contemplation.

As Merton began to seriously wrestle with the injustices plaguing the United States and the world, he published Seeds of Destruction, a book urging Christians to reflect on their moral responsibility to take a stand on issues such as racism, war, and poverty. His words speak to our moment as well:

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. . . . The monastic [that is, contemplative] flight from the world [or what I call “the system”—RR] into the desert is . . . a total rejection of all standards of judgment which imply attachment to a history of delusion, egoism and sin . . . a definitive refusal to participate in those activities which have no other fruit than to prolong the reign of untruth, greed, cruelty and arrogance in the world of people. . . .

The freedom of the Christian contemplative is not freedom from time, but freedom in time. It is the freedom to go out and meet God in the inscrutable mystery of God’s will here and now, in this precise moment in which God asks humanity’s cooperation in shaping the course of history according to the demands of divine truth, mercy and fidelity. . . .

Therefore it seems to me to be a solemn obligation of conscience at this moment of history to take the positions which . . . are, it seems to me, in vital relation with the obligations I assumed when I took my monastic vows. To have a vow of poverty seems to me illusory if I do not in some way identify myself with the cause of people who are denied their rights and forced, for the most part, to live in abject misery. To have a vow of obedience seems to me to be absurd if it does not imply a deep concern for the most fundamental of all expressions of God’s will: the love of God’s truth and of our neighbor.

Richard again: Thomas Merton knew that contemplation and solidarity with the universal suffering of creation (the planet itself, animals, humans) is to enter into the eternal suffering of God, what Dominican Gerald Vann called “the Divine Pity.” [1]

References:
[1] Gerald Vann, The Divine Pity: A Study in the Social Implications of the Beatitudes (Sheed & Ward: 1946).

Adapted from Thomas Merton, Seeds of Destruction (Farrar, Straus and Giroux: 1964), xi, xii, xiii–xiv. Note: Minor edits made to incorporate gender-inclusive language.

Adapted from Richard Rohr: Essential Teachings on Love, ed. Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Orbis Books: 2018), 48; and

The Art of Letting Go: Living the Wisdom of Saint Francis, disc 3 (Sounds True: 2010), CD.

Image credit: Solitude in the Woods. Moon Night (detail), Ladislav Mednyánszky, 1870, Slovak National Gallery, Slovakia.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: It is necessary for me to live here alone without a woman, for the silence of the forest is my bride and the sweet dark warmth of the whole world is my love, and out of the heart of that dark warmth comes the secret that is heard only in silence, but it is the root of all the secrets that are whispered by all the lovers in their beds all over the world. I have an obligation to preserve the stillness, the silence, the poverty, the virginal point of pure nothingness which is at the center of all other loves. I cultivate this plant silently in the middle of the night and water it with psalms and prophecies in silence. It becomes the most beautiful of all the trees in the garden, at once the primordial paradise tree, the axis mundi, the cosmic axle, and the Cross. —Thomas Merton
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Thomas Merton: Contemplation and Action

Joy and Sadness: A Lesson from Merton’s Hermitage
Sunday, November 22, 2020

In 1985 my Franciscan “guardians” (as Francis called our superiors) gave me a year’s leave to spend in contemplation. It was a major turning point in my life, and ultimately led to the formation of the Center for Action and Contemplation.

The first thirty days of my “sabbatical” were spent in the hills of Kentucky, in Thomas Merton’s (1915–1968) hermitage about a mile away from the main monastery. I was absolutely alone with myself, with the springtime woods, and with God, hoping to somehow absorb some of Merton’s wisdom. That first morning, it took me a while to slow down. I must have looked at my watch at least ten times before 7:00 AM! I had spent so many years standing in front of crowds as a priest and a teacher. I had to find out who I was without those trappings—the naked me alone before God.

In the mornings I would put my chair in front of the door and watch the sun come up. In the late afternoons, I would move my chair to the other side of the hermitage and watch the sun go down. The little squirrels and birds came closer and closer. They’re not afraid when we’re absolutely still.

Walter Burghardt’s definition of contemplation as “a long loving look at the real” became transformative for me. 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. I understood what Merton meant when he said, “The gate of heaven is everywhere.” [1]

I tried to keep a journal of what was happening to me. Back then, I found it particularly hard to cry. But one evening I laid my finger on my cheek and found to my surprise that it was wet. I wondered what those tears meant. What was I crying for? I wasn’t consciously sad or consciously happy. I noticed at that moment that behind it all there was a joy, deeper than any private joy. It was a joy in the face of the beauty of being, a joy at all the wonderful and lovable people I had already met in my life. Cosmic or spiritual joy is something we participate in; it comes from elsewhere and flows through us. It has little or nothing to do with things going well in our own life at that moment. I remember thinking that this must be why the saints could rejoice in the midst of suffering.

At the same moment, I experienced exactly the opposite emotion. The tears were at the same time tears of an immense sadness—a sadness at what we’re doing to the earth, sadness about the people whom I had hurt in my life, and a sadness too at my own mixed motives and selfishness. I hadn’t known that two such contrary feelings could coexist. I was truly experiencing the nondual mind of contemplation.

References:
[1] Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (Doubleday: 1966), 142.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, What the Mystics Know: Seven Pathways to Your Deepest Self (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2015), 61–63.

Image credit: Solitude in the Woods. Moon Night (detail), Ladislav Mednyánszky, 1870, Slovak National Gallery, Slovakia.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: It is necessary for me to live here alone without a woman, for the silence of the forest is my bride and the sweet dark warmth of the whole world is my love, and out of the heart of that dark warmth comes the secret that is heard only in silence, but it is the root of all the secrets that are whispered by all the lovers in their beds all over the world. I have an obligation to preserve the stillness, the silence, the poverty, the virginal point of pure nothingness which is at the center of all other loves. I cultivate this plant silently in the middle of the night and water it with psalms and prophecies in silence. It becomes the most beautiful of all the trees in the garden, at once the primordial paradise tree, the axis mundi, the cosmic axle, and the Cross. —Thomas Merton
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