“Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find it with another.”
Thomas Merton worked at the Roman Catholic Center in Harlem while attending and teaching at Columbia University. Apparently, he wondered why the gift of contemplation and mystical prayer was seen as something essentially strange, esoteric and reserved for a “small class of unnatural beings, and prohibited to everyone else.”
These gifts, he felt, were God-given, and it was incumbent upon us to develop them. In himself, he nurtured them through a rhythm of writing in solitude, reflection, and prayer. He formally became a monk in 1941 when he entered the Abbey of Gethsemani, “a community of monks belonging to the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (Trappists), the most ascetic Roman Catholic monastic order.”
His spiritual journey is documented in tens of popular books including Seeds of Contemplation, The Seven Storey Mountain, and The Silent Life, among others. In these, he discusses his great discovery.
“Contemplation, for Merton, was not simply one aspect of life, still less some esoteric phenomenon attainable by only a few in life. For him, contemplation was the fundamental reality in life. It was what made life real and alive. It was what makes us truly human.” Thomas Finley
Merton wrote that contemplation was “the highest and most paradoxical form of self realization, attained by apparent self annihilation.”
Here’s a short 1:27minute video clip where Richard Rohr talks about Thomas Merton:
And here’s Merton’s poem of prayer which might inspire you to read more by him:
When no one listens
To the quiet trees
When no one notices
The sun in the pool.
Where no one feels
The first drop of rain
Or sees the last star
Or hails the first morning
Of a giant world
Where peace begins
And rages end:
One bird sits still
Watching the work of God:
One turning leaf,
Two falling blossoms,
Ten circles upon the pond.
One cloud upon the hillside,
Two shadows in the valley
And the light strikes home.
Now dawn commands the capture
Of the tallest fortune,
Of no less marvelous prize!
Closer and clearer
Than any wordy master,
Thou inward Stranger
Whom I have never seen,
Deeper and cleaner
Than the clamorous ocean,
Seize up my silence
Hold me in Thy Hand!
Now act is waste
And suffering undone
Laws become prodigals
Limits are torn down
For envy has no property
And passion is none.
Look, the vast Light stands still
Our cleanest Light is One!
Beautiful, isn’t it?
Enjoy this short video tribute to Thomas Merton:
Stillness Speaks Teacher pages for Thomas Merton and Richard Rohr including the Traditions page for Christianity will be coming soon … and as is typical of our Teacher pages, it will provide a comprehensive view about their background, and work.
This post is an edited and enhanced version of a 2010 Stillness Speaks post.
Thomas Merton Image: Sacred Silence book cover image by Festival of Faiths (edited), CC BY 2.0.
1st video: Richard Rohr on Thomas Merton Video is sourced from the Thomas Merton YouTube channel.
2nd video: It was found on YouTube on megansspark channel … no information re its source or attribution is available. If any visitor has such information, please do contact us – Thank You.
The poem brought tears to my eyes this morning. Instead of doing my usual meditation, I decided to meditate on Merton this morning from your entries. He has always resonated with me. I too find the Divine in the Everyday. One has only to look.
So glad that Merton’s poem resonated for you.
Have a wonderful weekend … and thanks for dropping by.
The spirituality of Thomas Merton, like Saint Augustine, emerged out of a life that was truly lived in every sense of the word. I resonate with Merton because I too have had the conflicted longing for both the contemplative and active life. I deeply respect the way in which Merton bridged the spirituality of east and west!
Our apologies for this delayed response.
Indeed, Merton’s understanding of Buddhism is praised by the Dalai Lama … ironically Merton died during his trip to Bangkok for a conference on “East-West monastic dialogue.”
I read Merton’s diary every morning to have something in the back ground of my thoughts through out the day. What a beautiful soul he is. As spiritual as he was, he also struggled everyday with his faith as much as anybody. Anybody can connect with his humanness and spirituality. We all struggle everyday, but also triumph a little because of our desire to be close to God, because our desire to find goodness in human race and in ourselves.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts Jin.
Indeed Merton was/is a gift for us all !
I created the second video years ago after reading the poem at this link, which also provides the literary source. So happy you shared… blessings