contemplative spirituality

Mornings with Merton

I’m still slooowly making my way through the classic introduction to the contemplative life by Cistercian monk Thomas Merton. I read/listen to a few paragraphs each day on my morning walk. Each sentence is rich and juicy but takes time to ponder and digest. Here’s a few samples:

“We thank Him less by words than by the serene happiness of silent acceptance. It is our emptiness in the presence of His reality, our silence in the presence of His infinitely rich silence, our joy in the bosom of the serene darkness in which His light holds us absorbed, it is all this that praises Him.

“To be unknown to God is entirely too much privacy.”

“What about the men who run about the countryside painting signs that say “Jesus saves” and “Prepare to meet God!” Have you ever seen one of them? I have not, but I often try to imagine them, and I wonder what goes on in their minds. Strangely, their signs do not make me think of Jesus, but of them. Or perhaps it is “their Jesus” who gets in the way and makes all thought of Jesus impossible. They wish to force their Jesus upon us, and He is perhaps only a projection of themselves. They seem to be at times threatening the world with judgment and at other times promising it mercy. But are they asking simply to be loved and recognized and valued, for themselves?

“What is serious to men is often very trivial in the sight of God. What in God might appear to us as “play” is perhaps what he Himself takes most seriously. At any rate, the Lord plays and diverts Himself in the garden of His creation, and if we could let go of our own obsession with what we think is the meaning of it all, we might be able to hear His call and follow Him in His mysterious, cosmic dance. We do not have to go very far to catch echoes of that game, and of that dancing. When we are alone on a starlit night; when by chance we see the migrating birds in autumn descending on a grove of junipers to rest and eat; when we see children in a moment when they are really children; when we know love in our own hearts; or when, like the Japanese poet Bashō we hear an old frog land in a quiet pond with a solitary splash–at such times the awakening, the turning inside out of all values, the “newness,” the emptiness and the purity of vision that make themselves evident, provide a glimpse of the cosmic dance.

For the world and time are the dance of the Lord in emptiness. The silence of the spheres is the music of a wedding feast. The more we persist in misunderstanding the phenomena of life, the more we analyze them out into strange finalities and complex purposes of our own, the more we involve ourselves in sadness, absurdity and despair. But it does not matter much, because no despair of ours can alter the reality of things; or stain the joy of the cosmic dance which is always there. Indeed, we are in the midst of it, and it is in the midst of us, for it beats in our very blood, whether we want it to or not. Yet the fact remains that we are invited to forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnity to the winds and join in the general dance.”

-Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation

Jeremy Berg is the founding pastor of MainStreet Covenant Church in Mound, Minnesota, and Professor of Theology at Solid Rock Discipleship School. Jeremy is completing his doctorate in New Testament Context under Dr. Scot McKnight at Northern Seminary in Chicago. He holds a M.A. in Theological Studies from Bethel Seminary (2005) and B.A. from Bethel University (2002). He and his wife, Kjerstin, keep busy chasing around three kids, Peter, Isaak and Abigail.

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