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- Thoughts in Solitude by Thomas Merton #1
T he desert is the home of despair. And despair, now, is everywhere. Let us not think that our interior solitude consists in the acceptance of defeat. We cannot escape anything by consenting tacitly to be defeated. Despair is an abyss without bottom. Do not think to close it by consenting to it and trying to forget you have consented. This, then, is our desert: to live facing despair, but not to consent. To trample it down under hope in the Cross. To wage war against despair unceasingly. That war is our wilderness. If we wage it courageously, we will find Christ at our side.
If we cannot face it, we will never find Him. See All Customer Reviews. Shop Books. Read an excerpt of this book! Add to Wishlist. USD Sign in to Purchase Instantly. Overview Thoughtful and eloquent, as timely or timeless now as when it was originally published in , Thoughts in Solitude addresses the pleasure of a solitary life, as well as the necessity for quiet reflection in an age when so little is private. About the Author Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, is perhaps the foremost spiritual of the twentieth century.
Show More. Average Review. Write a Review. Related Searches. Calling all writers! It's time to create stories, travel galaxies, and write your next adventure! This journal encourages its owner to dig deeper, think harder, and create more. Full of writing prompts and imagery from Disney's A Wrinkle in Time, View Product. The Ascent to Truth. Merton defines Christian mysticism, especially as expressed by the Spanish Carmelite St.
John of the John of the Cross, and he offers the contemplative experience as an answer to the irreligion and barbarism of our times. Children in Exile: Poems Fenton's work is elegant, highly finished, reticent, witty. Disturbing and deeply affecting, Children in Exile Disturbing and deeply affecting, Children in Exile remains an exhilarating and memorable performance.
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Auction catalogs can tell Think of the collections of Jacqueline Fourteen years ago, the American writer Wallis Wilde-Menozzi moved with her husband and daughter to Fourteen years ago, the American writer Wallis Wilde-Menozzi moved with her husband and daughter to Parma, a prosperous city in northern Italy. Searching for a way to find a place within a city that has existed since Roman times, she Mystics and Zen Masters.
Thomas Merton was recognized as one of those rare Western minds that are entirely at Thomas Merton was recognized as one of those rare Western minds that are entirely at home with the Zen experience. Grace is engrafted on our nature and the whole man is sanctified by the presence and action of the Holy Spirit. We live as spiritual men when we live as men seeking God. If we are to become spiritual, we must remain men. And if there were not evidence of this everywhere in theology, the Mystery of the Incarnation itself would be ample proof of it. Jesus lived the ordinary life of the men of His time, in order to sanctify the ordinary lives of men of all time.
If we want to be spiritual, then, let us first of all live our lives. Let us not fear the responsibilities and the inevitable distractions of the work appointed for us by the will of God. Let us embrace reality and thus find ourselves immersed in the life-giving will and wisdom of God which surrounds us everywhere. First, let us be sure that we know what we are doing. Without this light, we cannot see to make the right decisions. Without this certitude we cannot have supernatural confidence and peace.
We stumble and fall constantly even when Thoughts in Solitude 24 we are most enlightened.
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But when we are in true spiritual darkness, we do not even know that we have fallen. To keep ourselves spiritually alive we must constantly renew our faith. We are like pilots of fogbound steamers, peering into the gloom in front of us, listening for the sounds of other ships, and we can only reach our harbor if we keep alert. The spiritual life is, then, first of all a matter of keeping awake.
We must not lose our sensitivity to spirtitual inspirations. We must always be able to respond to the slightest warnings that speak, as though by a hidden instinct, in the depth of the soul that is spiritually alive. Meditation is one of the ways in which the spiritual man keeps himself awake. It is not really a paradox that it is precisely in meditation that most aspirants for religious perfection grow dull and fall asleep. Meditative prayer is a stern discipline, and one which cannot be learned by violence.
It requires unending courage and perseverance, and those who are not willing to work at it patiently will finally end in compormise. Here, as elsewhere, compromise is only another name for failure. To meditate is to think. And yet successful meditation is much more than reasoning or thinking. In meditative prayer, one thinks and speaks not only with his mind and lips, but in a certain sense with his whole being. Prayer is then not just a formula of words, or a series of desires springing up in the heart—it is the orientation of our whole body, mind and spirit to God in silence, attention, and adoration.
All good meditative prayer is a conversion of our entire self to God. One cannot then enter into meditation, in this sense, without a kind of inner upheaval. The reason why so few people apply themselves seriously to mental prayer is precisely that this inner upheaval is necessary, and they are usually incapable of the effort required to make it. It may be that they lack generosity, and it may also be that they lack direction and experience, and go about it the wrong way.
They Thoughts in Solitude 25 disturb themselves, they throw themselves into agitation by the violent efforts they make to get recollected, and finally they end in hopelessness. They compromise, in the end, by a series of frustrated routines which help them to pass the time, or else they relax into a state of semicoma which, they hope, can be justified by the name of contemplation.
Every spiritual director knows that it is a difficult and subtle matter to determine just what is the borderline between interior idleness and the faint, unperceived beginnings of passive contemplation. If we try to contemplate God without having turned the face of our inner self entirely in His direction, we will end up inevitably by contemplating ourselves, and we will perhaps plunge into the abyss of warm darkness which is our own sensible nature.
That is not a darkness in which one can safely remain passive. On the other hand, if we depend too much on our imagination and emotions, we will not turn ourselves to God but will plunge into a riot of images and fabricate for ourselves our own home-made religious experience, and this too is perilous. Sometimes, meditation is nothing but an unsuccessful struggle to turn ourselves to God, to seek His Face by faith. Any number of things beyond our control may make it morally impossible for Thoughts in Solitude 26 one to meditate effectively.
In that case, faith and good will are sufficient. If one has made a really sincere and honest effort to turn himself to God and cannot seem to get his wits together at all, then the attempt will have to count as a meditation. This means that God, in His mercy, accepts our unsuccessful efforts in the place of a real meditation. Sometimes it happens that this interior helplessness is a sign of real progress in the interior life—for it makes us depend more completely and peacefully on the mercy of God. Neither imagination nor feeling are required for a full conversion of our whole being to God.
Hard as it is to convey in human language, there is a very real and very recongnizable but almost entirely undefinable Presence of God, in which we confront Him in prayer knowing Him by Whom we are known, aware of Him Who is aware of us, loving Him by Whom we know ourselves to be loved. It is not a vision face to face, but a certain presence of self to Self in which, with the reverent attention of our whole being, we know Him in Whom all things have their being.
Meditation is the opening of this eye.
Thoughts in Solitude 27 XI Nourished by the Sacraments and formed by the prayer and teaching of the Church, we need seek nothing but the particular place willed for us by God within the Church. When we find that place, our life and our prayer both at once become extremely simple. Then we discover what the spiritual life really is. It is not a matter of doing one good work rather than another, of living in one place rather than in another, of praying in one way rather than in another. It is not a matter of any special psychological effect in our own soul.
It is the silence of our whole being in compunction and adoration before God, in the habitual realization that He is everything and we are nothing, that He is the Center to which all things tend, and to Whom all our actions must be directed. That our life and strength proceed from Him, that both in life and in death we depend entirely on Him, that the whole course of our life is foreknown by Him and falls into the plan of His wise and merciful Providence; that it is absurd to live as though without Him, for ourselves, by ourselves; that all our plans and spiritual ambitions are useless unless they come from Him and end in Him and that, in the end, the only thing that matters is His glory.
We ruin our life of prayer if we are constantly examining our prayer and seeking the fruit of prayer in a peace that is nothing more than a psychological process. The only thing to seek in contemplative prayer is God; and we seek Him successfully when we realize that we cannot find Him unless He shows Himself to Thoughts in Solitude 28 us, and yet at the same time that He would not have inspired us to seek Him unless we had already found Him.
The more we are content with our own poverty, the closer we are to God, for then we accept our poverty in peace, expecting nothing from ourselves and everything from God. Poverty is the door to freedom, not because we remain imprisoned in the anxiety and constraint which poverty of itself implies, but because, finding nothing in ourselves that is a source of hope, we know there is nothing in ourselves worth defending.
There is nothing special in ourselves to love. We go out of ourselves therefore and rest in Him in Whom alone is our hope.
There is a stage in the spiritual life in which we find God in ourselves—this presence is a created effect of His love. It is a gift of His, to us. It remains in us. All the gifts of God are good. But if we rest in them, rather than in Him, they lose their goodness for us. So with this gift also. When the right time comes for us to go on to other things, God withdraws the sense of His presence, in order to strengthen our faith. After that it is useless to seek Him through the medium of any psychological effect.
Useless to look for any sense of Him in our hearts. The time has come when we must go out of ourselves and above ourselves and find Him no longer within us but outside us and above us. This we do first by arid faith, by a hope that burns like hot coals under the ashes of our poverty. We seek Him also by humble charity, in service of our brothers. Then, when God wills, He raises us up to Himself in simplicity. What is the use of knowing our weakness if we do not implore God to sustain us with His power? What is the value of recognizing our poverty if we never use it to entreat His mercy?
It is bad enough to be complacent in the thought that we have virtue, but worse to rest in careless inertia when we are conscious of our weakness and of our sins. The value of our weakness and of our poverty is that they are the earth in which God sows the seed of desire. And no matter how abandoned we may seem to be, the confident desire to love Him in spite of our abject misery is the sign of His presence and the pledge of our salvation. A life is either all spiritual or not spiritual at all.
No man can serve two masters. Your life is shaped by the end you live for. You are made in the image of what you desire. To unify your life, unify your desires. To spiritualize your life, spiritualize your desires. To spiritualize your desires, desire to be without desire. To live in the spirit is to live for a God in Whom we believe, but Whom we cannot see. To desire this is therefore to renounce the desire of all that can be seen.
To possess Him Who cannot be understood is to renounce all that can be understood. To rest in Him Who is beyond all created rest, we renounce the desire to rest in created things. By renouncing the world we conquer the world, rise above its multiplicity and recapitulate it in the simplicity of a love which finds all things in God. This is what Jesus meant when He said that any one who would save his life will lose it, and he who would lose his life, for the sake of God, would save it.
The 28th chapter of Job also of Baruch 3 tells us that the wisdom of God is hidden and impossible to find—and yet ends by assuming that it is easily found, for the fear of the Lord is wisdom. A monk must never look for wisdom outside his vocation. If he does, he will never find wisdom, because for him wisdom is Thoughts in Solitude 30 in his vocation. Wisdom is the very life of the monk in his monastery. It is by living his life that the monk finds God, and not by adding something to his life which God has not put there.
For wisdom is God Himself, living in us, revealing Himself to us.
Life reveals itself to us only in so far as we live it. The monastic life is full of the mercy of God. Everything the monk does is willed by God and ordered to the glory of God. And He gives us this intention as a grace which serves only as a means for us to obtain more grace, and more mercy, by enlarging our capacity to love Him. The greater our capacity to receive His mercy, the greater is our power to give Him glory, for He is glorified only by His own gifts, and He is most glorified by those in whom His mercy has produced the greatest love. Thoughts in Solitude 31 XIII The poorest man in a religious community is not necessarily the one who has the fewest objects assigned to him for his use.
It is an attitude which leads us to renounce some of the advantages which come from the use of things. He can be used by all and never takes time to do anything special for himself. The eccentric man is not poor in spirit. For in that case we are trying to buy them and get possession of them by the favors we do for them. What one of us, O Lord, can speak of poverty without shame? We who have taken vows of poverty in the monastery: are we Thoughts in Solitude 32 really poor? Do we know what it is to love poverty? Have we even stopped to think, for a moment, why poverty is to be loved?
Yet You, O Lord, came into the world to be poor among the poor, because it is easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into the Kingdom of Heaven. Is this poverty? Can a man who has lost his job and who has no money with which to pay his bills, and who sees his wife and children getting thin, and who feels fear and anger eating out his heart—can he get the things he desperately needs merely by asking for them?
Let him try. Poverty means need. To make a vow of poverty and never go without anything, never have to need something without getting it, is to try to mock the Living God. We open our hearts to words that reflect the reality He has created or the greater Reality which He is. It is also an act of humility and reverence towards other men who are the instruments by which God communicated His truth to us. Reading gives God more glory when we get more out of it, when it is a more deeply vital act not only of our intelligence but of our whole personality, absorbed and refreshed in thought, meditation, prayer, or even in the contemplation of God.
Books can speak to us like God, like men or like the noise of the city we live in.
They speak to us like God when they bring us light and peace and fill us with silence. They speak to us like God When we desire never to leave them. They speak to us like men when we desire to hear them again. They speak to us like the noise of the city when they hold us captive by a weariness that tells us nothing, give us no peace, and no support, nothing to remember, and yet will not let us escape.
Books that speak like God speak with too much authority to entertain us. Those that speak like good men hold us by their human charm; we grow by finding ourselves in them. They teach us to know ourselves better by recognizing ourselves in another. Books that speak like the noise of multitudes reduce us to despair by the sheer weight of their emptiness. They entertain us like the lights of the city streets at night, by hopes they cannot fulfil.
Thoughts in Solitude 34 Great though books may be, friends though they may be to us, they are no substitute for persons, they are only means of contact with great persons, with men who had more than their own share of humanity, men who were persons for the whole world and not for themselves alone. Ideas and words are not the food of the intelligence, but truth. And not an abstract truth that feeds the mind alone. The Truth that a spiritual man seeks is the whole Truth, reality, existence and essence together, something that can be embraced and loved, something that can sustain the homage and the service of our actions: more than a thing: persons, or a person.
Him above all Whose essence is to exist. Thoughts in Solitude 35 XV Humility is a virtue, not a neurosis. It sets us free to act virtuously, to serve God and to know Him. Therefore true humility can never inhibit any really virtuous action, nor can it prevent us from fulfilling ourselves by doing the will of God. Humility sets us free to do what is really good, by showing us our illusions and withdrawing our will from what was only an apparent good. A humility that freezes our being and frustrates all healthy activity is not humility at all, but a disguised form of pride.
It dries up the roots of the spiritual life and makes it impossible for us to give ourselves to God. Lord, You have taught us to love humility, but we have not learned. We have learned only to love the outward surface of it—the humility that makes a person charming and attractive. Teach me to bear a humility which shows me, without ceasing, that I am a liar and a fraud and that, even though this is so, I have an obligation to strive after truth, to be as true as I can, even though I will inevitably find all my truth half poisoned with deceit.
This is the terrible thing about humility: that it is never fully Thoughts in Solitude 36 successful. If it were only possible to be completely humble on this earth. But no, that is the trouble: You, Lord, were humble. But our humility consists in being proud and knowing all about it, and being crushed by the unbearable weight of it, and to be able to do so little about it. How stern You are in Your mercy, and yet You must be. Your mercy has to be just because Your Truth has to be True.
How stern You are, nevertheless, in Your mercy: for the more we struggle to be true, the more we discover our falsity. Is it merciful of Your light to bring us, inexorably, to despair? No—it is not to despair that You bring me but to humility. For true humility is, in a way, a very real despair: despair of myself, in order that I may hope entirely in You. What man can bear to fall into such darkness?
Thoughts in Solitude 37 XVI Bells are meant to remind us that God alone is good, that we belong to Him, that we are not living for this world. They break in upon our cares in order to remind us that all things pass away and that our preoccupations are not important. They speak to us of our freedom, which responsibilities and transient cares make us forget. They are the voice of our alliance with the God of heaven. They tell us that we are His true temple. They call us to peace with Him within ourselves.
The Gospel of Mary and Martha is read at the end of the Blessing of a Church Bell in order to remind us of all these things. The bells say: business does not matter. Rest in God and rejoice, for this world is only the figure and the promise of a world to come, and only those who are detached from transient things can possess the substance of an eternal promise.
The bells say: we have spoken for centuries from the towers of great Churches. We have spoken to the saints your fathers, in their land. We called them, as we call you, to sanctity. What is the word with which we called them? So too it is necessary for us to name the things that share our own silence with us, not in order to disturb their privacy or to disturb our own solitude with thoughts of them, but in order that the silence they dwell in and that dwells in them, may be concretized and identified for what it is.
The beings that are in silence make silence real, for their silence is identified with their being. To name their being is to name their silence. And therefore it should be an act of reverence. Blessings make them more worthy of reverence. Prayer uses words to reverence beings in God. Magic uses words to violate the silence and the sanctity of beings by treating them as if they could be torn away from God, possessed, and vilely abused, before the face of His silence. Magic insults His silence by making it the mask of an intruder, of a malign power that usurps the throne of God and substitutes itself for His presence.
But what can substitute itself for Him Who is? Only that which is not can pretend to usurp His place. His presence is present in my own presence. If I am, then He is. Vivit in me Christus. Identification by love leads to knowledge, recognition, intimate and obscure but vested with an inexpressible certainty known only in contemplation. For we grasp, without knowing how, the awe-inspiring and admirable truth that God, bending over the abyss of His own inexhaustible being, has drawn us forth from Himself, and has clothed us in the light of His truth, and purified us in the fires of His love, and made us one, by the power of the Cross, with His only begotten Son.
I could not know You, I would be lost in this darkness, I would fall away from You into this void, if You did not hold me to Yourself in the Heart of Your only begotten Son. You see Him in me, You embrace Him in me, because He has willed to identify Himself completely with me by that love which brought Him to death, for me, on the Cross. And You, Father, Who have willed to be as though blind in the darkness of this great mystery which is the revelation of Your love, pass Your hands over my head and bless me as Your only Son.
You have willed to see me only in Him, but in willing this You have willed to see me more really as I am. For the sinful self is not my real self, it is not the self You have wanted for me, only the self that I have wanted for myself. And I no longer want this false self. And where? In the sanctuary of His own Heart, which is your palace and the temple where the saints adore You in Heaven.
He alone knows my name, in which I also know His name. When He moves, I move with Him, so that it is I also who move. My own voice is only able to rouse a dead echo when it calls out to itself. There will never be any awakening in me unless I am called out of darkness by Him Who is my light. Only He Who is Life is able to raise the dead. And unless He names me, I remain dead and my silence is the silence of death.
Thoughts in Solitude (Unabridged)
As soon as He speaks my name, my silence is the silence of infinite life, and I know that I am because my heart has opened to my Father in the echo of the eternal years. My life is a listening, His is a speaking. My salvation is to hear and respond. For this, my life must be silent.
Hence, my silence is my salvation. The soul is offered to Him when it is entirely attentive to Him. Thoughts in Solitude 42 My silence, which takes me away from all other things, is therefore the sacrifice of all things and the offering of my soul to God. It is therefore my most pleasing sacrifice. If I can teach others to live in the samesilence, I am offering Him a most pleasing sacrifice.
The knowledge of God is better than holocausts Osee Interior silence is impossible without mercy and without humility. Difference between a vocation and a category. Those who fulfil their vocation to sanctity—or who are fulfilling it—are by that very fact unaccountable. They do not fit into categories. If you use a category in speaking of them you have to qualify your statement at once, as if they also belonged to some completely different category.
In actual fact, they are in no category, they are peculiarly themselves, hence, they are not considered worthy of great love and respect in the eyes of men because their individuality is a sign that they are greatly loved by God and that He alone knows his secret, which is too precious to be revealed to men. What we venerate in the Saints, beyond and above all that we know is this secret; the mystery of an innocence and of an identity perfectly hidden in God.
Who hath searched out the wisdom of God that goeth before all things? But we do not find Him merely by finding our own being. In commanding us to live, He also commands us to live in a certain way. His decree is not only that we should live somehow but that we should live well, and ultimately that we should be perfect, by living in Him. Thus in the depths of our being He has placed the light of conscience which tells us the law of life. Life is not life unless it conforms to this law which is the will of God.
To live by this light is all of man, for thus man comes to live in God and by God. To extinguish this light by actions contrary to this law is to defile our nature. It makes us untrue to ourselves, and it makes God a liar: Thoughts in Solitude 44 all sin does this, and it leads to idolatry, substituting falsehood for the truth of God. A false conscience is a false god, a god which says nothing because it is dumb and which does nothing because it has no power. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
Wisdom is the knowledge of Truth in its inmost reality, the experience of Truth, arrived at through the rectitude of our own soul. Wisdom knows God in ourselves and ourselves in God. The fear which is the first step to wisdom is the fear of being untrue to God and to ourselves. It is the fear that we have lied to ourselves, that we have thrown down our lives at the feet of a false god. But every man is a liar, for every man is a sinner.
We have all been false to God. Hence the beginning of wisdom is the confession of sin. This confession gains for us the mercy of God. It makes the light of His truth shine in our conscience, without which we cannot avoid sin. It brings the strength of His grace into our souls, binding the action of our wills to the truth in our intelligence. The solution of the problem of life is life itself. Life is not attained by reasoning and analysis, but first of all by living.
For until we have begun to live our prudence has no material to work on. And until we have begun to fail we have no way of working out our success. A man becomes a solitary at the moment when, no matter what may be his external surroundings, he is suddenly aware of his own inalienable solitude and sees that he will never be anything but solitary. From that moment, solitude is not potential—it is actual. Actual solitude has, as one of its integral elements, the dissatisfaction and uncertainty that come from being face to face with an unrealized possibility.
I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end.
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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. Our anxiety is not imposed on us by force from outside. We impose it on our world and upon one another from within ourselves. Sanctity in such an age means, no doubt, travelling from the area of anxiety to the area in which there is no anxiety or perhaps it may mean learning, from God, to be without anxiety in the midst of anxiety. Fundamentally, as Max Picard points out, it probably comes to this: living in a silence which so reconciles the contradictions within us that, although they remain within us, they cease to be a problem of World of Silence, p.
Contradictions have always existed in the soul of man. But it is only when we prefer analysis to silence that they become a constant and insoluble problem. We are not meant to resolve all contradictions but to live with them and rise above them and see them in the light of exterior and objective values which make them trivial by comparison.
Silence, then, belongs to the substance of sanctity. In silence and hope are formed the strength of the Saints Isaias When solitude was a problem, I had no solitude. When it ceased to be a problem I found I already possessed it, and could have possessed it all along. Yet still it was a problem because I knew after all that a merely subjective and inward solitude, the fruit of an effort at interiorisation, would never be enough. Solitude has Thoughts in Solitude 50 to be objective and concrete. It has to be a communion in something greater than the world, as great as Being itself, in order that in its deep peace we may find God.
We put words between ourselves and things. The solitary life, being silent, clears away the smoke-screen of words that man has laid down between his mind and things. In solitude we remain face to face with the naked being of things. And yet we find that the nakedness of reality which we have feared, is neither a matter of terror nor for shame. It is clothed in the friendly communion of silence, and this silence is related to love. The world our words have attempted to classify, to control and even to despise because they could not contain it comes close to us, for silence teaches us to know reality by respecting it where words have defiled it.
When we have lived long enough alone with the reality around us, our veneration will learn how to bring forth a few good words about it from the silence which is the mother of Truth. Words stand between silence and silence: between the silence of things and the silence of our own being. Between the silence of the world and the silence of God. When we have really met and known the world in silence, words do not separate us from the world nor from other men, nor from God, nor from ourselves because we no longer trust entirely in language to contain reality. Truth rises from the silence of being to the quiet tremendous presence of the Word.
Then, sinking again into silence, the truth of words bears us down into the silence of God. Or rather God rises up out of the sea like a treasure in the waves, and when language recedes His brightness remains on the shores of our own being. Thoughts in Solitude 51 IV A man knows when he has found his vocation when he stops thinking about how to live and begins to live.
Thus, if one is called to be a solitary, he will stop wondering how he is to live and start living peacefully only when he is in solitude. But if one is not called to a solitary life, the more he is alone the more will he worry about living and forget to live. When we are not living up to our true vocation, thought deadens our life, or substitutes itself for life, or gives in to life so that our life drowns out our thinking and stifles the voice of conscience.
When we find our vocation—thought and life are one. Suppose one has found completeness in his true vocation. Now everything is in unity, in order, at peace. Now work no longer interferes with prayer or prayer with work. One does not have to think of giving an account of oneself to anyone but Him. Thoughts in Solitude 52 V It is necessary that we find the silence of God not only in ourselves but also in one another.
Unless some other man speaks to us in words that spring from God and communicate with the silence of God in our souls, we remain isolated in our own silence, from which God tends to withdraw. For inner silence depends on a continual seeking, a continual crying in the night, a repeated bending over the abyss.
Thoughts in Solitude by Thomas Merton #1
If we cling to a silence we think we have found forever, we stop seeking God and the silence goes dead within us. A silence in which He is no longer sought ceases to speak to us of Him. A silence from which He does not seem to be absent, dangerously threatens His continued presence. For He is found when He is sought and when He is no longer sought He escapes us. He is heard only when we hope to be fulfilled, we cease to listen, He ceases to speak, His silence ceases to be vivid and becomes dead, even though we recharge it with the echo of our own emotional noise.
Both pride and humility seek interior silence. Pride, by a forced immobility, seeks to imitate the silence of God. But the silence of God is the perfection of Pure Life and the silence of pride is the silence of death. Humility seeks silence not in inactivity but in ordered activity, in the activity that is proper to our poverty and helplessness before God. Humility goes to pray and finds silence through words. But because it is natural for us to pass from words to silence, and from silence to words, humility is in all things silent. Even when it speaks, humility listens.
The words of humility are so simple, so gentle and so poor that they find their way without effort to the silence of God. Indeed, they are the echo of His silence, and as soon as they are spoken His silence is already present in them. Pride is afraid to go out of itself, for fear of losing what it has produced within itself. The silence of pride is therefore menaced by the action of charity. But since humility finds nothing within itself for humility is its own silence , it cannot lose in peace and silence by going out to listen to others or to speak to them for the love of God.
In all things humility is silent and at rest and even the labor of humility is rest. In omnibus requiem quaesivi. It is not speaking that breaks our silence, but the anxiety to be heard. The words of the proud man impose silence on all others, so that he alone may be heard. The humble man speaks only in order to be spoken to.
The humble man asks nothing but an alms, then waits and listens. Thoughts in Solitude 54 Silence is ordered to the ultimate summing up in words of all we have lived for. We receive Christ by hearing in the word of faith. We work out our salvation in silence and hope, but sooner or later comes the time when we must confess Him openly before men, then before all the inhabitants of heaven and earth.
If our life is poured out in useless words, we will never hear anything, will never become anything, and in the end, because we have said everything before we had anything to say, we shall be left speechless at the moment of our greatest decision. But silence is ordered to that final utterance. It is not an end in itself. Our whole life is a meditation of our last decision—the only decision that matters. And we meditate in silence. Yet we are bound to some extent, to speak to others, to help them see their way to their own decision, to teach them Christ.
In teaching them Christ, our very words teach them a new silence: the silence of the Resurrection. In that silence they are formed and prepared so that they also may speak what they have heard. I have believed, therefore have I spoken Psalms Thoughts in Solitude 55 VII When I am liberated by silence, when I am no longer involved in the measurement of life, but in the living of it, I can discover a form of prayer in which there is effectively, no distraction.
My whole life becomes a prayer. My whole silence is full of prayer. The world of silence in which I am immersed contributes to my prayer. The unity which is the work of poverty in solitude draws together all the wounds of the soul and closes them. As long as we remain poor, as long as we are empty and interested in nothing but God, we cannot be distracted. Then everything becomes a distraction. All created things interfere with my quest for some special experience. I must shut them out, or they will tear me apart.
What is worse—I myself am a distraction. But, unhappiest thing of all—if my prayer is centered in myself, if it seeks only an enrichment of my own self, my prayer itself will be my greatest potential distraction. Full of my own curiosity, I have eaten of the tree of Knowledge and torn myself away from myself and from God. I am left rich and alone and nothing can assuage my hunger: everything I touch turns into a distraction.
Let me seek, then, the gift of silence, and poverty, and solitude, Thoughts in Solitude 56 where everything I touch is turned into prayer: where the sky is my prayer, the birds are my prayer, the wind in the trees is my prayer, for God is all in all. For this to be so I must be really poor. I must seek nothing: but I must be most content with whatever I have from God. True poverty is that of the beggar who is glad to receive alms from anyone, but especially from God. False poverty is that of a man who pretends to have the self-sufficiency of an angel. True poverty, then, is a receiving and giving of thanks, only keeping what we need to consume.
False poverty pretends not to need, pretends not to ask, strives to seek everything and refuses gratitude for anything at all. Christ, Who will come unexpectedly at the end of time—and no one can guess the moment of His coming—comes also to those who are His own at every moment of time, and they cannot see or guess His coming. Yet where He is, there they are. Like eagles, they gather by instinct, not knowing how, and they find Him at every moment. Just as there is no way of saying with certainty where and when He will appear at the end of the world, so too there is no way of saying with certainty where and when He will manifest Himself to contemplative souls.
There are many who have sought Him in the desert and have not found Him there and there are many who have hidden themselves with Him in reclusion and He has refused Himself to them. To catch Him is as easy as catching the lightning. And like lightning, He strikes where He pleases. All truly contemplative souls have this in common: not that they gather exclusively in the desert, or that they shut themselves up in reclusion, but that where He is, there they are. And how do they find Him? By technique? There is no technique for finding Him. They find Him by His will.
And His will, bringing them grace within and arranging their lives exteriorly, carries them infallibly to the precise place in which they can find Him. Even Thoughts in Solitude 58 there they do not know how they have got there, or what they are really doing. As soon as a man is fully disposed to be alone with God, he is alone with God no matter where he may be—in the country, the monastery, the woods or the city.
At that moment he sees that though he seems to be in the middle of his journey, he has already arrived at the end. For the life of grace on earth is the beginning of the life of glory. Although he is a traveller in time, he has opened his eyes, for a moment, in eternity. Thoughts in Solitude 59 IX It is a greater thing and a better prayer to live in Him Who is Infinite, and to rejoice that He is Infinite, than to strive always to press His infinity into the narrow space of our own hearts. But as soon as I desire to know and enjoy Him for myself, I reach out to do violence to Him Who evades me, and in so doing I do violence to myself and fall back upon myself in sorrow and anxiety, knowing that He has gone His way.
In true prayer, although every silent moment remains the same, every moment is a new discovery of a new silence, a new penetration into that eternity in which all things are always new. We know, by fresh discovery, the deep reality that is our concrete existence here and now and in the depths of that reality we receive from the Father light, truth, wisdom and peace. These are the reflection of God in our souls which are made to His image and likeness.
The trees indeed love You without knowing You. The tiger lilies and corn flowers are there, proclaiming that they love You, without being aware of Your presence. The beautiful dark clouds ride slowly across the sky musing on You like children who do not know what they are dreaming of, as they play. But in the midst of them all, I know You, and I know of Your presence. In them and in me I know of the love which they do not know, and, what is greater, I am abashed by the presence of Your love in me.
O kind and terrible love, which You have given me, and which could never be in my heart if You did not love me! For in the midst of these beings which have never offended You, I am loved by You, and it would seem most of all as one who has offended You. I am seen by You under the sky, and my offenses have been forgotten by You—but I have not forgotten them. Only one thing I ask: that the memory of them should not make me afraid to receive into my heart the gift of Love—which You have placed in me.
I will receive it because I am unworthy. In doing so I will only love You all the more, and give Your mercy greater glory. Remembering that I have been a sinner, I will love You in spite of what I have been, knowing that my love is precious because it is Yours, rather than my own. Precious to You because it comes from Your own Son, but precious even more because it makes me Your son. Thoughts in Solitude 61 XI Vocation to Solitude—To deliver oneself up, to hand oneself over, entrust oneself completely to the silence of a wide landscape of woods and hills, or sea, or desert; to sit still while the sun comes up over that land and fills its silences with light.
To pray and work in the morning and to labor and rest in the afternoon, and to sit still again in meditation in the evening when night falls upon that land and when the silence fills itself with darkness and with stars. This is a true and special vocation. There are few who are willing to belong completely to such silence, to let it soak into their bones, to breathe nothing but silence, to feed on silence, and to turn the very substance of their life into a living and vigilant silence.
The martyr is a man who has made a decision strong enough to be proved by death. The solitary is a man who has made a decision strong enough to be proved by the wilderness: that is to say, by death. For the wilderness is full of uncertainty and peril and humiliation and fear, and the solitary lives all day long in the face of death. It is the Holy Spirit Himself Who makes the decision that segregates martyrs and solitaries in Christ.
The vocation to martyrdom is charismatic and extraordinary. So too in a sense is the vocation to solitude. We do not become martyrs by any human plan, and we do not become solitaries by any mere design of our own. Even the desire for solitude must be supernatural if it is to be effective and if it is supernatural it will probably also be a contradiction of many of our own plans and Thoughts in Solitude 62 desires. We may indeed look ahead and foresee and desire the path that leads us to the desert, but in the end, solitaries are made by God and not by man.
No matter whether we be called to community or to solitude, our vocation is to build upon the foundation of the Apostles and the prophets, and on the chief cornerstone which is Christ. This means that we are called to fulfil and to realize the great mystery of His power in us, the power that raised Him from the dead and called us from the ends of the earth to live, to the Father, in Him. Whatever may be our vocation we are called to be witnesses and ministers of the Divine Mercy. The Christian solitary does not seek solitude merely as an atmosphere or as a setting for a special and exalted spirituality.
Nor does he seek solitude as a favorable means for obtaining something he wants—contemplation. He seeks solitude as an expression of his total gift of himself to God. His solitude is not a means of getting something, but a gift of himself. It is never a renunciation of the Christian community. We do not pray for the sake of praying, but for the sake of being heard.
We do not pray in order to listen to ourselves praying but in order that God may hear us and answer us. It seems to me that this is not quite comprehensible if we forget that the life of prayer is founded on prayer of petition—no matter what it may develop into later on. Far from ruining the purity of solitary prayer, petition guards and preserves that purity. The solitary, more than anyone else, is always aware of his poverty and of his needs before God. Since he depends directly on God for everything material and spiritual, he has to ask for everything. His prayer is an expression of his poverty.
Petition, for him, can hardly become a mere formality, a concession to human custom, as if he did not need God in everything. The solitary, being a man of prayer, will come to know God by Thoughts in Solitude 64 knowing that his prayer is always answered. From there, he can go on, if God wills, to contemplation. Gratitude is therefore the heart of the solitary life, as it is the heart of the Christian life.
From his first day in solitude, the hermit should set his heart upon understanding how to afflict his whole being with tears and desire before God. Persevering confidence Luke For whatever he does, this the Son also does in like manner. This imitation consists in being and acting in the same relation to Jesus as Jesus to the Father. John Jesus is the Bread of Life given to us in solitude John For in Jesus the Father gives Himself to us and nourishes us with His own inexhaustible life.
The life of solitude therefore must be a continual communion and thanksgiving in which we behold by faith all that goes on in the depths of God, and lose our taste for any other life or any other spiritual food. We live in constant dependence upon this merciful kindness of the Father, and thus our whole Thoughts in Solitude 66 life is a life of gratitude—a constant response to His help which comes to us at every moment.
I think every one finds this out in any vocation, provided it is his true vocation. The solitary life is a life in which we cast our care upon the Lord and delight only in the help that comes from Him. Whatever He does in our joy. We reproduce His goodness in us by our gratitude. Or—our gratitude is the reflection of His mercy. It is what makes us like Him. The truly solitary life has a completely different character from the partial solitude which can be enjoyed from time to time in the intervals allowed by social living. When we receive our solitude by intervals, we taste its value by contrast with another value.
When we really live alone, there is no contrast. I must not go into solitude to immobilize my life, to reduce all things to a frozen concentration upon some inner experience. When solitude alternates with common living, it can take on this character of a halt, of a moment of stillness, an interval of concentration. Where solitude is not an interval but a continuous whole, we may well renounce altogether the sense of concentration and the feeling of spiritual stillness.
Our whole life may flow out to meet the Being and the Silence of the days in which we are immersed, and we can work out our salvation by quiet, continued action. It is even possible that in solitude I shall return to my beginning and rediscover the value and perfection of simple vocal prayer—and take greater joy in this than in contemplation. So that the cenobite may have high contemplation, while the hermit has only his Pater and Ave Maria.
In that event I choose the life of a hermit in which I live in God always, speaking to Him with simplicity, rather than a life of disjointed activity sublimated by a few moments of fire and exaltation. The solitary is necessarily a man who does what he wants to do. In fact, he has nothing else to do. That is why his vocation is both dangerous and despised.