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 the land and fills its silences with light. To pray
and work in the morning and to labor 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.
~ Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude
Out here in the woods I can think of nothing except God. It is not so much that I
think of Him as I am as aware of Him as I am of the sun and the clouds and the blue
sky and the thin cedar trees...Engulfed in the simple and lucid actuality of the
afternoon -- I mean God's afternoon -- this sacramental moment of time when the
shadows will get longer and longer, and one small bird sings quietly in the cedars,
one car goes by in the remote distance, and the oak leaves move in the wind.
High up in the summer sky I watch the silent flight of a vulture, and the day goes by
in prayer. This solitude confirms my call to solitude. The more I am in it, the more
I love it. One day it will possess me entirely and no man will ever see me again.
~Thomas Merton, A Search for Solitude
O Lord my God, where have I been sleeping? What have I been doing? How slowly
I awaken once again to the barrenness of my life and its confusion. You will forgive
me if it is often that way -- I do not mean it to be. How little faith there has been in
me -- how inert have been my hours of solitude, how my time has been wasted. You
will forgive me if next week, too, my time is all wasted and I am once again in
confusion. But at least this afternoon, sitting on a boulder among the birches, I
thought with compunction of Your love and Your kingdom. And again tonight, by
the gatehouse, I thought of the hope You have planted in our hearts and of the
Kingdom of Heaven that I have done so little to gain for myself and for others.
Forgive me, O Lord, by your Cross and Passion and Resurrection. Teach me to see
what it means that I am saved by Your Church. Teach me how, as a priest, I am to
bring others to the knowledge of You and of the Kingdom and to salvation. Teach
me to live in You with care for the purity of faith, with the zeal of true hope, and
with true and objective charity for my brothers, for the glory of the Father, Amen.
~Thomas Merton, Dialogues with Silence
It is in deep solitude that I find the gentleness with which I can truly love my
brothers. The more solitary I am, the more affection I have for them. It is pure
affection, and filled with reverence for the solitude of others. Solitude and silence
teach me to love my brothers for what they are, not for what they say. Now it is no
longer a question of dishonoring them by accepting their fictions, believing in their
images of themselves which their weakness obliges them to compose, in the wan
work of communication. Yet there will, it is true, always remain a dialectic between
the words of men and their being. This will tell something about them we would not
have realized if the words had not been there.
A priest must not put the salvation of souls above his own soul. There is no
question of a choice like that. But he has to put God and the Mass before
everything. He has the whole Church on his conscience, and he not only gives up
his will in order to possess the virtue of obedience, he gives up his will in order to
become an instrument for the salvation of the world and for the pure glory of
~ Thomas Merton
Today I was on as deacon at Benediction. The new sense of practicality did not
extend to the ceremonies. I was in a fog, but very happy. All I could think about
was picking up the Host. I was afraid the whole Church might come down on my
head, because of what I used to be -- as if that were not forgotten! But God weighs
scarcely anything at all. Though containing more than the universe, He was so light
that I nearly fell off the altar. He communicated all that lightness to my own spirit
and when I came down I was so happy I had a hard time to keep myself from
laughing out loud.
Prayer and love are learned in the hour when prayer has become impossible and
your heart has turned to stone. If you have never had any distractions you don't
know how to pray. For the secret of prayer is a hunger for God and for the vision of
God, a hunger that lies far deeper than the level of language or affection. And a man
whose memory and imagination are persecuting him with a crowd of useless or even
evil thoughts and images may sometimes be forced to pray far better, in the depths
of his murdered heart, than one whose mind is swimming with clear concepts and
brilliant purposes and easy acts of love.
I am content that these pages show me to be what I am -- noisy, full of the racket of
my imperfections and passions, and the wide open wounds left by my sins. Full of
my own emptiness. Yet, ruined as my house is, You live there!
It is easy enough to tell the poor to accept their poverty as God's will when you
yourself have warm clothes and plenty of food and medical care and a roof over
your head and no worry about the rent. But if you want them to believe you -- try
to share some of their poverty and see if you can accept it as God's will for
Whatever I may have written, I think it all can be reduced in the end to this one root
truth: that God calls human persons to union with Himself and with one another in
Christ, in the Church which is His Mystical Body. It is also a witness to the fact that
there is and must be, in the church, a contemplative life which has no other function
than to realize these mysterious things, and return to God all the thanks and praise
that human hearts can give Him. It is certainly true that I have written about more
than just the contemplative life. I have articulately resisted attempts to have
myself classified as an "inspirational writer." But if I have written about interracial
justice, or thermonuclear weapons, it is because these issues are terribly relevant to
one great truth: that man is called to live as a child of God. Man must respond to
this call to live in peace with all his brothers and sisters in the One Christ.
The contemplative waits in silence and when he is “answered”, it is not so much by a
word that bursts into his silence. It is by this silence itself, suddenly, inexplicably,
revealing itself to him as a word of great power.
...Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths where
neither sin nor desire can reach, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only
they could see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that
way there would be no reason for war, for hatred, for cruelty…we would fall down
and worship each other.
|Reflections with Thomas Merton
Thomas Merton, Trappist monk, priest,
and author of many books including the
bestselling autobiography The Seven
1968. He left behind a deeply thoughtful,
tough-minded body of writings about
spiritual living in the modern world.
These pages offer selections from those
writing for all who would explore the
|Thomas Merton's Prayer
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 that 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
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the
right road though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I 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.
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