12 June 2017
Turning From the World to God
The climate in which monastic prayer flowers is that of the desert, where the comfort of man is absent, where the secure routines of man's city offer no support, and where prayer must be sustained by God in the purity of faith.
- Thomas Merton
I am starting a new book I got in Oxford - Thomas Merton's Contemplative Prayer. It is a small book, but it is packed tightly with thoughts that will challenge every reader. In fact, he writes that the book is for fellow monks, but some laymen might find interest in it, since we are all bound to be people of prayer. I would be one of those common people.
I took my book to Concord Coffee one morning to spend some time waking up with a latte and also waking up my inner prayers.
He writes about how simple and uncomplicated prayer should be. The earliest monks prayed so simply and somehow things have gotten over-complicated in our modern day. Many times the earlier monks would pray the Psalms. Psalms is a place of expression, and the book holds "special efficacy for the ascetic life, in that it revealed the secret movement of the heart in its struggle against the forces of darkness."
This is turning from the world to God. Conversatio monastica.
Here is awakening inner dialogue with God not just for selfish, live for self, false reasons, to which we can all be inclined. This is what we must confront. Within ourselves we must shed the worldly notions that all promote the illusion to be narcissistic is to be filled and happy. Those things will crumble in our hands.
The climate of our prayers then should be of awareness and gratitude, according to Merton, who also stresses that it should be quiet an private, not made with loud voices to draw attention to ourselves. Here is when we can go deep into an inner sanctuary that can help us understand beyond ourselves in the meaning more drenched in purpose. The challenge is to be quiet and in solitude is not appealing to most people. It is too much to be silent in a world of noise. It goes against the rush of our days and what culture tells us to do. It disrupts our lives.
If you love truth, be a lover of silence. Silence like the sunlight will illuminate you in God and will deliver you from the phantoms of ignorance. (Isaac of Nineveh, Syrian Monk)
I don't know about others, but I have always been one to go against the grain. I don't feel the need or urge to follow just because everyone is going that way. There has always been this rebel sense in me. Perhaps it was fostered growing up as I was given the space to think for myself. So to me, solitude is a gift to be felt in gratitude.
I love how Merton describes the silent and often wordless prayer as being "watchful listening of the heart".