Desire and Awareness – 10 quotes from Thomas Merton’s book – The Inner Experience: Notes on Contemplation

by Mark Votava

81MA-v3wVDL1. Contemplation is the work of love

“Contemplation is the work of love, and the contemplative proves his love by leaving all things, even the most spiritual things, for God in nothingness, detachment, and ‘night.’  But the deciding factor in contemplation is the free and unpredictable action of God…”

2. Constant tension and conflict

“The life of a contemplative is apt to be one constant tension and conflict between what he feels to be the interior movements of grace and the objective, exterior claims made upon him by the society to whose laws he is subject…”

3. Our true self

“Hence we must become detached from the unreality that is in us in order to be united to the reality that lies deeper within and is our true self – our inmost self-in-God.”

4. The path of humility, obscurity, and emptiness

“The grace of contemplation leads always in the path of humility, obscurity, and emptiness.”

5. Contemplation should not be exaggerated

“Contemplation should not be exaggerated, distorted, and made to seem great.  It is essentially simple and humble.  No one can enter into it except by the path of obscurity…  It implies also much discipline… It implies justice to other people, truthfulness, hard work… Contemplation is not a kind of magic and easy shortcut to happiness and perfection…  There may be much desolation and suffering in the spirit of the contemplative, but there is always more joy than sorrow…”

6. Spiritual discipline

“Whenever one seeks the light of contemplation, he commits himself by that very fact to a certain spiritual discipline…”

7. A unity beyond division

“The contemplative life is primarily a life of unity.  A contemplative is one who has transcended divisions to reach a unity beyond division…”

8. Without the silence and recollection of the interior life

“To praise the contemplative life is not to reject every other form of life, but to seek a solid foundation for every other human striving.  Without the silence and recollection of the interior life, man loses contact with his real sources of energy, clarity, and peace.  When he tries to be his own god and insists on keeping his hands on everything, he drives himself to ruin…”

9. Desire and awareness

“…in the beginning of contemplation as well as in times of great trial, the desire and awareness of God are something so deep, so mute, and so tenuous that it is hard to realize their presence at all.  However, a glance is sufficient to tell you that they are there.  In fact, the true contemplative suffers from the fact that he thinks he is without desire of God, and that very suffering bears witness to his desire.  This suffering itself is often the work of infused love…”

10. Becoming aware of our innermost self

“The sacred attitude is, then, one of reverence, awe, and silence before the mystery that begins to take place within us when we become aware of our innermost self…”

Which quote most stands out to you?