Distractions – 9 quotes from Thomas Merton’s book – New Seeds of Contemplation

by Mark Votava

7275781. Really learned in the hour

“Prayer and love are really learned in the hour when prayer becomes impossible and your heart turns to stone.”

2. The level of language or affection

“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…”

3. The distractions that do harm

“The distractions that do harm are the ones that draw our will away from its profound and peaceful occupation with God and involve it in elaborations of projects that have been concerning us during our day’s work…”

4. Most helpful

“…humor is one of the things that would probably be most helpful…”

5. Often unavoidable

“…it is useless to get upset when you cannot shake off distractions. In the first place, you must realize that they are often unavoidable…”

6. No matter how distracted you may be

“No matter how distracted you may be, pray by peaceful, even perhaps inarticulate, efforts to center your heart upon God, Who is present to you in spite of all that may be going through your mind…”

7. Acquire the agility and freedom of mind

“The best thing beginners in the spiritual life can do, after they have really acquired the discipline of mind that enables them to concentrate on a spiritual subject and get below the surface of its meaning and incorporate it into their lives, is to acquire the agility and freedom of mind that will help them to find light and warmth and ideas and love for God everywhere they go and in all they do. People who only know how to think about God during fixed periods of the day will never get very far in the spiritual life…”

8. Our true liberty is something we must never sacrifice

“Liberty, then, is a talent given us by God, an instrument to work with. It is the tool with which we build our own lives, our own happiness. Our true liberty is something we must never sacrifice… Our true liberty must be defended with life itself for it’s the most precious element in our being. It is our liberty that makes us Persons, constituted in the divine image… How few people realize this!”

9. Famished by a crude hunger for results

“How many there are who are in a worse state still: they never even get as far as contemplation because they are attached to activities and enterprises that seem to be important. Blinded by their desire for ceaseless motion, for a constant sense of achievement, famished by a crude hunger for results, for visible and tangible success, they work themselves into a state in which they cannot believe that they are pleasing to God unless they are busy with a dozen jobs at the same time. Sometimes they fill the air with lamentations and complain that they no longer have any time for prayer, but they have become such experts in deceiving themselves that they do not realize how insincere their lamentations are. They not only allow themselves to be involved in more and more work, they actually go looking for new jobs. And the busier they become the more mistakes they make. Accidents and errors pile up around them. They will not be warned. They get further and further away from reality… So having no interior strength left, they fall apart.”

What kinds of distractions do you experience in life?

My new book The Mystical Imagination: Seeing the Sacredness of All of Life (2015) is finally done! It is available on kindle and paperback!

“Our crowded, overly-consumed, hyper-active, digitally-addicted lifestyle is draining the life out of us. We are desperate to transcend the chaos and find a better way to live. We need a mystical imagination. Get ready to be transported into the depths of meaning as Votava breaks open the contemplative path and shows you how to live your life to the fullest.” Phileena Heuertz, author of Pilgrimage of a Soul: Contemplative Spirituality for the Active Life and founding partner, Gravity, a Center for Contemplative Activism

My first book The Communal Imagination: Finding a Way to Share Life Together (2014) is available on kindle and paperback also!

“Inside everyone there is a longing for community, to love and be loved. We are made in the image of a communal God. But in our hyper-mobile, individualistic, cluttered world… community is an endangered thing. And community is like working out – it takes work, sweat, discipline…  without that our muscles atrophy. Everybody wants to be fit, but not too many people want to do the work to get there. Mark’s book is sort of a workout manual, helping you rediscover your communal muscles and start building them up slowly. It is an invitation to live deep in a shallow world.”  Shane Claiborne, author and activist