The Wrong Flame – 5 quotes from Thomas Merton’s book –New Seeds of Contemplation

by Mark Votava

7275781. This taste for “experiences”

“For anyone who is really called to infused contemplation this taste for ‘experiences’ can be one of the most dangerous obstacles in his interior life. It is the rock on which many who might have become contemplatives have ended in shipwreck…”

2. Passions and emotions

“Passion and emotion certainly have their place… but they must be purified, ordered, brought into submission to the highest love. Then they too can share in the spirit’s joy and even, in their own small way, contribute to it. But until they are spiritually mature the passions must be treated firmly and with reserve… When are they spiritually mature? When they are pure, clean, gentle, quiet, nonviolent, forgetful of themselves, detached and above all when they are humble and obedient to reason and to grace.”

3. A spirit liberated in God

“And when there is nothing you can do to prevent these feelings of inebriation and spiritual joy you accept them with patience and with reserve and even with a certain humility and thankfulness, realizing that you would not suffer such excitements if there were not so much natural steam left in you. You withdraw your consent from anything that may be inordinate about them, and leave the rest to God, waiting for the hour of your deliverance into the real joys, the purely spiritual joys of a contemplation in which your nature and your emotions and your own selfhood no longer run riot, but in which you are absorbed and immersed, not in the staggering drunkenness of the senses but in the clean, intensely pure intoxication of a spirit liberated in God.”

4. Attach the wrong kind of importance

“But the danger is that you will attach the wrong kind of importance to these manifestations of religious emotions. Really they are not important at all, and although sometimes they are unavoidable, it does not seem prudent to desire them. And as a matter of fact, everyone who has received any kind of training in the interior life knows that it is not considered good sense to go after these consolations with too heavy an intensity of purpose. Nevertheless, many of those who seem to be so superior to the sensible element in religion show, by their devotions, their taste for sentimental pictures and sticky music and mushy spiritual reading, that their whole interior life is a concentrated campaign for ‘lights’ and ‘consolations’ and ‘tears of compunction,’ if not ‘interior words’ with, perhaps, the faintly disguised hope of a vision of two and, eventually, the stigmata.”

5. The healthiest reaction

“Therefore the healthiest reaction to these outbursts is an obscure repugnance for the pleasures and the excitements they bring. You recognize that these things offer no real fruit and no lasting satisfaction. They tell you nothing reliable about God or about yourself. They give you no real strength, only the momentary illusion of holiness. And when you grow more experienced, how much they blind you and how capable they are of deceiving you and leading you astray.”

How do you deal with the emotions when it comes to contemplation?

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