The Wilderness of Compassion – 8 quotes from Thomas Merton’s Journals

by Mark Votava

Learning-to-Love1. The symptoms of both life and death

“If the dying man should attend consciously to the symptoms of death in himself, the living man should attend to the symptoms both of life and death in himself…” September 16, 1968 The Oher Side of the Mountain

2. The total loneliness of Christ

“The total loneliness of Christ. I don’t claim that my loneliness is His. Still less that I understand anything about His…” June 21, 1966 Learning to Love

3. With great love

“Enough about seasons, which mean more than I ever admitted before, to me, but I have followed them all my life with great love, and their rhythm should be the basis of all decent cultures…” October 7, 1941 Run to the Mountain

4. My greatest failures

“But I must be careful to distinguish where I am ‘not poor.’ My greatest failures are perhaps in poverty.” September 6, 1962 Turning Toward the World

5. A man I never even heard of

“In any case every day is the same for me because I have become very different from what I used to be. The man who began this journal is dead, just as the man who finished The Seven Story Mountain when this journal began was also dead, and what is more the man who was the central figure in The Seven Story Mountain was dead over and over. And now that all these men are dead, it is sufficient for me to say on paper and I think I will have ended up by forgetting them… Consequently, The Seven Story Mountain is the work of a man I never even heard of…” June 13, 1951 Entering the Silence

6. No greater pain

“At times I feel fear that all the life is going to be inexorably squeezed out of me by this pious system… I am really beginning to understand the psalms, about the temptation to despair that beset the poor and the oppressed. To see what is evidently wrong or less good, triumph without difficulty while ideals of truth are crushed. There is no greater pain…” December 5, 1959 A Search for Solitude

download (13)7. Greed for money and power

“The great sin, the source of all other sins, is idolatry. And never has it been greater, more prevalent than now. It is almost completely unrecognized – precisely because it is so overwhelmingly total. It takes in everything. There is nothing else left. Fetishism of power, machines, possessions, medicine, sports, clothes, etc. all kept going by greed for money and power: the bomb is only one accidental aspect of the cult. Indeed, the bomb is not the worst. We should be thankful for it as a sign, a revelation of what all the rest of our civilization points to: the self-immolation of man to his greed and his own despair…” April 17, 1965 Dancing in the Water of Life

8. The wilderness of compassion

“What is my new desert? The name of it is compassion. There is no wilderness so terrible, so beautiful, so arid and so fruitful as the wilderness of compassion. It is the only desert that shall truly flourish like the lily. It shall become a pool, it shall bud forth and blossom and rejoice with joy. It is the desert of compassion that the thirsty land turns into springs of water, that the poor possess all things…” November 19, 951 Entering the Silence

Have you entered into the wilderness of compassion?

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