The Spirit of Contemplation – 10 quotes from Thomas Merton’s book – Contemplative Prayer

by Mark Votava

092191. Content to be a beginner

“One cannot begin to face the real difficulties of the life of… meditation unless one is first perfectly content to be a beginner and really experience himself as one who knows little or nothing, and has a desperate need to learn…”

2. We do not want to be beginners

“We do not want to be beginners. But let us be convinced of the fact that we will never be anything else but beginners, all our life!”

3. Absurd and impossible to try to grasp God

“It is in fact absurd and impossible to try to grasp God as an object which can be seized and comprehended by our minds.”

4. Revolutionize our entire inner life

“Only when we are able to ‘let go’ of everything within us, all desire to see, to know, to taste and to experience the presence of God, do we truly become able to experience that presence with the overwhelming conviction and reality that revolutionize our entire inner life.”

5. The illusion of having “arrived somewhere”

“A method of mediation or a form of contemplation that merely produces the illusion of having ‘arrived somewhere,’ of having achieved security and preserved one’s familiar status by playing a part, will eventually have to be unlearned in dread – or else we will be confirmed in the arrogance, the impenetrable self-assurance of the Pharisee. We will become impervious to the deepest truths. We will be closed to all who do not participate in our illusion. We will live ‘good lives’ that are basically inauthentic, ‘good’ only as long as they permit us to remain established in our respectable and impermeable identities. The ‘goodness’ of such lives depends on the security afforded by relative wealth, recreation, spiritual comfort, and a solid reputation for piety. Such ‘goodness’ is preserved by routine and the habitual avoidance of serious risk – indeed of serious challenge… It will prefer routine duty to courage and creativity. In the end it will be content with established procedures and safe formulas, while turning a blind eye to the greatest enormities of injustice and uncharity.”  

6. Contemplative aspirations

“Without true, deep contemplative aspirations,… religion tends in the end to become an opiate.”

7. The Spirit of contemplation

“The most important need in the… world today is this inner truth nourished by this Spirit of contemplation…”

8. Lacks the fervor of contemplation

“Religion always tends to lose its inner consistency and its supernatural truth when it lacks the fervor of contemplation…”

9. Faith, openness, attention

“…in meditation we should not look for a ‘method’ or ‘system,’ but cultivate an ‘attitude,’ an ‘outlook’: faith, openness, attention…”

10. Firmly rooted in life

“Meditation has no point and no reality unless it is firmly rooted in life…”

Have you cultivated the Spirit of contemplation in your everyday 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