Mystical Understanding and Love – 9 quotes from Thomas Merton’s book – Contemplation in a World of Action

by Mark Votava

51Xo2PA2R+L._SL500_AA300_1. A huge impersonal machine

“Let us not forget that modern man, or modern woman, at least in the ‘advanced countries,’ is desperately concerned with the problem of giving meaning to a life that is so easily reduced to mere empty routine by the alienating pressures of commercial and technological organization. We are often very keenly aware of the danger of becoming mere ‘mass men,’ frustrated, unidentified cogs in a huge impersonal machine.”

2. A courageous spirit of faith

“The real purpose of openness is to renew life in the Spirit, life in love. A greater love and understanding of people is no obstacle to a true growth in contemplation, for contemplation is rooted and grounded in charity. A more generous sharing of the values of the contemplative life will increase our love instead of diminish it. It will also increase our understanding of and appreciation for our own vocation. Obviously, a great deal of prudence will be required, but we should not be so afraid of mistakes that we fail to make necessary changes. If we face change in a courageous spirit of faith, the Holy Spirit will take care of the rest.”

3. The capacity for mystical understanding and love

“It is by deepening this Christian consciousness and developing the capacity for mystical understanding and love that the Christian contemplative keeps alive… that pure and immediate experience without which theology will always lack one of its most important dimensions.”

4. Our imagination

“Our imagination must be able to click and find correspondences, symbols and meanings. It should point up new meanings. It should create nuclei of meaning around which everything can collect significantly.”

5. So obsessed with “answers” and “solutions”

“…we are so obsessed with the idea that we are supposed to possess ‘answers’ and ‘solutions’ for everything that we evade the difficult problems, which are all too real, by raising other less real problems to which we think we have the answer.”

6. A more authentic and honest way

“The question remains: can we adjust our life and our view of life in such a way that it will be capable of being lived in a more authentic and honest way…”

7. Growth in experience

“Growth in experience implies a serious self-doubt and self-questioning in which values previously held seem to be completely exploded and no other tangible values come to take their place…”  

8. A distortion of the contemplative life

“…it is a distortion of the contemplative life to treat it as if the contemplative concentrated all his efforts on getting graces and favors from God for others and for himself.”

9. The surest sign of immaturity

“The truly modern adult person will surely not allow himself to be treated as an alienated and helpless individual whose inner experience is dictated to him by another and imposed upon him from the outside. It is the surest sign of immaturity to be imposed on entirely by the ideas and ideals of others to substitute these for one’s own true personal experience… of life.”

What resonates with you in these quotes by Thomas Merton? Have you read Contemplation in a World of Action? Any thoughts?

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