A cuppa tea with…Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer

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Silent Meditation vs Empty Chatter

In this chapter Thomas moves further into meditative prayer…what it is and certainly what it is not.  He encourages us that interior prayer is simple, silent, and often expressed through small acts.  He cautions us that we convince ourselves that to have a “true prayer life” we must be engaged in “compulsive routines” filled with wordy, repetitive prayers.  This behavior, Thomas states, builds barriers between our own spirits and the Holy Spirit who desires to commune with us.

Thomas brings in St. John of the Cross, “The more spiritual a thing is the more wearisome they find it.”  In other words, we continue in behavior that “stimulates [us] psychologically” but is in effect empty, worthless, and counter-productive.

God’s response is to enshroud us in “darkness” and “night” which feels lonely and isolating and horrible and painful.  It breaks our confidence.  It confuses our minds.  It makes us doubt our faith.

But it is this painful darkness that God uses to re-direct us back to His purity and simplicity and grace.  Thomas encourages us, “It is precisely in this way that, being led into the ‘dark night of faith,’ one passes from meditation, in the sense of active ‘mental prayer,’ to contemplation, or a deeper and simpler intuitive form of receptivity.”

When those dark times come, and we shuffle through the arid desert of our soul, Thomas directs us to turn to the Psalms or Holy Scripture rather than falling back “to the conventional machinery of discursive ‘mental prayer.”

A cuppa tea with… Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer

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Inertia.  Coldness.  Confusion.

Thomas speaks of these as we all experience them at some point (or many points) in our prayer life.  What do we do when faced with these empty spaces, these times when nothing seems to matter and nothing gains traction?

He warns that this might be a time when we have separated our prayer life, our ascetic life, from the rest of our existence.  This is folly and “bad theology.”

“Meditation has no point and no reality unless it is firmly rooted in life.”  We will fail to move forward in an ascetic journey if we cleave the two parts.

Another error is blaming ourselves when we “feel” separated from God.  There will be moments and times of elevation; there will be moment and times of “the night of the senses.”

He warns against discouragement and helplessness.  We must not rely upon feelings for fulfillment as they are immature.  Instead, during those times of night in the soul, we are to remain faithful and remember that God has given us the Spirit who will intercede for us with words and groans that we cannot utter (Romans 8:11-27).

“Our efforts…are directed to an obedient and opperative submission to grace…which implies our receptiveness to the hidden action of the Holy Spirit.”

adesse.

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imageThis compelling love, steeped in silence, is required of every soul.  This obedience to the present moment is, moreover, an act whereby they dedicate themselves totally to the external will of God as a matter of course. This is their rule, method, law and way.  Pure, simple and sure, it is a straight path along which souls walk with courage and faith, looking neither to the right nor the left, unconcerned with everything else.

~~Jean-Pierre de Caussade, The Sacrament of the Present Moment

A cuppa tea with… Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer

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Thomas suggests instead of seeking a “method” of prayer, we should choose a “life” of prayer.  It should be intentional behavior to life and not akin to the enthusiasm of acquiring a new skill.  God calls us to life with HIm; prayer is that response.  In meditation we face the harsh realities of ourselves and the nothingness we are apart from God.  Additionally, “It would be a mistake to suppose that mere good will is…a sufficient guarantee that all our efforts will finally attain to a good result.”   Merton recommends spiritual direction coupled with humility.  That spiritual direction will help us to recognize God’s grace and movement in our lives, to learn humility and patience, and to remove those obstacles barring us from moving deeper in prayer.

adesse.

image“In dwelling, live close to the ground.

In thinking, keep to the simple.

In conflict, be fair and generous.

In governing, don’t try to control.

In work, do what you enjoy.

In family life, be completely present.”

~~Tao, 8.

A cuppa tea with… Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer

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imageThomas mentions the various forms of contemplative prayer including psalmodia, lectio, oratio, contemplatio.  These prayers are a way to turn from the world to God, but “to separate meditation from prayer, reading, and contemplation, is to falsify our picture of the monastic way of prayer.”  Singing hymns and songs of praise, sharing in the liturgy, and fellowship with our brothers and sisters certainly have their places.  It is the movement within contemplative prayer, however, which offers “watchful listening” and presents a prayer of the heart involving the whole man.  St. Basil wrote that the work of the hands is in itself a meditation, thankfulness, and glorification to God.  “In the ‘prayer of the heart’ we seek God himself present in the depths of our being and meet him there by invoking the name of Jesus in faith, wonder, and love.”

John 17:6-19

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Pray with me.

Almighty God, whose blessed Son our Savior Jesus Christ ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things: Mercifully give us faith to perceive that, according to his promise, he abides with his Church on earth, even to the end of the ages; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Many of you have children. When you had your first child and became a parent, no one gave you an instruction book. I am reminded of the film that came out in the late 80s called Parenthood with Steve Martin. Steve’s character and his wife Mary Steenburgen have another couple over one afternoon for lunch. Steve’s little boy comes stumbling into the kitchen with a bucket on his head. The little boy missed the hallway and hit the wall instead. Oblivious to the notion that he could actually take the bucket off his head and see his way down the hall, he continued to bonk his bucket-covered head against the wall. The visiting couple, unsure whether to hysterically laugh or help this little mess, look to Steve and Mary, and Mary just shrugs her shoulders and says, Continue reading

adesse.

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imageThe future, good or ill, was not forgotten, but ceased to have any power over the present.  Health and hope grew strong in them, and they were content with each good day as it came, taking pleasure in every meal, and in every word and song.

~~J.R.R.Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring