Category Archives: Thomas Merton

Self Denial

If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?

—–Jesus

 

Self Denial is defined as – the willingness to forgo personal pleasures or undergo personal trials in the pursuit of the increased good of another.

Christian monastic asceticism(severe self-discipline and avoidance of all forms of indulgence) is remarkable for its balance, its sense of proportion. It does not overstress the negative side of the ascetic life, nor does it tend to flatter human nature by diminishing responsibilities or watering down the truth. It shows us clearly that while we can do nothing without grace, we must nevertheless cooperate with grace. It warns us that we must make an uncompromising break with the world and all that it stands for, but it keeps encouraging us with the hope of the happiness that lies ahead.

—— Thomas Merton


 

Self-denial is not very popular in our American culture. We are taught to want the best and more of it. A beer commercial once proclaimed, “You only go around once in life: Go for all the gusto you can.” The commercial is no longer aired, but the attitude permeates our society. Over and over we are urged to grab for all of life that we possibly can, and then go for more. An unprecedented number of Americans classify their religious status as unaffiliated or “none.” The concept of self-denial is an anathema to our society and, therefore, so is Christianity.

Nones

Jesus teaches his followers to deny themselves and take up their cross and follow him. That concept just doesn’t speak to our society. Everything must have a payoff, a good result, be successful or it is just not worth doing. We in the church speak of what sacrifices are necessary to live the Christian life. Hypocrisy, ill will and scandals have unfortunately brought Christianity to aHypocrites screeching halt in our day. Many people have a hard time seeing that Christianity has any genuineness at all. We are no longer the focus of the marketplace or the leaders of society. Quite honestly, it seems as though we are being erased as if we never existed. We are either considered uneducated at best or mean hypocrites at worse. Our identity has become the purveyors of the “thou shat not “message. Why, you ask?

Because of the overall negativity of our message, much of the world has forgotten about the grace of God. This grace is the free and unmerited favor of God. In the secular world grace is simple elegance or refinement of movement. I would like to propose that both definitions are applicable to the follower of Jesus who practices self-denial. Merton says that we can do nothing without grace, and asserts that we must cooperate with grace. I believe that the Christian who lives in oneness with God by taking up of their cross is a person who is both receiving the unmerited favor of God and journeys through life with simple elegance. This life of self-denial is surprisingly freeing. We are no longer dragged down by competition, envy or even defeat. Now we can live in a world where God truly reigns. Simple self-denial makes God’s kingdom very real in the here and now.

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The challenge is – do we truly believe in Him enough to practice self-denial and cross bearing? Tall orders these are, but ones that have an” other worldly” payoff. Those large numbers of “nones” that the pollsters tell us about have rejected the grace that comes with self-denial and can scarcely imagine what “grace freedom” really means. Grace freedom is the ability to live in the kingdom of God in the now and be excited about what is to come. The best things in life come by letting go.

For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?


Prayer

Lord, I pray for the gift of grace that allows me to deny myself and take up my cross. That road is one that my mind will not let me follow, but I know that if I open myself to your grace I can see your mind and gladly follow. When that happens I have unimaginable freedom. The road is confusing, but I trust you.

Amen

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Finding Silence


Thomas-Merton-8-23-17

Soon silence will have passed into legend. Man has turned his back on silence. Day after day he invents machines and devices that increase noise and distract humanity from the essence of life, contemplation, meditation.

—-Jean Arp

Silence has many dimensions. It can be a regression and an escape, a loss of self, or it can be presence, awareness, unification, self-discovery. Negative silence blurs and confuses our identity, and we lapse into daydreams or diffuse anxieties. Positive silence pulls us together and makes us realize who we are, who we might be, and the distance between the two. Hence, positive silence implies a choice, and what Paul Tillich called the “courage to be.”

—–Thomas Merton


For over seven years we lived on a very busy city street. During that time I began to believe that silence was just a myth that is found in some far off place. I, like the German sculptor Jean Arp, began to believe that silence was passing into legend. Two and a half years ago I moved into a much quieter, though not silent, neighborhood. Once again, I enjoyed birdsong and could hear the sound of the wind flowing through the trees. It was as though I was rediscovering creation. Soon I realized that my new home has noise as well. Determined not to let my silence be taken away from me, I began to embrace the noise as a pathway to inner silence. That sense of silence acted as a catalyst for a new and stronger spirituality.

Merton refers to the damage caused by negative silence in “Love and Living.” My observation is the more we are surrounded by noise the more likely we are to fall into negative silence. I believe that it is caused by the constant awareness of that background noise that is always present. We become so frustrated by our inability to escape the uproar of humanity and position ourselves at the feet of the creator. We fight so hard to escape the uproar, we never find peace. The path remains elusive to us because we are concentrated on the negative. True silence is out there waiting for us to discover it.

True silence is positive silence, which is August-23-Personal-quotea time and a place of self-discovery. From that place we can be in the presence of God. The prophet Zephaniah says, “Be silent before the Lord God! For the day of the Lord is at hand; the Lord has prepared a sacrifice, he has consecrated his guests. “I believe that only way to truly be before the Lord is in silence. How can we really hear God above the din of the world unless we clear our minds and focus on Him? The Bible, early Christians, medieval mystics, modern monastics and all other sorts of people in sincere search of God have a common cry -SILENCE!! This cry instructs us to find a quiet place and present ourselves to God. The quietness allows God to calm us, settle us and speak to us, and more importantly, for us to hear God.

No matter what your circumstance, try not to believe that the quiet place is a thing of the past. Take the time to hear your surroundings and listen to God wherever you may be. The throng of urban life doesn’t have to drive us into the negative silence of brooding and moping. Discover the glimpses of silence that God allows you. Try not to be frustrated with the sounds of His creation but to offer them up as part of your journey to your inner self.


PRAYER

 

MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.


Amen.

 

—-Thomas Merton


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A Design for Praise

“Do we know what it means to praise? To adore? To give glory? Praise is cheap, today. Everything is praised. Soap, beer, toothpaste, clothing, mouthwash, movie stars, all the latest gadgets which are supposed to make life more comfortable—everything is constantly being “praised”. Praise is now so overdone that everybody is sick of it, and since everything is “praised” with the official hollow enthusiasm of the radio announcer, it turns out in the end that nothing is praised. Praise has become empty. Nobody really wants to use it.”

—- Thomas Merton from “Praying the Psalms”

Psalm 145 is called a Psalm of praise and it begins with these words, “I will exalt you, my God the King; I will praise your name for ever and ever. Every day I will praise you and extol your name for ever and ever.” Many churches have what is called “Praise Worship.” When I was a young pastor our church had a “Praise Team.” Some sixty years ago Merton spotted the glib way that we used the word praise. He considered it overdone, sickening and empty. The praise word is even used more lightly in the church today.

Praise has become a style, a sound, a type of worship and in doing so has lost the true meaning of praising Go. We can praise God quietly or with enthusiasm. All too often we equate praise with some amount motion or practice. To praise God properly all of our attention must be focused on Him. Modern praise is many times like “distracted driving.” We are always looking for the next move and not focused on the main thing. We cannot be in two places at once. Our praise to God must be directed towards Him, and not done in such a way as to emulate the world. Our challenge is to rediscover what it means to praise God. Let me offer a few suggestions.

  • Make your praise undistracted by what others are doing. “Come to our church and find out what it is like to really praise God.” Have you ever heard that line? I have. You, I, all of us, must praise God in our own way. There is tremendous peer pressure to define praising God as doing it my way. God can be praised with shouts of joy, with extended silence and many other ways. Praise is not limited to a style or even a time.
  • Make your praise focused on God and God alone. Praise is the joyful recounting of all God has done for us. Offering God praise is, at its very nature, something we must do in our heart of hearts. Praise can be a part of worship, but it must more importantly be a part of you. We don’t go to worship to praise God, we are worshipping because we praise Him. All too often our worship is focused on praising the preaching, the music or some other part of the service and praising God is an auxiliary outcome.
  • Make your praise be more than the world’s praise. The world’s praise is done to lift up a person, a product or a performance. God doesn’t need that. Merton’s strong warning was for us not to fall into the world’s idea of praise but to make praise of God so much more. Praise of God far exceeds compliments, it is recognizing His might and glory. In such recognition we easily see the wonderful nature of God and His generous provision for us, His creation. Without Him we are nothing. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) Keep that in mind when you praise God.
  • Make your praise part of your daily walk. Praise must be in your very soul.” Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars; in the heavens, you have made them bright, precious and fair.” (Francis of Assisi) As we come to see God in His creation each day, each step is an act of praise. Jesus gives us some advice, Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” As we grow to appreciate our daily blessings, praise will become a natural part of us.



Prayer

Lord, help me to rediscover genuine praise of You. The world cheapens all things and draws attention to itself. That is the work of the evil one whom you cast from Your divine presence. Lord help me to center myself on praise of You in all that you have created. My praise is not defined by the world but designed by your spirit that dwells in me. Guide this day as I walk the paths of your creation. Might I see your touch everywhere I go and in everyone I meet.

Amen.

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Born Again = Imago Dei

Imago Dei – A theological term, applied uniquely to humans, which denotes the symbolical relation between God and humanity.

There is in us an instinct for newness, for renewal, for a liberation of creative power. We seek to awaken in ourselves a force which really changes our lives from within. And yet the same instinct tells us that this change is a recovery of that which is deepest, most original, most personal in ourselves. To be born again is not to become somebody else, but to become ourselves.

THOMAS MERTON

You don’t have a Soul. You are a Soul. You have a body.

–C. S. Lewis

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

–Genesis 1:27

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I was a college student when I really understood the concept of “born again” for first time. I was very intrigued at the idea and began to probe just what it meant. As I looked inward I saw myself as a very faithful Christian. From a very early age I had gone to church, tried to live a good life and obeyed the rules, but I began to wonder if there was something more. To makes matters worse, President Jimmy Carter burst on the scene and began telling everyone (even Playboy Magazine) about his new birth experience. In the mid-seventies it seemed that the country was a buzz talking about being born again. With great evangelical fervor I was born again and left my Roman Catholic heritage for the brave new world of the evangelical movement.

At first I thought I had arrived and was standing boldly on the pinnacle of spiritual development. Soon afterwards I reaffirmed a vocational ministry calling and I was off to Seminary. After graduating and becoming the pastor of a country church, my one goal was to make sure everyone was “born again” just like me. After a decade or so of saving the world, I found that it just wasn’t working. Was the new birth really the end all and be all of the spiritual journey? Early on in my spiritual journey (my pre-born again days) I had been fascinated by the monastic life -so much so that I gave serious consideration to becoming a monk myself. But that soon fizzled. I still felt sure about my “new birth” experience, but something was amiss.

CS Lewis 5-17-17That feeling led me to Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton, Anthony DeMello, C. S. Lewis, the Desert Abbas and Ammas and many others where I discovered what I should have already known – that I was created in the image of God. The new birth is merely a rediscovery of what was already there hiding inside of me. Long ago God had planted a “spark of divinity” in me and through my born again experience I was simply becoming my true self in the weak and frail body that I have in this life. C. S. Lewis said, “You don’t have a Soul. You are a Soul. You have a body.”

I, like so many others, thought that being born again was to become some new creature. I misinterpreted Paul’s words when he said,” Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” Christ followers are the same people they were before, they just have a recognition of the Creator within them. Suddenly the “IMAGO DEI” comes alive through the work of the Holy Spirit, and we can do all things through the strength of Christ.

The wonderful words of Thomas Merton – “To be born again is not to become somebody else, but to become ourselves” are such a blessing. Because of that concept I can tell myself and the world that God never abandons us. Yes, He lets us do our own thing, but He is always there. Our world is full of people that feel there is no God or at the very best, He has abandoned His creation. High rates of crime, suicides, depression, bullying are some things that happen when we forget that God created all of us in His image. Yes, we must be “born again” by acknowledging that we belong to God and allowing Him to flourish in us.

Let us ALL become our true selves.


Prayer

Lord, give me a newness of life today. Let me see your shining light in me and all others. Let my life be filled with your glory as I see your light all around me today. Help me to be born again and again. Let this new birth be a daily routine as I seek to follow You every day of my life.

Amen

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The False Self

To say I was born into sin is just saying I came into the world with a false self. I was born in a mask. I came into existence under sign of contradiction, being someone that I was never intended to be and therefore a denial of what I am supposed to be. Unless I came into existence and non-existence at the same time because from the very start I was something that I was not.

—–Thomas Merton

Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

Jesus of Nazareth

The ego is the false self born out of fear and defensiveness.

John O’ Donahue

The concept of “false self’ is one that we all need to freely acknowledge in order to grow and prosper as God intended. Most of us realize at some point in our lives that things are not really like we had hoped they would be. No matter how hard we try to be the person that we want to be, we always seem to fall short. We compensate for this by creating a false self. That self is totally self-sufficient and creates its own image. We were designed to be one with God and many spend a lifetime trying to deny that reality. Our vision is our false self because we can control that self.

That self drives us to do weird things, but there is an answer. Surrender to and become the “God designed” you. That requires that we give up the idea of being an all sufficient creation that needs nothing more than training or experience. We are all born flawed and those flaws only get worse if we keep denying them. We all need a true makeover. Such a makeover is called by some being “born again.” That new birth is being born of God and beginning a life that is no longer self-dependent but God dependent.


Prayer

Lord help me to be what you want me to be. Give me the freedom and grace to seek you in my journey. Give me the courage to stop pretending to be something I am not. Allow me to put aside my pride and trust the unknown that you have planted in me.

Amen.

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The Conflict of Soul

We are caught in a bitter conflict between flesh and spirit. Jesus has delivered us from sin, but not from the weaknesses and desires of the flesh. We have to reproduce in our life the Cross of Christ so that, having died sacramentally to sin in baptism, we may also put to death sin in our flesh by restraining our evil desires and bad tendencies. This is the basis of monastic asceticism. (Or the Christian walk)

—-Thomas Merton

Baptism

Not one among us who has not felt the tug of war caused by the conflict of flesh and spirit. This conflict of soul lives in everyone, and the battle rages with little relief. As we face this reality and own it, the conflict takes on a new aspect. The acknowledgement of our fleshly weaknesses allows us to turn to the spirit that is promised by Jesus. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.(John 14:26) Through this Spirit we can achieve small victories over our desires, but we have to work at it and be vigilant.

Merton points to a very important and the often neglected reality of sacramental grace. Through our baptism the community lifts us up so that we 1-18-17-Postmight die to sin. That grace is an important tool in our battle with the flesh, and one that should not be neglected. When the congregation (community) says, “we will so order our lives after the example of Christ, that this child, surrounded by steadfast love, may be established in the faith,” that pledge is the communion of saints in action. We must never abandon the strength that can be garnered from the sacramental community.

We must all desire to be a part of the sacramental community that has been provided for us. Regular church attendance and partaking of communion is an essential means of grace. Our very participation in times of worship allows us to receive the grace that so freely flows when the community is gathered together for word and sacrament. Seize every opportunity that you can to be a part of your sacramental community. Our strength is boosted by the community.


Prayer

Lord help me this very day to resist the temptations that surround me. Give me the foresight to garner the grace that you so freely provide, for it is that grace that strengthens me in times of need and temptation. I ask you to protect and strengthen me for the journey that is mine.

Amen

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Results vs. Relationships

“Do not depend on the hope of results. You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. You gradually struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything.”

– Thomas Merton

The longer we live the more doubts seem to crowd our mind. In the second half of life many people begin to question nearly everything they have achieved. Maybe I should have made a different move, or perhaps I should not have taken a certain stand. We suffer to achieve and at the end of the day, we may not have really achieved what we intended. Merton tells us not to depend on the hope of results. That concept is so antithetical to our culture. We live for results, we work for results, and our results make us who we are. The thought is to turn away from results to relationship.

Merton-6-29Lives that are totally dependent on results never achieve happiness and satisfaction. Such lives are wrought with competition and envy at every turn. Our culture is full of people who are dependent on drugs, legal and illegal, to get through the day. So many of these heavy burdens would be lifted if we only stopped long enough to discover the reality of personal relationship.

Many a person having failed in the results column of their lives discover they have won in the personal relationships they have built. The sad reality of many lives is that they are so busy trying to achieve the acceptable result that they neglect their relationships. Careers thrive while marriages fall apart due to neglect or unintended abuse. A sad commentary on our society is that so many people do not realize the importance of individual relationships until the second half of our lives. Young adults who discover this secret early in life live happier and more productive lives.

Prayer

Lord help me to realize that my results do not bring me hope but my relationships deliver joy. Guide me this day to treasure those whom you have placed in my life. Turn my goal from what I can achieve to how I can love others. In loving others I can have the greatest results. Lord allow me to begin that love with love for You.

Amen

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Contemplatives Go Mainstream

A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty as Lincoln did, when it fosters a culture which enables people to “dream” of full rights for all their brothers and sisters, as Martin Luther King sought to do; when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed, as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work, the fruit of a faith which becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton.

——Pope Francis Address to Congress

pope rolling storeI am sure that the address of Pope Francis was viewed  by millions of people, as well as  witnessed by a joint session of the US Congress. In it he affirmed four Americans of great note. Among them was Thomas Merton whom he identified as a contemplative. Such an affirmation will cause people to be curious about contemplative life. Praise God for this man and his willingness to share his bold beliefs with the world. We contemplatives are now part of the mainstream media.

THE TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGIN’

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Scripture

Merton quote 5-1-15

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May 1, 2015 · 5:15 am

The Beginning

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