Tag Archives: Thomas Merton

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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Lessons from the Passion

Matthew 26:30-39

When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Then Jesus said to them, ‘You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written,

“I will strike the shepherd,

and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.”

But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.’ Peter said to him, ‘Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.’ Peter said to him, ‘Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.’ And so said all the disciples.

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. Then he said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.’ And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.’

The last hours of Jesus’ life bear powerful truths for our daily living.  Lessons and principles for following Christ are to be learned in almost every event of those last hours.

Watch and learn…

  • On Thursday night, Jesus ate the traditional Passover meal with His disciples.  That night, He performed an act of great humility.  The Messiah washed the feet of His apostles.  He taught them that to be great, you must be small.  The way to lead is to serve.  Remember Jesus washing the disciples’ dirty feet if you feel unimportant, un-empowered or small.
  • Peter didn’t want Jesus to wash his feet.  He declared his loyalty, even to the death.  But Jesus sadly informed him that he would vehemently deny knowing the Savior three times before the rooster would crow in the morning.  Remember Peter as he heard the rooster crow early Friday morning if you feel self-sufficient or confident in your own resources alone.
  • After the meal, Jesus went to the garden to pray.  His followers chose sleep, not prayer.  In the loneliness of those hours, Jesus’ heart was in great agony as He accepted death for our salvation.  Remember Jesus kneeling alone in the garden if you find it hard to do the right thing.
  • Then came the trials.  First, Christ stood before the Jewish high court, the Sanhedrin; then, the Roman governor, Pilate; next, Herod, the Jewish puppet king; and finally back to Pilate again.  In cowardice, Pilate let the people choose; Jesus or Barabbas, a convicted criminal.  Remember Jesus as he heard the crowd shout, “Crucify him!  Give us Barabbas!” If you feel wrongfully accused.
  • The Roman soldiers beat Him, crowned Him with thorns, mocked Him and made Him carry His cross.  Remember the humiliation of Jesus on the Via Dolorosa if you feel rejected or excluded.
  • Jesus was nailed to the cross with huge spikes. In the midst of His torture, He prayed for His executioners.  Remember Jesus’ words, “Father, forgive them,” if you find it hard to forgive.
  • Those same soldiers gambled for His clothes.  Remember how Jesus must have felt as the soldiers played games at the foot of the cross if you feel discouraged by power struggles, feel used or feel misunderstood.
  • There are lessons to be learned from all suffering but the passion of Christ shows us the true heart of God.  The Lenten season gives us 40 days to ponder Christ’s passion and learn from it.

Monica Boudreaux


PRAYER

Father – Give me the wisdom to learn lessons of service and humility as I consider Christ’s passion.

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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Some Thoughts About Fasting

The season of Lent is always a time to think and prayer about the value of fasting. Today I will share some thought from a variety of people from diverse background about fasting.

 

“Prayer is reaching out after the unseen; fasting is letting go of all that is seen and temporal. Fasting helps express, deepen, confirm the resolution that we are ready to sacrifice anything, even ourselves to attain what we seek for the kingdom of God.”

– Andrew Murray

“Fasting helps express, deepens, confirms the resolution that we are ready to sacrifice anything, even ourselves, to attain what we seek for the kingdom of God.”

– Andrew Murray

“One way to begin to see how vastly indulgent we usually are is to fast. It is a long day that is not broken by the usual three meals. One finds out what an astonishing amount of time is spent in the planning, purchasing, preparing, eating, and cleaning up of meals.”

– Elisabeth Elliot

“If the solemnities of our fasting, though frequent, long, and severe, do not serve to put an edge upon devout affections, to quicken prayer, to increase Godly sorrow, and to alter the temper of our minds, and the course of our lives, for the better, they do not at all answer the intention, and God will not accept them as performed to Him.”

– Matthew Henry

“The greatest saint in the world is not he who prays most or fasts most; it is not he who gives alms, or is most eminent for temperance, chastity or justice. It is he who is most thankful to God.”

– William Law

“Fasting helps express, deepens, confirms the resolution that we are ready to sacrifice anything, even ourselves, to attain what we seek for the kingdom of God.”

– Andrew Murray

“By fasting, the body learns to obey the soul; by praying the soul learns to command the body.”

– William Secker

“Fasting helps express, deepens, confirms the resolution that we are ready to sacrifice anything, even ourselves, to attain what we seek for the kingdom of God.”

– Andrew Murray

“The purpose of fasting is to loosen to some degree the ties which bind us to the world of material things and our surroundings as a whole, in order that we may concentrate all our spiritual powers upon the unseen and eternal things.”

– Ole Hallesby

“This Man (Jesus) suddenly remarks one day, ‘No one need fast while I am here.’ Who is this Man who remarks that His mere presence suspends all normal rules?”

– C.S. Lewis

“The abstinence is not to be an end in itself but rather for the purpose of being separated to the Lord and to concentrate on godliness. This kind of fasting reduces the influence of our self-will and invites the Holy Spirit to do a more intense work in us.”

– William Thrasher

“Fasting in the biblical sense is choosing not to partake of food because your spiritual hunger is so deep, you determination in intercession so intense, or your spiritual warfare so demanding that you have temporarily set aside even fleshly needs to give yourself to prayer and meditation.”

– Wesley L. Duewel

“Fastings and vigils without a special object in view are time run to waste.”

– David Livingstone


My Lenten fast is the “John Wesley Fast.” You might want to do this as well.


Prayer

Lord help me this day to develop a Lenten discipline. Allow me to conquer the desires of my body for rest, comfort and ease so that I may offer myself to You. For it was in your discomfort and pain that you brought life to me. Let this Lenten season be a time that I remember your sacrifice as I make the spiritual journey to the cross.

Amen


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The Garment of Humility

There are certain kinds of trees which never bear any fruit as long as their branches stay up straight, but if stones are hung on the branches to bend them down they begin to bear fruit. So it is with the soul. When it is humbled it begins to bear fruit, and the more fruit it bears the lowlier it becomes. So also the saints; the nearer they get to God, the more they see themselves as sinners.

—–Dorotheos of Gaza

Paul called himself the chief, or first, of sinners. Isaiah said, “We are all sheep that have rebelled, and gone our own way, and God has laid our sin upon the shoulders of the messiah.” (My paraphrase) When we can come to grips with these three factors: we are all primarily sinners, we will go our way and Jesus took ours sins upon himself, we will begin the process of becoming humble. Without the humbling of our souls, we will never do the true work of God. On our own we can become legally righteous and live a “punch list” sort of Christianity, but the spirit of the ONE who went to the cross for us will never be the pervasive force in our lives.

Humility-MertonA great deal of energy is expended to avoid pain and difficulty in our lives. We shield our children and consequently ourselves from the reality of the world that surrounds us. These activities in and of themselves are not harmful or sinful. They can, however,r lead to a false sense of accomplishment and safety that does not challenge us to meet the powers of this world and find the victory that comes when we do. We are given battles, our souls are weighed down, our branches are pruned, but all of these things make us stronger in our reliance in God. Most importantly, we are reminded that we are fatally flawed without our reliance on Him.

Coming nearer to God, as the monk says, is a matter of acknowledging our sins and living with them and not being controlled by them. We will never know the true power of God until we recognize our weaknesses. If we are to bear fruit in this life we must don the garment of humility that weighs down the arms of self-sufficiency that so naturally dominate us. Such an action will bring humility to our souls and spiritual productivity to our lives.

Humility-CS-Lewis1

Prayer

Lord, give me the wisdom to know the need and marshal the courage to accept the garment of humility that my sinful soul so badly needs. By accepting the garment, I am allowing you to lead me in the direction of spiritual humility which blesses me and those I encounter. Lord, this day I ask my arms to be drawn down by confession of my sins, so I might be lifted by your grace.

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

A Calling

“Our vocation is not simply to be, but to work together with God in the creation of our own life, our own identity, our own destiny….To work out our identity in God.”

― Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation

 Some would think a bit old fashioned to think of our lives as a vocational calling, but Merton hits this issue head on. We are all called to go far beyond mere existence, or simply to plod along in our weakness. Our God, and creator wants us to find our identity in Him. When that is accomplished our lives are transformed, and we soar to heights that only he can take us. You are a creation of a loving God, and He want you to claim that identity.

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The Beginning

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