Merton on Contemplation

As people who are involved in our world and who are committed to bringing the light of the Christian Gospel to our world, it is easy to get caught up in the tyranny off endless activity (Merton’s “laziness of action”)—another meeting, another issue, another campaign. Merton invites us to take an inner pilgrimage—a journey to nowhere, a trip into nothingness. In our affluent world would anyone in their right mind want to take a trip into nothingness?
In days of old, monks, especially Celtic monks, used to take pilgrimages to their place of resurrection. It was also their place of death if the ruggedness of Skellig Michael is any indication of the harsh simplicity of their lives. (Skellig Micahel is a rock island off the coast of County Kerry which rises 700 feet out of the Atlantic and which housed a colony of monks from the 6th to the 11th centuries.)
Skellig Michael
Borrowing Gerard Manley Hopkins’ term, Merton sees the outer pilgrimage as the “inscape” of the interior pilgrimage. We too are on a journey, a pilgrimage to our place of resurrection. What are some things we notice and learn along the way?
First, we find God in silence and solitude. We find God deep within ourselves. Christ lives in us. The Holy Spirit dwells in us as our inner guide on the journey. Father Anthony Delisi of the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia speaks of going into the cellar. It is Merton’s place of nothingness where we meet God. I like the cellar analogy because most cellars are cluttered with our discarded possessions. We also may find spaces of emptiness (if we have made any attempt at all to be neat!). In the darkness and silence, we come to the place of nowhere. We ignore the clutter and the endless mind chatter. We focus on Jesus. We keep our eyes on the prize! Merton calls this the point vierge (virgin point) where we are between being and nonbeing, darkness and light. We sit in silence and suspend thought. We are in the cellar to listen. God does not want prayer upon prayer. God simply wants us to abide in loving presence where “all is well and all will be well.” We dwell in silence with the Beloved.
We come to the place of nowhere. We arrive and say, “Is this it?” We find the nothingness, the nada of the present moment. We are deep in the is-ness of now. Utter poverty brings us to God. One pray-er described this encounter, “I look at God and God looks at me.” Merton says, “This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God within us.”
Coming out of the place of nowhere, we realize with Merton that we are in Paradise and just don’t take time to know it. Paradise! We are surrounded by the love, mercy, joy, and compassion of an Infinite God. Like fish, we swim in a sea of mercy and compassion.
We realize that all is gift—pure gift. As gift, it is ours to enjoy. As gift, it is ours to share. All that we have comes from God, not Wall Street or Homeland Security.
Our response cannot but be one of gratitude. We live grateful for what we are and what we have received.
I used to pooh pooh the philosophical/theological concept of will. We are not separate faculties. We are whole beings. However, I am coming to understand that will is a valuable concept. “Love one another as I have loved you.” If we rely only on intellect, we can find convincing reasons to love or not love someone. If we rely only on heart and how we feel, we can experience feelings to accept or reject anyone. Will gets us to the nitty gritty of Jesus’ command. We must choose whether to love this person or that person. It is our choice but we are always under a divine mandate to love.
We understand that it is all about God and his nonviolent-incarnate Son, and the Spirit Paraclete. We are to live the mercy and compassion of our loving God. We are to be merciful. Loving and compassionate.
We cast away all fear. Some of us have to struggle to overcome the image of a harsh, punishing, vindictive God from our childhood. God is infinite mercy, love and compassion. We can trust in God. God rushes out to welcome the sinner and searches endlessly for the lost sheep.
With Merton, we also stand on the corner of Fourth and Walnut and realize that it is also about other people. Merton has a peak experience when he stopped cold in his tracks and realized that he was one with all the human beings on that street corner. We live in community, the Beloved Community of Dr. martin Luther King (I believe the intersection is now Fourth and Martin Luther King Boulevard). We are one with all people regardless of the color of their skin, the shape of their religious beliefs, the content of their political ideologies, and/or wealth or poverty of their lives.
We understand, as did Merton, that the cross calls us to resist that which is violent and destructive. The apparition at Knock in Ireland reminds us that it is all about the nonviolent Lamb of God who was slain for us. The Lamb offered no resistance to the violence he was enduring. Contemplation calls us into action—the action of nonviolent resistance to war, violence, oppression, exploitation and greed. This places us over against empire—the American empire included!
To conclude—Reality is God. God is love. Therefore, reality is love. Yet, we choose to live in hate, violence and indifference. We must come to metanoia, conversion. We must come to the silence that is God-reality and bathe in love.

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