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Thoughts From Thomas Merton

Dear Friends,

Today I offer you a "thought" which may be hard for some to follow, for two reasons: Contrary to Scripture, which makes much of God and much less of us, our present day culture tends to do just the opposite. And similarly, because we have tended to shift the focus to us rather than God, we struggle with verses and concepts such as, "Blessed are the poor in spirit" (Matt. 5:3), or "Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth" (Matt. 5:5), or the words of Jesus which assure us, "apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). They are all a bit contrary to the beliefs and spirit of our age.

Yet, I will share this thought anyway. It comes from a man named, "Thomas Merton" and is found in a tiny pocket-sized book called, "Thoughts in Solitude." I cannot say I agree with Merton on everything, but that does not mean we should ignore all he has to say! He walks in the tradition of people such as Thomas A Kempis, St. John of the Cross, Nicolas of Cusa (who was greatly loved by A. W. Tozer), Theresa of Avila, and Julian of Norwich, all of whom devoted themselves to a life of prayer and contemplation; activities that our rapid-paced society often finds hard to fit in.

In a society often convinced that our worth is tied to our productivity; where we often derive a sense of importance from always being busy, or where we feel we must have something tangible to show for our time and efforts, we find it hard to invest in that which (to many) seems to "produce" very little -- except a deeper spiritual maturity! What follows are Merton's thoughts on a God-centered rather than self-centered life; on the purpose of contemplative prayer, on our own littleness or nothingness, and on our utter reliance upon God for everything.

"Blessed are the poor in spirit..."
Matthew 5:3
"If I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing."
I Corinthians 13:2

"Prayer is not just a formula of words, or a series of desires springing up in the heart -- it is the orientation of our whole body, mind and spirit to God in silence, attention, and adoration. All good contemplative prayer is a conversion of our entire self to God...

[Likewise, the spiritual life] is not a matter of doing one good work rather than another, or living in one place rather than another, or praying in one way rather than another. It is not a matter of any special psychological effect in our own soul. It is the silence of our whole being in compunction and adoration before God, in the habitual realization that He is everything and we are nothing. That He is the Center to which all things tend and to Whom all our actions must be directed. That our life and strength proceed from Him, and that in life and in death we depend entirely on Him. That the whole course of our life is foreknown by Him and falls into the plan of His wise and merciful Providence. That it is absurd to live as though without Him, for ourselves and by ourselves. That all our plans and spiritual ambitions are useless unless they come from Him, and end in Him. That, in the end, the only thing that matters is His glory.

We ruin our life of prayer if we are constantly examining our prayer, and seeking the fruit of prayer in a peace that is nothing more than a psychological process. The only thing to seek in contemplative prayer is God; and we seek Him successfully when we realize that we cannot find Him unless He shows Himself to us. Yet at the same time, we must remember He would not have inspired us to seek Him unless we had already found Him. The more we are content with our own inner poverty, the closer we are to God, for then we accept our poverty in peace, expecting nothing from ourselves and everything from God.

Our inner poverty is the door to freedom, not because we remain imprisoned in the anxiety and constraint which that poverty of itself implies, but because , finding nothing in ourselves that is a source of hope, we know there is nothing in ourselves worth defending. There is nothing special in ourselves to love. We go out of ourselves, therefore, and rest in Him in Whom alone is our hope... All the gifts of God are good. But if we rest in them, rather than in Him, they lose their goodness to us. So with this gift also.

...What is the use of knowing our weakness if we do not implore God to sustain us with His power? What is the value of recognizing our poverty [of spirit] if we never use it to entreat His mercy? It is bad enough to be complacent in the thought that we have virtue, but worse to rest in careless inertia when we are conscious of our weakness and of our sins. The value of our weakness, and of our poverty, is that they are the earth in which God plants in us the seed of desire [for Him]."

I appreciate Merton's continual reminders (throughout his book) that prayer is always ultimately about God. It's not about having experiences. It's not about the psychological benefits of slowing down, or breathing in a certain way, or mind-relaxation and focus, as in yoga, seeking, "a peace that is nothing more than a psychological process." It is not about coming to God with a long wish list, which can actually distort the whole purpose of prayer, and the good gifts that come our way through prayer. It's about God, ever and always! It's about desiring Him, seeking Him, seeing our need for Him, adoring Him, resting in Him, abiding in Him, wanting Him more than anything we could ever get from Him, and offering ourselves to Him. Prayer is first, foremost, and forever, a matter of wanting to commune with, share with, be with, and enjoy, the presence of our Father, who art in Heaven, whose name is hallowed.

In the Bonds of the Gospel, through which God gives us Himself, Pastor Jeff


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