Thomas Merton

POETRY: Cana, by Thomas Merton

September 7, 2016

Once when our eyes were clean as noon, our rooms Filled with the joys of Cana’s feast; For Jesus came, and His disciples, and His Mother, And after them the singers And some men with violins. Once when our minds were Galilees, And clean as skies our faces, Our simple rooms were charmed with sun. Our thoughts went in and out in whiter coats than God’s disciples’, In Cana’s crowded rooms, at Cana’s tables. Nor did we seem to fear the wine would fail: For ready, in a row, to fill with water and a miracle, We saw our earthen vessels, waiting empty. What wine those humble waterjars foretell! Wine for the ones who, bended to the dirty earth, Have feared, since lovely Eden, the sun’s fire, Yet hardly mumble, in [...]

PRAYER: Prayer For Silence, by Thomas Merton

June 30, 2016

Lady, Queen of Heaven, pray me into solitude and silence and unity, that all my ways may be immaculate in God. Let me be content with whatever darkness surrounds me, finding him always by me, in his mercy. Let me keep silence in this world, except in so far as God wills and in the way he wills it. Let me at least disappear into the writing I do. It should mean nothing special to me, nor harm my recollection. The work could be a prayer; its results should not concern me. [...]

PRAYER: I Do Not Understand Your Ways, by Thomas Merton

March 3, 2016

My God, I frankly do not understand your ways with me. You fill me with desires that people have been canonized for having and for carrying out. Then you tell me not to carry them out, and you tell me in such a way that it would seem to be a sin if I carried them out. Then you make the desires grow more and more until they consume the very foundations of my life. Are you trying to kill me? Amen. [...]

SUFFERING: To Know The Cross, by Thomas Merton

February 19, 2016

From No Man Is An Island I pray that we may be found worthy to be cursed, censured, and ground down, and even put to death in the name of Jesus Christ, so long as Christ himself is not put to death in us. (Paulinus of Nola) The Christian must not only accept suffering: he must make it holy.  Nothing so easily becomes unholy as suffering. Merely accepted, suffering does nothing for our souls except, perhaps, to harden them.  Endurance alone is no consecration.  True asceticism is not a mere cult of fortitude.  We can deny ourselves rigorously for the wrong reason and end up by pleasing ourselves mightily with our self-denial. Suffering is consecrated to God by faith – not by faith in suffering, but by faith in God.  Some of us [...]

ASH WEDNESDAY: Spiritual Medicine by Thomas Merton

February 9, 2016

From Seasons of Celebration Even the darkest moments of the liturgy are filled with joy, and Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten fast, is a day of happiness, a Christian feast.  It cannot be otherwise, as it forms part of the great Easter cycle. The Paschal Mystery is above all the mystery of life, in which the church, by celebrating the death and resurrection of Christ, enters in the Kingdom of Life which he has established once and for all by his definitive victory over sin and death.  We must remember the original meaning of Lent, as the ver sacrum, the church’s “holy spring” in which the catechumens were prepared for their baptism, and public penitents were made ready by penance for their restoration to [...]

MYSTICISM: The Time Is The Time Of No Room, by Thomas Merton

December 18, 2015

From Raids on the Unspeakable We live in the time of no room, which is the time of the end.  The time when everyone is obsessed with lack of time, lack of space, with saving time, conquering space, projecting into time and space the anguish produced within them by the technological furies of size, volume, quality, speed, number, price, power, and acceleration. The primordial blessing, “increase and multiply,” has suddenly become a hemorrhage of terror.  We are numbered in billions, and massed together, marshaled, numbered, marched here and there, taxed, drilled, armed, worked to the point of insensibility, dazed by information, drugged by entertainment, surfeited with everything, nauseated with the human race and with ourselves, [...]

PRAYER: Thou Art Not As I Have Conceived Thee, by Thomas Merton

December 14, 2015

Lord, it is nearly midnight and I am waiting for You in the darkness and the great silence. I am sorry for all my sins. Do not let me ask any more than to sit in the darkness and light no lights of my own, and be crowded with no crowds of my own thoughts to fill the emptiness of the night in which I await You. Your brightness is my darkness. I know nothing of you and, by myself, I cannot even imagine how to go about knowing you. If I imagine you, I am mistaken. If I understand you, I am deluded. If I am conscious and certain I know you, I am crazy. The darkness is enough. [...]

POETRY: Grace’s House, by Thomas Merton

October 28, 2015

On the summit: it stands on a fair summit Prepared by winds: and solid smoke Rolls from the chimney like a snow cloud. Grace’s house is secure. No blade of grass is not counted, No blade of grass forgotten on this hill. Twelve flowers make a token garden. There is no path to the summit— No path drawn To Grace’s house. All the curtains are arranged Not for hiding but for seeing out. In one window someone looks out and winks. Two gnarled short Fortified trees have knotholes From which animals look out. From behind a corner of Grace’s house Another creature peeks out. Important: hidden in the foreground Most carefully drawn The dog smiles, his foreleg curled, his eye like an aster. Nose and collar are made with great [...]

VIOLENCE: War, by Thomas Merton

September 18, 2015

From Love and Living Living in a world that is constantly at war, in an age when all war has become total war, we scarcely need an explanation of what war is.  And yet we are so familiar with it that we forget what it really is.  If we did not forget so easily, we would not be so ready to become involved in new ones. The most obvious fact about war today is that while everyone claims to hate it, and all are unanimously agreed that it is our greatest single evil, there is little significant resistance to it except on the part of small minorities who, by the very fact of their protest, are dismissed as eccentric.  The awful fact is that though mankind fears war and seeks to avoid it, the fear is irrational and inefficacious.  It can do [...]

POETRY: Earthquake (Isaiah 52), by Thomas Merton

September 9, 2015

Go tell the earth to shake And tell the thunder To wake the sky And tear the clouds apart Tell my people to come out And wonder Where the old world is gone For a new world is born And all my people Shall be one So tell the earth to shake With marching feet Of messengers of peace Proclaim my law of love To every nation Every race. For the old wrongs are over The old days are gone A new world is rising where my people shall be one. So tell the earth to shake With marching feet Of messengers of peace Proclaim my law of love To every nation Every race. And say The old wrongs are over The old ways are done There shall be no more hate And no more war My people shall be one. So tell the earth to shake With marching feet Of messengers of peace [...]

MYSTICISM: The Gift Of Understanding, by Thomas Merton

July 10, 2015

From New Seeds of Contemplation Contemplation, by which we know and love God as he is in himself, apprehending him in deep and vital experience which is beyond the reach of any natural understanding, is the reason for our creation by God.  And although it is absolutely above our nature, Saint Thomas teaches that it is our proper element because it is the fulfillment of deep capacities in us that God has willed should never be fulfilled in any other way.  All those who reach the end for which they were created will therefore be contemplatives in Heaven: but many are also destined to enter this supernatural element and breathe this new atmosphere while they are still on Earth. Since contemplation has been planned for us by God as our [...]

POETRY: Original Sin (A Memorial Anthem For Father’s Day), by Thomas Merton

June 21, 2015

Weep, weep, little day For the Father of the lame Experts are looking For his name Weep, weep little day For your Father’s bone All the expeditions Dig him one. He went on one leg Or maybe four Science (cautious) Says “Two or more.” Weep, weep little day For his walking and talking He walked on two syllables Or maybe none Weep little history For the words he offended One by one Beating them grievously With a shin bone.   [...]

MYSTICISM: From Faith to Wisdom by Thomas Merton

June 19, 2015

From New Seeds of Contemplation The living God, the God who is God and not a philosopher’s abstraction, lies infinitely beyond the reach of anything our eyes can see or our minds can understand.  No matter what perfection you predicate of him, you have to add that your concept is only a pale analogy of the perfection that is in God, and he is not literally what you conceive by what term. He who is infinite light is so tremendous in his evidence that our minds only see him as darkness.  Lux in tenebris lucet et tenebrae eam non comprehenderunt.  (The light shines in darkness and the darkness has not understood it.) If nothing that can be seen can either be God or represent him to us as he is, then to find God we must pass beyond [...]

MYSTICISM: Mysticism in Man’s Life (part two), by Thomas Merton

June 12, 2015

From The Ascent to Truth Our nature imposes on us a certain pattern of development which we must follow if we are to fulfill our best capacities and achieve at least the partial happiness of being human.  This pattern must be properly understood and it must be worked out in all its essential elements.  Otherwise, we fail.  But it can be stated very simply, in a single sentence: We must know the truth, and we must love the truth we know, and we must act according to the measure of our love. What are the elements of this “pattern” that I speak of?  First, and most important of all: I must adapt myself to objective reality.  Second, this adaptation is achieved by the work of my highest spiritual faculties – [...]

MYSTICISM: Mysticism in Man’s Life (part one), by Thomas Merton

June 5, 2015

From The Ascent to Truth The only thing that can save the world from complete moral collapse is a spiritual revolution.  Christianity, by its very nature, demands such a revolution.  If Christians would all live up to what they profess to believe, the revolution would happen.  The desire for unworldliness, detachment, and union with God is the most fundamental expression of this revolutionary spirit.  The one thing that remains is for Christians to affirm their Christianity by that full and unequivocal rejection of the world which their Baptismal vocation demands of them.  This will certainly not incapacitate them for social action in the world, since it is the one essential condition for a really fruitful Christian apostolate. The [...]

LIFE: Death, by Thomas Merton

May 19, 2015

From Love and Living Death is the end of life. This statement seems at first sight quite obvious.  It appears to say everything essential about death.  Yet merely to declare that when a living being ceases to live, it “dies,” is perhaps to say nothing of any importance at all.  If we reflect on the implications of “life” and “death” and the “end of life,” we become uneasily aware that to make purely casual statements about these realities – a statement which turns out to say “nothing of importance” – is a frivolous abuse of speech.  This reveals an incapacity to face the reality of life, death, and the end of life.  Death is treated with frivolity because life itself [...]

REFLECTION: I Am Going To Be A Priest, by Thomas Merton

April 17, 2015

From The Seven Storey Mountain When we went back to New York, in the middle of August, the world that I had helped to make was finally preparing to break the shell and put forth its evil head and devour another generation of men. At Olean we never read any newspapers, and we kept away from radios on principle, and for my own part the one thing that occupied my mind was the publication of the new novel.  Having found an old copy of Fortune lying around Benjie’s premises, I had read an article in it on the publishing business: and on the basis of that article I had made what was perhaps the worst possible choice of a publisher – the kind of people who would readily reprint everything in the Saturday Evening Post in diamond [...]

POETRY: Song—If You Seek. . ., by Thomas Merton

February 28, 2015

If you seek a heavenly light I, Solitude, am your professor! I go before you into emptiness, Raise strange suns for your new mornings, Opening the windows Of your innermost apartment. When I, loneliness, give my special signal Follow my silence, follow where I beckon! Fear not, little beast, little spirit (Thou word and animal) I, Solitude, am angel And have prayed in your name. Look at the empty, wealthy night The pilgrim moon! I am the appointed hour, The “now” that cuts Time like a blade. I am the unexpected flash Beyond “yes,” beyond “no,” The forerunner of the Word of God. Follow my ways and I will lead you To golden-haired suns, Logos and music, blameless joys, Innocent of questions And beyond [...]

POETRY: Evening, by Thomas Merton

February 11, 2015

Now, in the middle of the limpid evening, The moon speaks clearly to the hill. The wheatfields make their simple music, Praise the quiet sky. And down the road, the way the stars come home, The cries of children Play on the empty air, a mile or more, And fall on our deserted hearing, Clear as water. They say the sky is made of glass, They say the smiling moon’s a bride. They say they love the orchards and apple trees, The trees, their innocent sisters, dresses in blossoms, Still wearing, in the blurring dusk, White dresses from that morning’s first communion. And, where blue heaven’s fading fire last shines They name the new come planets With words that flower On little voices, light as stems of lilies. And where blue [...]

PRAYER: Intelligence In The Prayer Of Quiet by Thomas Merton

December 20, 2014

From The Ascent to Truth Saint John of the Cross and Saint Teresa of Àvila have both left us detailed studies of the ways of contemplative prayer, and better than any other mystics they have described the practical details of our cooperation with the Spirit of God in the degree of prayer which most interests us here.  They both agree that in the Night of Sense, and more still in the Prayer of Quiet, the faculties of the soul are in some measure passive.  But they also agree that these faculties are still free to act of their own accord and that consequently they are capable of either helping of hindering the work of God.  And they both agree that in order to help the action of grace our faculties must engage in some very simplified [...]

POETRY: The Reader, by Thomas Merton

November 19, 2014

Lord, when the clock strikes Telling the time with cold tin And I sit hooded in this lectern Waiting for the monks to come I see the red cheeses, and bowls All smile with milk in ranks upon their tables. Light fills my proper globe (I have won light to read by With a little, tinkling chain) And the monks come down the cloister With robes as voluble as water. I do not see them but I hear their waves. It is winter, and my hands prepare To turn the pages of the saints: And to the trees thy moon has frozen on the windows My tongue shall sing thy Scripture. Then the monks pause upon the step (With me here in this lectern And thee there on thy crucifix) And gather little pearls of water on their fingers’ ends. Smaller than this my psalm. [...]

MYSTICISM: Message To Poets, by Thomas Merton

October 31, 2014

(NOTE: This message was read at a meeting of the “new” Latin-American poets – and a few young North Americans – Mexico City, February 1964.  This was not a highly organized and well-financed international congress, but a spontaneous and inspired meeting of young poets from all over the hemisphere, most of whom could barely afford to be there.  One, for instance, sold her piano to make the trip from Peru.) We who are poets know that the reason for a poem is not discovered until the poem itself exists.  The reason for a living act is realized only in the act itself.  This meeting is a spontaneous explosion of hopes.  That is why it is a venture in prophetic poverty, supported and financed by no foundation, organized [...]

PRAYER: A Sinner’s Prayer, by Thomas Merton

October 27, 2014

Let me use all things for one sole reason: to find my joy in giving you glory. Therefore, keep me, above all things, from sin. Keep me from the death of deadly sin which puts hell in my soul. Keep me from the murder of lust that blinds and poisons my heart. Keep me from the sins that eat a man’s flesh with irresistible fire until he is devoured. Keep me from loving money in which is hatred, from avarice and ambition that suffocate my life. Keep me from the dead works of vanity and the thankless labor in which artists destroy themselves for pride and money and reputation, and saints are smothered under the avalanche of their own importunate zeal. Staunch in me the rank wound of covetousness and the hungers that exhaust my nature with [...]

SATURDAY READING: Blessed Are The Meek by Thomas Merton

September 13, 2014

From Faith and Violence It would be a serious mistake to regard Christian nonviolence simply as a novel tactic which is at once efficacious and even edifying, and which enables the sensitive man to participate in the struggles of the world without being dirtied with blood.  Nonviolence is not simply a way of proving one’s point and getting what one wants without being involved in behavior that one considers ugly and evil.  Nor is it, for that matter, a means which anyone can legitimately make use of according to his fancy for any purpose whatever.  To practice nonviolence for a purely selfish or arbitrary end would in fact discredit and distort the truth of nonviolent resistance.  To use nonviolence merely in order to gain [...]

POETRY: North, by Thomas Merton

August 29, 2014

(Based on Dr. James Laws’s Journal of the Kane Relief Expedition – 1855 – in Stefansson Collection at Dartmouth) 1 Morning came at last The storm over we sighted Quiet mountains green and Silver Edens Walls of an Empty country—Near? (We were deceived—30 miles at least) You can tell when Sunday comes Everything on ship-board Quieter icebergs like Churches Slow sailing gifts visions A sailor intoned An Anglican hymn “One iceberg on our port bow Resembled a lady dressed in white Before her shrine” (Dazzling whiteness gemm’d with blue-green) “In the attitude of prayer” “As if some magician etc. . . .” “Gifts—visions” A huge berg between us And the green shore. “As we were gazing it grounded and the shock caused [...]

POETRY: O Sweet Irrational Worship by Thomas Merton

August 15, 2014

Wind and a bobwhite And the afternoon sun. By ceasing to question the sun I have become light, Bird and wind. My leaves sing. I am earth, earth All these lighted things Grow from my heart. A tall, spare pine Stands like the initial of my first Name when I had one. When I had a spirit, When I was on fire When this valley was Made out of fresh air You spoke my name In naming Your silence: O sweet, irrational worship! I am earth, earth My heart’s love Bursts with hay and flowers. I am a lake of blue air In which my own appointed place Field and valley Stand reflected. I am earth, earth Out of my grass heart Rises the bobwhite Out of my nameless weeds His foolish [...]

POETRY: Four Poems On Thomas Merton

July 18, 2014

Patrick Ryan MERTON Seventy men Held the city Rigid and tight Someone ran out Into the desert night Every now and then He would throw a handful of sand Into the wind A MAN: T.M. Prophets never age They live too strong To prolong Their days Pure heart Friend Your words remain To test our heart You, word, Will never age Thérèse Lentfoehr THE FIREBIRD (For a monk in winter) You said you carried a bird of fire under your heart that sang in all weathers so that you stepped in madrigal, each swift sandal-print brimmed with music. But that was in spring when your trees stood greenly tranced in pointilliste, and I (care- ful for you as a sister) wondered what would happen in winter when you cave with Juan de la Cruz, faring leanly on sparse [...]

SATURDAY READING: Rain And The Rhinoceros by Thomas Merton

July 12, 2014

Let me say this before rain becomes a utility that they can plan and distribute for money.  By “they” I mean the people who cannot understand that rain is a festival, who do not appreciate its gratuity, who think that what has no price has no value, that what cannot be sold is not real, so that the only way to make something actual is to place it on the market.  The time will come when they will sell you even your rain.  At the moment it is still free, and I am in it.  I celebrate its gratuity and its meaninglessness. The rain I am in is not like the rain of cities.  It fills the woods with an immense and confused sound.  It covers the flat roof of the cabin and its porch with insistent and controlled rhythms.  And I [...]

THE DARK NIGHT: What To Do—The Teaching Of Saint John Of The Cross by Thomas Merton

May 20, 2014

From The Inner Experience Saint John of the Cross explains in great detail how the soul should behave in order to accept this great gift of God and make use of it without spoiling his work.  It is very important to have competent guidance and instruction in the ways of contemplative prayer.  Otherwise it will be almost impossible to avoid errors and obstacles.  The reason for this is that no matter how good the intentions of the soul may be, its natural coarseness and clumsiness still prevent it from sensing the full import of the delicate work performed by God’s love within its most intimate depths and cooperating with his action. The most important thing of all is to get some realization of what God is doing in your soul.  Learn [...]

SACRIFICE: Asceticism And Sacrifice by Thomas Merton

May 13, 2014

From No Man Is an Island There is no such thing as a sacrifice of ourselves that is merely self-destruction.  We sacrifice ourselves to God by the spiritualization of our whole being through obedience to his grace.  The only sacrifice he accepts is the purity of our love.  Any renunciation that helps us to love God more is good and useful.  A renunciation that may be noble in itself is useless for us if God does not will us to make it. In order to spiritualize our lives and make them pleasing to God, we must become quiet.  The peace of a soul that is detached from all things and from itself is the sign that our sacrifice is truly acceptable to God. Bodily agitation agitates the soul.  But we cannot tranquilize our spirit by forcing [...]