Out here in the woods I can think of nothing except God, and it is not so much that I think of Him either. I am as aware of Him as of the sun and the clouds and the blue sky and the thin cedar trees.
Engulfed in the simple lucid actuality which is the afternoon: I mean God’s afternoon, this sacramental moment of time when the shadows will get longer and longer, and one small bird sings quietly in the cedars, and one car goes by in the remote distance and the oak leaves move in the wind.
High up in the summer sky I watch the silent flight of a vulture, and the day goes by in prayer. This solitude confirms my call to solitude. The more I am in it, the more I love it. One day it will possess me entirely and no man will ever see me again.
Thomas Merton, journal entry, September 15, 1952
God is mirrored in all things like sunlight in clean water: but if I try to drink the light, I only shatter the reflection.
– Thomas Merton, journal entry, September 14, 1949
A wonderful article and film on Thomas Merton’s pilgrimage to the American West – including footage of my beloved Chama River and Christ in The Desert Monastery in Abiquiu, NM.
On the Road with Thomas Merton
There is greater comfort in the substance of silence than in the answer to a question. Eternity is in the present. Eternity is in the palm of the hand. Eternity is a seed of fire whose sudden roots break barriers that keep my heart from being an abyss.
– Thomas Merton, journal entry – 7/4/52
The saints are what they are, not because their sanctity makes them admirable to others, but because the gift of sainthood makes it possible for them to admire everybody else. – Thomas Merton
The voice of God is heard in Paradise: “What was vile has become precious. What is now precious was never vile. I have always known the vile as precious: for what is vile I know not at all. What was cruel has become merciful. What is now merciful was never cruel. I have always overshadowed Jonas with my mercy and cruelty I know not at all. Have you had sight of Me, Jonas, My child? Mercy within mercy within mercy. I have forgiven the universe without end, because I have never known sin. What was poor has become infinite. What is infinite was never poor. I have always known poverty as infinite: riches I love not at all. Prisons within prisons within prisons. Do not lay up for yourselves ecstasies upon earth, where time and space corrupt, where the minutes break in and steal. No more lay hold on time, Jonas, My son, lest the rivers bear you away. What was fragile has become powerful. I loved what was most frail. I looked upon what was nothing. I touched what was without substance and within what was not I AM.”
Thomas Merton, epilogue to The Sign of Jonas
Either you look at the universe as a very poor creation out of which no one can make anything, or you look at your own life and your own part in the universe as infinitely rich, full of inexhaustible interest, opening out into infinite further possibilities for study and contemplation and praise. Beyond all and in all is God.
Perhaps the book of life, in the end, is the book of what one has lived, and if one has lived nothing, one is not in the book of life.
– Thomas Merton, journal entry 6.17.56
It is useless to try to make peace with ourselves by being pleased with everything we have done. In order to settle down in the quiet of our own being we must learn to be detached from the results of our own activity. We must withdraw ourselves, to some extent, from effects that are beyond our control and be content with the good will and the work that are the quiet expression of our inner life. We must be content to live without watching ourselves live, to work without expecting an immediate reward, to love without an instantaneous satisfaction, and to exist without any special recognition.
– Thomas Merton
For some “faithful” – and for unbelievers too – “faith” seems to be a kind of drunkenness, an anesthetic, that keeps you from realizing and believing that anything can ever go wrong. Such faith can be immersed in a world of violence and make no objection: the violence is perfectly all right. It is quite normal – unless of course it happens to be exercised by negroes. Then it must be put down instantly by superior force. The drunkenness of this kind of faith – whether in a religious message or merely in a political ideology – enables us to go through life without seeing that our own violence is a disaster and that the overwhelming force by which we seek to assert ourselves and our own self-interest may be our ruin.
Is faith a narcotic dream in a world of heavily-armed robbers, or is it an awakening?
Is faith a convenient nightmare in which we are attacked and obliged to destroy our attackers?
What if we awaken to discover that we are the robbers, and our destruction comes from the root of hate in ourselves?
– Thomas Merton, from Faith and Violence, 1968
I sweep. I spread a blanket in the sun. I cut grass behind the cabin. Soon I will bring the blanket in again and make the bed. The sun is overclouded. Perhaps there will be rain. A bell rings in the monastery. A tractor growls in the valley. Soon I will cut bread, eat supper, say psalms, sit in the back room as the sun sets, as the birds sing outside the window, as silence descends on the valley, as night descends. As night descends on a nation intent upon ruin, upon destruction, blind, deaf to protest, crafty, powerful, unintelligent. It is necessary to be alone, to be not part of this, to be in the exile of silence, to be, in a manner of speaking, a political prisoner. No matter where in the world he may be, no matter what may be his power of protest, or his means of expression, the poet finds himself ultimately where I am. Alone, silent, with the obligation of being very careful not to say what he does not mean, not to let himself be persuaded to say merely what another wants him to say, not to say what his own past work has led others to expect him to say.
The poet has to be free from everyone else, and first of all from himself, because it is through this “self” that he is captured by others. Freedom is found under the dark tree that springs up in the center of the night and of silence, the paradise tree, the axis mundi, which is also the Cross.
– Thomas Merton, May 1965