we always have to go back…

Some things are too clear to be understood, and what you think is your understanding of them is only a kind of charm, a kind of incantation in your mind concerning that thing. This is not understanding, it is something you remember. So much for definition! We always have to go back and start from the beginning and make over all the definitions for ourselves again. – Thomas Merton


We Believe, finally, the truth cannot be preserved except by destruction of the enemy for, since we have identified him with error, to destroy him is to destroy error. The adversary, of course, has exactly the same thoughts about us and exactly the same basic policy by which he defends the “truth.” He has identified us with dishonesty, insincerity, and untruth. He believes that, if we are destroyed, nothing will be left but truth. – Thomas Merton

when your tongue is silent…

When your tongue is silent, you can rest in the silence of the forest. When your imagination is silent, the forest speaks to you. It tells you of its unreality and the Reality of God. But when your mind is silent, then the forest suddenly becomes magnificently real and blazes transparently with the Reality of God.
Thomas Merton, journal entry, March 17, 1952


photo: Assisi, January 2005

solitude =

A great deal of wood I have for the fire is wet or not sufficiently seasoned to burn well – though finally this morning I got a pretty hot fire going with a big cedar log on top of it.
It is hard but good to live according to nature with a primitive technology of wood chopping and fires rather than according to the mature technology that has supplanted nature, creating its own weather, etc., etc. Yet there are advantages, too, in a warmed house and a self-stoking furnace. No need to pledge allegiance to either one. Get warm any way you can, and love God and pray.
I see more and more that now I must desire nothing else than to be “poured out like libation,” to give and surrender my being without concern. The cold woods make this more real. And the loneliness: coming up last night at the time of a very cold sunset, with two little birds still picking at crumbs I had thrown for them on the frozen porch. Everywhere else, snow. In the morning, coming down: all tracks covered by snow blown over the path by the wind, except tracks of the cat that hunts around the old sheep barn. Solitude = being aware that you are one man in this snow where there has been no one but one cat.

– Thomas Merton, journal entry – February 2, 1965

trees during winter

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It is not complicated to lead the spiritual life. But…

It is not complicated to lead the spiritual life. But it is difficult. We are blind and subject to a thousand illusions. We must expect to be making mistakes almost all the time. We must be content to fall repeatedly and to begin again to try to deny ourselves, for the love of God.
It is when we are angry at our own mistakes that we tend most of all to deny ourselves for love of ourselves. We want to shake off the hateful thing that has humbled us. In our rush to escape the humiliation of our own mistakes, we run head first into the opposite error, seeking comfort and compensation. And so we spend our lives running back and forth from one attachment to another.
If that is all our self-denial amounts to, our mistakes will never help us.
The thing to do when you have made a mistake is not to give up doing what you were doing and start something altogether new, but to start over again with the thing you began badly and try, for the love of God, to do it well.
– Thomas Merton, from The Sign of Jonas

the whole world tonight seems to be made of paper

Lord, God, the whole world tonight seems to be made of paper. The most substantial things are ready to crumble or tear apart and blow away.

O God, my God, the night has values that day has never dreamed of. All things stir by night, waking or sleeping, conscious of the nearness of their ruin. Only [humans] make themselves illuminations they conceive to be solid and eternal. But while we ask our questions and come to our decisions, God blows our decisions out, the roofs of our houses cave in upon us, the towers are undermined by ants, the walls crack and cave in, and the holiest buildings burn to ashes while the watchman is composing a theory of duration.   – Thomas Merton, from Journal entry – July 4, 1952 – The Fire Watch

photo of washington monument during evening

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One prays to pray

…it becomes very important to remember that the quality of one’s night depends on the thoughts of the day, on the sanity of the day, I bring there all the sins of the day into the light and darkness of truth to be adored without disguise – then I want to fly back to the disguises.

Tonight it is cold again and, as I came up in the dark, a few small snowflakes were flying in the beam of a flashlight. The end of an oak log was still burning with small flames in the fireplace. Came up with candles, and sugar for coffee, and a jar to urinate in so that I won’t have to go out in the snow in the middle of the night. What greater comforts could a man want?

Thomas Merton, journal entry – 12/5/64

the judgement that begins at the house of God

The policies of people contain within themselves the judgement and doom of God upon their society, and when the Church identifies its policies with theirs, it too is judged with them – for it has in this been unfaithful and is not truly “the Church.” The power of “the Church” (who is not “the Church” if it is rich and powerful) contains the judgement that “begins at the house of God.”
– Thomas Merton – journal entry, November 30, 1964

photo of old church building under cloudy sky

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