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
It is like an English summer day, cool and cloudy, with deep green grass all around the Hermitage and trees heavy with foliage. Occasional slow bursts of gentle sunlight that imperceptibly pass by. Shafts of light in great rooms of shadow and the tall tree-church beyond the cedar cross. the path of creek gravel leads into the shadows and beyond them to the monastery, out of sight, down the hill, across fields and a road and a dirty stream. All such things as roads and sewers are far from this place.
Knowing when you do not need anymore. Acting just enough. Saying enough. Stopping when there is enough. Some may be wasted, nature is prodigal. Harmony is not bought with parsimoniousness.
Yet stopping is “going on.” To cling to something and want more of it, to use it more, to squeeze enjoyment out of it. this is to “stop”and not go on. But to leave it alone at the right time, this is the right stopping, the right going on. To leave a thing alone before you have had anything to do with it, if it is for your use, to leave it without use, is not “stopping” is not even beginning. Use it to go on.
– Thomas Merton, journal entry – May 16, 1961
The best way to pray is: stop. Let prayer pray within you, whether you know it or not. – Thomas Merton
Secrecy and solitude are values that belong to the very essence of personality.
A person is a person in so far as he has a secret and is a solitude of his own that cannot be communicated to anyone else. If I love a person, I will love that which most makes him a person: the secrecy, the hiddenness, the solitude of his own individual being, which God alone can penetrate and understand.
A love that breaks into the spiritual privacy of another in order to lay open all his secrets and besiege his solitude with importunity does not love him: it seeks to destroy what is best in him, and what is most intimately his. – Thomas Merton
For to write is to love: it is to inquire and to praise, to confess and to appeal. – Thomas Merton, journal entry – April 14, 1966
Keep your eyes clean and your ears quiet and your mind serene. Breathe God’s air. Work, if you can, under God’s sky. – Thomas Merton
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, 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
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