I owe a great debt to Thomas Merton. His book, The Seven Story Mountain set me on a path towards the reconstruction of my faith. There are few authors who have challenged my understanding of the world and myself more than he has. This book, New Seeds of Contemplation, is his attempt to explain the unexplainable.
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I owe a great debt to Thomas Merton. His book, The Seven Story Mountain set me on a path towards the reconstruction of my faith. There are few authors who have challenged my understanding of the world and myself more than he has.
This book, New Seeds of Contemplation, is his attempt to explain the unexplainable. In it he explores the nature of God and how we become one with him through contemplation. What is contemplation? How is it different than prayer? Prayer tends to be very explicit and focused on the self. I understand that sounds a bit strange. This topic can feel like the strange esoteric exercises of hermits and monks. In spite of this, I find myself compelled to continue to explore it.
When I read the thoughts and experiences of Merton among others I begin to see experiences in my past with a new understanding.
For example, I often talk and write about how I nearly left the Christian faith. For a long time I considered that a bad thing, a result of weakness. I also viewed my coming to a new understanding of faith the correcting of a wrong.
However, Merton describes a similar experience with a dramatically different evaluation of its quality:. Let no one hope to find in contemplation an escape from conflict, from anguish or from doubt. On the contrary, the deep, inexpressible certitude of the contemplative experience awakens a tragic anguish and opens many questions in the depths of the heart like wounds that cannot stop bleeding.
This torment is a kind of trial by fire in which we are compelled, by the very light of invisible truth which has reached us in the dark ray of contemplation, to examine, to doubt and finally to reject all the prejudices and conventions that we have hitherto accepted as if they were dogmas.
Merton, Thomas. New Seeds of Contemplation pp. New Directions. Kindle Edition. Part of why I considered my struggle so bad, was that I viewed my doubt as a failure of faith. Merton, again, has a different perspective:. You cannot be a man of faith unless you know how to doubt. You cannot believe in God unless you are capable of questioning the authority of prejudice, even though that prejudice may seem to be religious. It is not merely the acceptance of a decision that has been made by somebody else.
True faith is never merely a source of spiritual comfort. It may indeed bring peace, but before it does so it must involve us in struggle. It might be easy to dismiss all this by saying I was in crisis and was seeking anything to make things seem a little easier and to feel less guilty. However, I am now years into this process and I can say now that my perspective has truly changed and I have Merton to thank.
I see that period in my past not as one of failure, but one of darkness. It did not come as a result of failure, but from a loving God whose wisdom allows for growth to be born out of struggle. My understanding of who I was and what I thought my faith should be were hindrances to loving God more completely. When it was taken all away, for a time, I was left with nothing, which allowed me to start to see things as they could be.
You cannot talk about contemplation without embracing the reality of darkness and unknowing. My previous understanding of faith had no room for that.
Even so, I cannot tell you where I have had a true contemplative experience. But when I read accounts of those who have devoted their life to the practice, I hear and feel echos of my own experience.
Not trivial flashes of emotion here and there, but some of the most acute and painful moments of my life. Book Reviews. However, Merton describes a similar experience with a dramatically different evaluation of its quality: Let no one hope to find in contemplation an escape from conflict, from anguish or from doubt. Merton, again, has a different perspective: You cannot be a man of faith unless you know how to doubt.
New Seeds of Contemplation
THIS is not merely a new edition of an old book. It is in many ways a completely new book. The full substance of the former work has been retained, only a sentence here and there has been discarded. Minor corrections have been made in the original text, and there have been very numerous additions. Almost every chapter has been considerably expanded and several completely new chapters have been added.
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I picked this up in September after seeing Pope Francis's speech before Congress. As a Catholic I had some passing knowledge of Merton, but I had not read anything he had written. Seeds is a powerful Serendipity: "the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way. Merton lost both parents before he had finished high school, and his younger brother was killed in World War II. Something of the ephemeral character of human endeavor marked all his works, deepening the pathos of his writings and drawing him close to Eastern, especially Buddhist, forms of monasticism. After an initial education in the United States, France, and England, he completed his undergraduate degree at Columbia University.