Thomas Merton

Silent Meditation vs Empty Chatter

In this chapter Thomas moves further into meditative prayer…what it is and certainly what it is not.  He encourages us that interior prayer is simple, silent, and often expressed through small acts.  He cautions us that we convince ourselves that to have a “true prayer life” we must be engaged in “compulsive routines” filled with wordy, repetitive prayers.  This behavior, Thomas states, builds barriers between our own spirits and the Holy Spirit who desires to commune with us.

Thomas brings in St. John of the Cross, “The more spiritual a thing is the more wearisome they find it.”  In other words, we continue in behavior that “stimulates [us] psychologically” but is in effect empty, worthless, and counter-productive.

God’s response is to enshroud us in “darkness” and “night” which feels lonely and isolating and horrible and painful.  It breaks our confidence.  It confuses our minds.  It makes us doubt our faith.

But it is this painful darkness that God uses to re-direct us back to His purity and simplicity and grace.  Thomas encourages us, “It is precisely in this way that, being led into the ‘dark night of faith,’ one passes from meditation, in the sense of active ‘mental prayer,’ to contemplation, or a deeper and simpler intuitive form of receptivity.”

When those dark times come, and we shuffle through the arid desert of our soul, Thomas directs us to turn to the Psalms or Holy Scripture rather than falling back “to the conventional machinery of discursive ‘mental prayer.”

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