What is Contemplation? | Thomas Merton

Simple depth. That’s what I expect when I pick up Merton, and that’s precisely what I found in this little book.

I should share the circumstances of my reading because they added to the experience. After feeling overwhelmed by my workload, I took off with my canoe one Monday to disappear into the wild to pray. After paddling and portaging to one of my favourite campsites, I lit a small fire of dried pine branches and read What is Contemplation through in one sitting.

Merton shares, in very simple and direct language, what the contemplative life is. He doesn’t offer steps A, B, and C to become a contemplative. Instead, his passion and love for the mystery of God inspires the reader to search out his own path.

A life of contemplation is not for everyone, but everyone can learn to draw nearer to God. Merton shares some of the pitfalls on the road to contemplation (such as the dark night) and, like a good spiritual director, helps the reader to discern what she’s experiencing.

Even as I’m writing this simple review, I realize that my clumsy words are only complicating the simple elegance of Merton’s tract. I’ll leave you with his words:

The truly contemplative soul is not one that has the most exalted visions of the Divine Essence but the one who is most closely united to God in faith and love and allows itself to be absorbed and transformed into Him by the Holy Ghost. To such a soul everything becomes a source and occasion of love. (65)

Until the day when everything is a source and occasion of love for everyone, we have faithful guides like Merton to help us along the way.

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