As we began to explore Chapter 2, What Contemplation Is Not, I was moved by the realization that, though Merton uses many words to describe his experience of what Contemplation is and is not, that one of our group had a profound frustration with "Words, Words, Words" and through this, opened up to a deeper appreciation of Contemplation which cannot be expressed through words. This appeared to relate closely to an observation made by another member that Merton was a poet in his use of words. It has been my experience reading Merton, that it is not so much the contents of what he writes but the phrasing read with a certain cadence and pace that reveals his deep experience and equally deep realizations. Read that way, it may change how someone experiences what Merton writes about.
As we discussed Chapter 6, an observation was shared that Merton can (and should) be read at different levels:
- As someone who has advanced deeply along the spiritual journey and has profound realizations to share that are broadly applicable to anyone looking for more intimacy with God.
- As a man experiencing his own unique spiritual journey and sharing that with us. His unique journey reflects and is influenced by his own life experiences and my express a healing and awakening which is unique to Thomas Merton.
- As a monk, Thomas Merton is living a vocation dedicated to a pursuit of intimacy with God. There are certain aspects of his writing that are dedicated to those who have taken on a similar vocation.
Though much was shared about Chapter 6, the notion that "We become contemplatives when God discovers Himself in us." was particularly meaningfully to me. We discussed that to really "know God" requires an emptying of ourselves (the shedding of our false self) in (a true self) humility that finally realizes that we don't have the capacity to know God in our humanity. That it is only the part of God that dwells in us that has the capacity to discover and know God. Any attempt to rely upon our (false) self to know God will be "like a stone knows the ground upon which it rests in its inertia."
Finally, let me share a poem by Rumi, the Sufi mystic, which, to me summarizes this chapter to me. It speaks to consent, awareness and openness to God as we wait for Him to discover Himself in us. Perhaps the cynic is our own false self? The inexplicable longing is our desire for God which is God's longing in ourselves to discover Himself:
One night a man was crying,
His lips grew sweet with the praising,
until a cynic said, "So! I have heard you
calling out, but have you ever gotten any response?"
The man had no answer to that.
He quit praying and fell into a confused sleep.
He dreamed he saw Khidr, the guide of souls,
in a thick, green foliage.
"Why did you stop praising?"
"Because I've never heard anything back."
"This longing you express is the return message."
The grief you cry out from draws you toward union.
Your pure sadness that wants help is the secret cup.
Listen to the moan of a dog for its master.
That whining is the connection.
There are love dogs no one knows the names of.
Give your life to be one of them.