Day 24 25th March Thomas Merton
If I had to pick one person who has influenced my spiritual life more than any other, it would have to be the Trappist monk Thomas Merton. I first came across his books when I was in my early 20’s and have never stopped reading him since. He was a wonderful writer and a most fascinating character. He became one of life’s most famous monks due to his autobiography “The Seven Story Mountain” published in 1948, seven years after he had become a monk in a strict silent order. It is one of the most popular spiritual autobiographies ever. Merton went on to become a bestselling author, a political activist, a hermit, poet, photographer, artist an explorer of all religious traditions, a lover of nature, a lover of jazz, a lover of whisky! He died at an interfaith conference in Thailand at the age of 53 in 1968, after being electrocuted by a faulty fan.
Someone once wrote of Merton that he would have been at his happiest in a hermitage in Times Square! There is a certain amount of truth in that, because although he longed for silence and solitude, he could not stop himself getting involved in life at all its levels. The more time he spent in solitude and prayer, the more involved in life’s issues he seemed to become. His times of solitude helped him to live life at a deeper level.
There is much I love about him but for this short page I would like to focus on his solitude. As I said, the more time he seemed to spend in solitude the more active in the world he seemed to become, which often frustrated him (as well as his superiors!). But it was that strange balance in his life that made him such a powerful spiritual influence, which continues today.
What Thomas Merton teaches us is that life should be a balance between solitude and involvement. How much solitude we need will be different for everyone, but some degree of solitude is important for all of us. It does not mean spending time in a monastery, but simply finding times in each day, each week, to be alone and to step back. Merton once wrote that we can never truly be with another person if we do not know how to be with ourselves. Solitude does not have to be for great amounts of time, even snatching a little bit here and there is of great value. It helps us to step back from the world’s busy rhythms that so easily carry us along and exhaust us. Solitude reconnects us with God’s rhythm and gives us an inner stillness in the midst of life’s hustle and bustle. Thomas Merton knew its value and invited us to discover it too.
Some thoughts on Solitude by Thomas Merton
Let me seek, then, the gift of silence and solitude,
where everything I touch is turned to prayer.
Where the sky is prayer, the birds are my prayer,
the wind and the trees are my prayer –
for God is in all.
The silence of the forest,
the peace of the early morning wind moving in the branches of the trees, the solitude and isolation of the house of God –
these are good because it is in silence, and not in commotion;
in solitude, and not in crowds,
that God likes to reveal Himself most intimately to us.
We live in the fullness of time.
Every moment is God’s own good time, his Kairos.
The whole thing boils down to giving ourselves in prayer
a chance to realise that we have what we seek.
We don’t have to rush after it, it is there all the time;
and if we give it time and space,
it will make itself known to us.
If you seek a heavenly light I, solitude, am your professor!
I go before you into emptiness,
and open the windows of your innermost self.
When I, solitude, give my signal, follow my silence,
follow where I beckon!
Fear not, I solitude, am an angel and have prayed your name.
Look at the empty, wealthy night, the pilgrim moon!
I am the appointed hour, the “now” that cuts time like a blade.
Follow my ways and I will lead you to golden suns, music, and joys.
For I, solitude, am thine own self; I am thine all.
I, silence, am thy Amen!
It is a most happy evening, could not be more perfect.
I have some bourbon
and am playing an ancient Django Reinhardt record.
Perhaps in a little while I shall go out and stroll under the trees.
The great joy of the solitary life is not found simply in quiet,
in the beauty and peace of nature,
nor in the peace of one’s own heart;
but in the awakening and the tuning of the heart
to the voice of God.
The further I advance in solitude
the more clearly I see the goodness in things.
The great work of the solitary life is gratitude.