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Thomas Merton

Various Quotations and Comments

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Excerpt taken from his autobiography "The Seven Storey Mountain" pgs.284-5
This takes place sometime after Merton's conversion, but before he became a priest. He was in graduate school, got appendicitis, and took a vacation to recuperate. It was 1940. (Contributed by Gloria Lee)

I was in the Church of St. Francis at Havana. It was a Sunday. I had been to Communion at some other church, I think at ElCristo, and now I had come here to hear another Mass. The building was crowded. Up in front, before the altar, there were
rows and rows of children, crowded together. I forget whether they were First Communicants or not: but they were childrenaround that age. I was far in the back of the church, but I could see the heads of all those children.

It came time for the Consecration. The priest raised the Host, then he raised the chalice. When he put the chalice down on thealtar, suddenly a Friar in his brown robe and white cord stood up in front of the children, and all at once the voices of the
children burst out:

"Creo en Dios.

"I believe in God the Father Almighty, the creator of heaven and earth . . ."

The Creed. But that cry, "Creo en Dios!" It was loud, and bright, and sudden and glad and triumphant; it was a good big
shout, that came from all those Cuban children, a joyous affirmation of faith.

Then, as sudden as the shout and as definite, and a thousand times more bright, there formed in my mind an awareness, an
understanding, a realization of what had just taken place on the altar, at the Consecration: a realization of God made present by the words of Consecration in a way that made Him belong to me.

But what a thing it was, this awareness: it was so intangible, and yet it struck me like a thunderclap. It was a light that was so bright that it had no relation to any visible light and so profound and so intimate that it seemed like a neutralization of every
lesser experience.

And yet the thing that struck me most of all was that this light was in a certain sense "ordinary"--it was a light (and this most of all was what took my breath away) that was offered to all, to everybody, and there was nothing fancy or strange about it. It
was the light of faith deepened and reduced to an extreme and sudden obviousness.

It was as if I had been suddenly illuminated by being blinded by the manifestation of God's presence.

The reason why this light was blinding and neutralizing was that there was and could be simply nothing in it of sense or
imagination. When I call it a light that is a metaphor which I am using, long after the fact. But at the moment, another
overwhelming thing about this awareness was that it disarmed all images, all metaphors, cut through the whole skein of speciesand phantasms with which we naturally do our thinking. It ignored all sense experience in order to strike directly at the heart of truth, as if a sudden and immediate contact had been established between my intellect and the Truth Who was now physically really and substantially before me on the altar. But this contact was not something speculative and abstract: it was concrete and experimental and belonged to the order of knowledge, yes, but more still to the order of love.

Another thing about it was that this light was something far and beyond the level of any desire or any appetite I had ever yet
been aware of. It was purified of all emotion and cleansed of everything that savored of sensible yearnings. It was love as clean and direct as vision: and it flew straight to the possession of the Truth it loved.

And the first articulate thought that came to my mind was: 'Heaven is right here in front of me: Heaven, Heaven!" It lasted only a moment: but it left a breathless joy and a clean peace and happiness that stayed for hours and it was something I
have never forgotten. The strange thing about this light was that although it seemed "ordinary" in the sense I have mentioned, and so accessible, there was no way of recapturing it. In fact, I did not even know how to start trying to reconstruct the experience or bring it back if I wanted except to make acts of faith and love. But it was easy to see there was nothing I could do to give any act of faith that peculiar quality of sudden obviousness: that was a gift and had to come from somewhere else, beyond and above myself.

I'll share a little story. Last week, I spent three days on retreat with
James Finley, a psychotherapist, author, and meditation teacher
who spent five years with Merton at the Hermitage. He shared a
number of stories about Merton. The most important (for me) was
at the end of Merton's life. Merton traveled to Thailand (I
believe) to live with the Bdst monks in monastery. I believe
he died in Thailand. Apparently, one of the last things he
wrote about was his realization that absolutely everything
necessary for his spiritual journey was right there at home,
not in a different country, culture, or religion.

---contributed by John La Grou

"Our minds are like crows. They pick up everything that glitters, no
matter how uncomfortable our nests get with all that metal in them."

---contributed by Germaine Hornsby

" The only full and authentic purification is
that which turns a man completely inside out, so
that he no longer has a self to defend, no longer
an intimate heritage to protect against inroads
and dilapidations.......the full maturity of the
spiritual life cannot be reached unless we first
pass through the dread, anguish, trouble, and fear
that necessarily accompany the inner crisis of
"spiritual death" in which we finally abandon our
attachment to our exterior self and surrender
completely to Christ".

"This dynamic of emptying and of transcendence
accurately defines the transformation of the
Christian consciousness in Christ. It is a
kenotic transfomation, an emptying of all the
contents of the ego-consciousness to become a
void in which the light of God or the glory of
God, the full radiation of the infinite reality
of His Being and Love are manifested."

"if you are to penetrate your own silence and
dare to advance without fear into the solitude
of your own heart, and risk the sharing of that
solitude with the lonely other who seeks God
through you and with you, then you will truly
recover the light and the capacity to understand
what is beyond is the intimate union
in the depths of your own heart, of God's spirit
and your own secret inmost self, so that you and
He are in all truth One Spirit."

"The desert becomes a paradise when it is accepted
as a desert. The desert can never be anything but
a desert if we are trying to escape it."

"The inner self is as secret as God and, like
Him, it evades every concept that tries to
seize hold of it with full possession. It is a
life that cannot be held and studied as object, because it is not a
'thing.' It is not reached
and coaxed forth from hiding by any progress
under the sun, including meditation. All that
we can do with any spiritual discipline is
produce within ourselves something of the silence,
the humility, the detachment, the purity of heart
and indifference which are required if the inner
self is to make some shy, unpredictable
manifestation of His Presence. "

"He Who is infinite light is so tremendous
in His evidence that our minds only see Him
in darkness. If nothing that can be seen can
either be God or represent Him to us as He is,
then to find God we must pass beyond everything
that can be seen and enter into darkness.
Since nothing that can be heard is God, to
find Him we must enter into silence. Since God
cannot be imagined, anything our imagination
tells us about Him is ultimately misleading and therefore cannot know Him
as He really is unless we pass beyond everything that can be imagined
and enter into an obscurity without images and
without the likeness of any created thing."

---contributed by Melody Anderson

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Jerry Katz
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