“My silence is part of the whole world’s silence and builds the temple of God without the noise of hammers.”
Sometimes it feels like we live in a world of hammers banging ceaseless noise from a hundred sources endlessly into our heads.
We go about our daily lives filled with the hammers of constant noise — of NPR and Spotify, of highway traffic and our next-door neighbor’s shouting — not to mention the monstrous sledgehammer of constant connection to the digital world.
How, in such a world of noise, can we find time to listen to that still, small voice of God who is waiting to direct our steps?
One Trappist Monk from Kentucky has the answer.
Thomas Merton was a man who didn’t shy from the momentous task of daily awareness.
Of his spiritual journey he said, “My job is to press forward, to grow interiorly, to pray, to break away from attachments and to defy fears, to grow in faith, which has its own solitude, to seek an entirely new perspective and new dimension in my life, to open up new horizons at any cost, to desire this and let the Holy Spirit take care of the rest. But really to desire this and work for it.”
Merton’s greatest gift to us was not only his insights into the contemplative lifestyle, but his undying faithfulness to be a living example of his own truth.
Living as a Trappist monk at a monastery in Kentucky for nearly 30 years, Merton lived a life of complete reliance on God.
When he was not writing one of his 70 published books, he could be found pioneering interfaith dialogue across the world, devoutly being devoted to a life of prayer, and inspiring thousands of young people towards a more simple life lived in connection with God and the natural world.
Merton encourages us to consider that perhaps the path to a rich interior life these days does come at a cost.
Perhaps the cost is “to break away from attachments” that are preventing us from noticing where God is and what He’s up to within and around us.
Perhaps these attachments come in the form of phones and Facebook, Netflix and Snapchat.
And perhaps it can be these simple things that keep us from pressing forward on our path to know and follow Christ with our whole hearts.
Does media have a place in helping us and others find tools that help make God and his Gospel known? Absolutely.
But if you’re like me, my consumption of media often takes up all the space in my head and in my heart, leaving little room for the Holy Spirit to “open up new horizons” in my life with God and His people.
So, if you’re looking for a place to start in your journey towards living a life less transfixed on your phone and more attentive to God’s voice, Thomas Merton’s call to contemplation is as relevant now as ever.
The first place to start?
Put down your phone. Look up at the trees. And ask God to be present to you wherever you find yourself.
Then, let these words from Thomas Merton begin to move you towards a new perspective that just might help you grow in faith and begin to defy your fears.
“To be alone by being part of the universe — fitting in completely into an environment of woods and silence and peace. Everything you do becomes a unity and a prayer. Unity within and without. Unity with all living things — without effort or contention. My silence is part of the whole world’s silence and builds the temple of God without the noise of hammers.”
“To enter into the realm of contemplation, one must in a certain sense die: but this death is in fact the entrance into a higher life. It is a death for the sake of life, which leaves behind all that we can know or treasure as life, as thought, as experience as joy, as being.”
“Be poor, go down into the far end of society, take the last place among men, live with those who are despised, love other men and serve them instead of making them serve you. Do not fight them when they push you around, but pray for those that hurt you. Do not look for pleasure, but turn away from things that satisfy your senses and your mind and look for God in hunger and thirst and darkness, through deserts of the spirit in which it seems to be madness to travel. Take upon yourself the burden of Christ’s Cross, that is, Christ’s humility and poverty and obedience and renunciation, and you will find peace for your souls.”
“Let no one hope to find in contemplation an escape from conflict, from anguish or from doubt. On the contrary, the deep, inexpressible certitude of the contemplative experience awakens a tragic anguish and opens many questions in the depths of the heart like wounds that cannot stop bleeding.”
“The real purpose of meditation is this: to teach a man how to work himself free of created things and temporal concerns, in which he finds only confusion and sorrow, and enter into a conscious and loving contact with God in which he is disposed to receive from God the help he knows he needs so badly, and to pay to God the praise and honor and thanksgiving and love which it has now become his joy to give.”
“When humility delivers a man from attachment to his own works and his own reputation, he discovers that perfect joy is possible only when we have completely forgotten ourselves.”
“Contemplation is the awareness and realization, even in some sense experience, of what each Christian obscurely believes: ‘It is now no longer I that live but Christ lives in me.’”
“Contemplation is essentially a listening in silence, an expectancy. And yet in a certain sense, we must truly begin to hear God when we have ceased to listen. What is the explanation of this paradox? Perhaps only that there is a higher kind of listening, which is not an attentiveness to some special wave length, a receptivity to a certain kind of message, but a general emptiness that waits to realize the fullness of the message of God within its own apparent void.
“In other words, the true contemplative is not the one who prepares his mind for a particular message that he wants or expects to hear, but who remains empty because he knows that he can never expect or anticipate the word that will transform his darkness into light. He does not even anticipate a special kind of transformation. He does not demand light instead of darkness.
“He waits on the Word of God in silence, and when he is ‘answered,’ it is not so much by a word that bursts into his silence. It is by his silence suddenly, inexplicably revealing itself to him as a word of great power, full of the voice of God.”
May you begin to “cease to listen” yet still hear the full voice of God.
For further writing by Thomas Merton on the contemplative lifestyle, check out these books: