I’ve always been weak on waiting, not just waiting on God, but waiting on––or for––just about anyone or anything. If there’s such a thing as a “gift of waiting” I either didn’t get that one or I did but I buried it somewhere along the line so as not to have to use it.
My friend, Stuart must’ve sensed this when he gave me a copy of Thomas Merton’s book, The Seeds of Contemplation. I’m now a Merton fan. He was a pretty smart guy, but more, a guy who spent a lot of time waiting on God. That’s sort of the job description of a Trappist monk I think. They’re professional waiters (so to speak).
Anyway, on a prayer retreat last month I read the book while listening to 1970s Jesus albums (yes, the vinyl kind) that my host left in the garage of his house. The two seemed to go together somehow.
I thought I’d share a few quotes from the book that resonated with me about living with a posture of waiting on God for the purpose of being close to him. The mystics like Merton call it “contemplation.” (The word “contemplative” is a favorite of mine. It makes you sound smart, especially when you put the accent on the second syllable. Being a contemplative, on the other hand, seems to take more effort than just saying it right. But if you can’t be one, at least sound like you know what you’re talking about. Try it and see. At least we can be shallow together.)
It is the will to pray that is the essence of prayer, and the desire to find God, to see Him and to love Him is the one thing that matters… It is much better to desire God without being able to think clearly of Him, than to have marvelous thoughts about Him without desiring to enter into union with His will.
I concur that while it is good to hold good thoughts about God (i.e. have a good theology), this can’t be the sum total of what God wants. That would be like having your office walls filled with photos of your spouse taken from every angle and then never going home with be with her or him. God is not Biology Class frog to dissect, but a Father to be with and to love.
Further, Merton says:
Contemplation does not simply “find” a clear idea of God and confine Him within the limits of that idea, and hold Him there as a prisoner to Whom it can always return. On the contrary, contemplation is being carried away by Him into His own realism, His own mystery and His own freedom. It is a pure and a virginal knowledge, poor in concepts, poorer still in reasoning, but able, by its very poverty and purity, to follow the Word “wherever He may go.”
This sets contemplation apart from study or from our Evangelical proclivity for developing a clear set of fundamentals that God is and what he must abide by. ‘nuf said about that.
Freedom can only be found in perfect union and submission to the will of God. If our will travels with His, it will reach the same end, rest in the same peace, and be filled with the same infinite happiness that is His.
I appreciate Merton’s insistence throughout the book that contemplation of God is more than sitting around thinking about God and then getting up and doing whatever we want. Devotions that don’t improve our devotion to him are vain.
So, for now I’m sort of contemplating contemplation. How about you?
Do you have any favorite thoughts from the Consummate Contemplative, the consistently quotable Merton?
Have you been contemplating reading a good book? I recommend The Seeds of Contemplation. Or for something a little lighter, my memoir, The Other End of the Dark. (Actually it’s a LOT lighter, but who’s weighing?)