Monday Morning with Merton: The Elements

For our Merton entry this morning, I would like to lead you first to this post at Mike’s, The Mercy Blog.   Although the subject-matter concerns “dew” in the context of grace/passivity/activity, it brought to mind the following passage of Merton’s, from “The Ascent to Truth” , in which we see the elements of nature used as metaphors for growth in contemplation:

“In the beginning of the contemplative life, it is possible for the soul to rest for long periods absorbed in the consolation of divine love.  The spirit is in a certain sense satisfied by that love.  Contemplation can even appear to become an end in itself, as if the intimate embrace of God’s love were already as good as heaven.  But this is an illusion.  Sooner or later, like all created things, this joy must end.  God takes care to see that it ends sooner in some souls than in others.  The love that was sweet and consoling becomes a purgatorial flame.  The repose that was our friend becomes a terrible adversary.  It devours our bones.  Contemplation descends upon us now no longer like dew but like a desert wind, smothering our whole being in fire and sand.  The faculties begin to turn upon themselves like paper blistering at the approach of flame.  The will shrivels and twists and the mind disintegrates into ashes consumed by thirst for the vision of God.” 

7 thoughts on “Monday Morning with Merton: The Elements

  1. “..The will shrivels and twists and the mind disintegrates into ashes consumed by thirst for the vision of God.”

    Or for one wordless millisecond of 100% pure tender cherishing.. tho’ perhaps that is one and the same desire.

  2. Wonderful, Gabrielle! I first read that years ago, but I’d completely forgotten it.

    Astonishing, isn’t it, how two seemingly contradictory views of the contemplative life, Rohr’s that I quoted, and this from Merton, somehow coincide into one whole. Good stuff!

    Mike

  3. I read alot of “great” stuff on your site last night, Mike. I wish I had time to absorb it all…

    JustMe, would it simply be fatigue talking if I said I’d like the dew back? I guess so. 😦

  4. Here in the darkest before the dawn of springtime when dew seems for others, could one say that the ever-awake poor in spirit must act as mulch for a magnificent garden, thus, be far more crucial in seeming inactivity than can be intuited? I dunno, but what a unique line of greeting cards it would make.
    (Gosh, imagine charging $3.50 for one of my thoughts.. highway robbery!) And one, even two, would have to work pretty hard for these to be as beautiful as UKOK’s, eh?

  5. As one who has read The Seven Storey Mountian I have to say i didn’t immediately recognise the author’s voice at all in this excerpt from The Ascent To Truth and that’s probably as it should be since the Merton of ‘then’ ( TSSM) and the Merton of ‘ now’ ( writing the Ascent) are different people or at least the same person changed utterly.

  6. JustMe, I always have to keep in mind something that St. Teresa of Avila said: if we don’t go forward we will go backwards. I sometimes have to force myself to acknowledge that although the dew was sparkling and beautiful, what made it disappear was actually sunlight and air. The elements are ever-changing; we “prefer” some to others, but the bottom line is we have to go through the experience of them all. This courage and perseverence has to come from Him, and in his mercy, He gives it, doesn’t He.

    Ann, yes, I love to see the change in Merton over the years, through his writings. He was uneasy and embarrassed over The Seven Storey Mountain later in life, because of things he’d said in his “youthfulness” in the contemplative life. On the one hand, I guess this helps us to see the danger in quoting people from early on in their spiritual lives, but on the other hand, the progression we can see is also helpful to us, I would say.

  7. Well, one book of his I often pick up very easily here is “No Man Is An Island.” In this, he seems so incredibly wise. And it’s a kind of wisdom that silently bangs open a door each and every time! I wonder where in his spiritual journey he penned this?

    You know, I don’t have any recall of reading his Seven Storey Mountain, and thus, I may not have. Actually, I’ve always scurried away from contemplation of any recognizable sort, anyhow (did you notice?) Somehow, it always struck me as being rather outrageous to say the least, for someone like me to consider the deepest of the deep.. (God writes straight with crooked lines, yes, of course.. but could He finesse doing that with as yet ungelled raspberry jello?)

    But for sure, I do NOT want to go backwards. Yes, the elements…I’ve been surprised that there are so many. But indeed, one can see His hand in them, or through them. Yes, He gives both mercy and courage. I miss my little Touches, but I want to help give them. Yes.

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