Monday Morning with Merton: Pauses and Rests

“We cannot be happy if we expect to live all the time at the highest peak of intensity.  Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance and order and rhythm and harmony.

Music is pleasing not only because of the sound but because of the silence that is in it: without the alternation of sound and silence there would be no rhythm. If we strive to be happy by filling all the silences of life with sound, productive by turning all life’s leisure into work, and real by turning all our being into doing, we will only succeed in producing a hell on earth.

If we have no silence, God is not heard in our music. If we have no rest,
God does not bless our work. If we twist our lives out of shape in order to fill every corner of them with action and experience, God will silently withdraw from our hearts and leave us empty.”

[Thomas Merton:  “No Man Is an Island”, pgs. 127-128]


19 thoughts on “Monday Morning with Merton: Pauses and Rests

  1. I really appreciate the music analogy. What he say makes sense. I need to stop trying to fill every moment and just let God be heard in my music. Thank you!!!

  2. I feel the same If I am not silent God can not work though me and heal me thank you for sharing love and God bless
    I pray that God continues to bless you

  3. WISDOM. Pure wisdom. I just finished re-reading the 7 storey mountain and am now re-reading The Sign of Jonas. I think I’ll be posting my favorite snippets soon…

  4. Ahhh! Merton Monday!
    Silence is something I cherish, and here Merton reminds me. Yesterday I was reading St John of the Cross and he was reminding me in his reading of USELESS THINGS and USELESS ACTIVITIES . So many can creep into my day unawares. Things that have no value as to the kingdom or my health or well being.
    They are just what they are ..activities that are empty.
    example…tv…I tried asking myself what the plot of a certain show was last week or the week before and I couldn’t recall.
    Useless activity. Relaxing..yes. But it left me empty when viewed from a different perspective a week later.
    Even my blogging could be just ‘busy-ness’. I’d have no fresh idea, yet felt I
    have to get something up every day..sometimes multiple posts!
    I am presently learning that silence on a blog to abstain from Blog busy-ness is not bad, not wrong, not out of place….Especially for a person who loves contemplation.
    Thank you for this confirming, affirming post by Fr Louis.

  5. “If we have no silence, God is not heard in our music.”

    our music … the music that we are … contains the sound of God. think of that !!!!!

    i’ve not considered this before. what is my music? are people hearing God in my music? is silence another kind of music? when i am silent amidst others, are people hearing God?

    ooh this is to be savored … slowly!

  6. Good points, all of you.

    I know a woman who can only do, she can never just be –or at least, I’ve never seen much so, I can’t imagine her sleeping ever. She does VERRRRY much good, but a visit from or with her is so brief and geared to a doing, it surely must leave one missing her even tho’ she’s still sitting or standing right there. Why wouldn’t the same be true for God? He desires the unfidgeting eyeballs of our heart on Him –maybe always, but certainly so at least at times. Plus, He knows we could search even all of Ireland’s west coast and not find enough of what our souls are ever looking for: Him. We will never be satisfied here, unless it is within Him, and that cannot happen if we are forever doing elsewhere. He must occasionally wish as I do, to just tackle someone to the ground, sit on them, and say, “So, how ARE you? What is making you happy lately? When’s the last time you cried, and why? Wow, look at that sunset, huh?”

    Ok, bring it on, Lord. 😉

  7. Merton seems to have got the balance just right. I like what he says about the alternation between silence and sound – between talking to God and listening to God. And when we get that balance right ..God is heard indeed.

  8. Cathy, if you were music, what would you be? I think I’d be a Nocturne.

    Joanne, thank you for your prayers, and I pray for your continued healing as well.

    Pia, looking forward to that! And don’t forget about that little Merton book you found at Christmas…please… hee hee, your other comment just came in as I was typing this. A nap sounds delicious. Peut-etre deux. School is winding up this week, co-op is finished (thank Gawwwd), two exams to write, then (yay) no more shirts to iron every day so son will look decent (albeit wrinkled from being in knapsack) at co-op workplace!!!

    teresa, I understand completely what you’re saying. But also, if something is relaxing (which we all need) I suppose it doesn’t really matter if it is mindless! I think we all realize deeply the need for silence; I think maybe we all (given what I’ve perceived to be a very strong work-ethic amongst us all) have a harder time with “being” and with “leisure” – I bet we’re all prone to guilt feelings along those lines.

    Laure, is silence another kind of music? Good question. My heart says yes, but music has to have rhythm, doesn’t it, the alternation that was spoken of? Otherwise it would be a drone. But I rather like drones every once in a while. Ommmmmmmmmm. 🙂 Now, I don’t want to talk about drones as in worker-bees. I’m heading off for my nap.

    Carol, I know a few people I’d like to give a stop-and-smell-the-roses pill to as well; Type A personalities, I guess. They wear me out.

    Ann, you strike me as someone who has really gotten (is that a word?) that balance right, and I think it probably has a lot to do with your relationship to the beauty and rhythms of nature.

  9. Note to myself: why do I keep thinking “altercation” when the word is “alternation”. Is alternation a real word? I’ve been speaking French all week with visiting family; too lazy to go to dictionary. 😉 Does the alternation of silence and busy-ness often become an altercation within our spirits? Yes. Oh, yes. Absolument.

  10. Hi Gabrielle,
    I spent 3 days at Gethsemani in early May. My expirience was beyond words. The silence was welcome and full of love.
    A very good friend of mine likes to say that we find God in the silence of own hearts at times when we become overwhelmed with a feeling so profound that words can not describe it, “because it ain’t man made.”
    I had that “feeling” for three straight days while on retreat at the abbey. I think silence really does provide us with the opportunity to listen to what God has to say.

    Thank you for your awesome blog!


  11. As for altercation springing from the quiet/busyness alternation, often, perhaps so. But thank God, not always. I don’t understand what’s going on in one of our little RC parish churches, but it’s wonderful. The pauses of silence that have been (re)instituted before Mass, and after the Readings, after the prayers, etc., oh what little Godsends–BUT– so is that instrumental music that plays softly all through people receiving Communion: in a church of mixed worshippers of ages, a hiccup or a hacking cough could certainly derail someone’s “Anima Christi” time.. and the silence that descends for a brief while after the celebrant has seated himself is Godsent.. BUT, then the rejoicing he leads us in, that comes from another successful communion on this earth -Jesus’ own prayer answered even if briefly..Heaven and earth, now one in Him, whew. To remain silent then, whew.. no. I want that priestly blessing, I want to help process that Book and that Celebrant out with jubilant song, all the way to New Jerusalem. But Sean, how lucky you are. 🙂 And amen, an awesome blog, this.

    Our souls need quiet to reach over to His quiet. One of the thoughts I’ve had is that I would neither mind in any way, nor be afraid, to spend the night in the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament. Life for too many of us has so often been so much more Martha than Mary, we might only be Mary for a moment when we shut our eyes while someone else is driving. It’s too little.

  12. Hi Sean, good to hear from you again. I’m so happy about your experience at Gethsemani. Our world seems to be afraid of silence; people keep themselves busy so they won’t have to deal with it. And you found the silence “full of love”. This is what I would wish for everyone.

    Carol, I agree with you about the prolonged pauses after the readings, the Gospel and after Holy Communion, giving everyone time for silent reflection – and I see how the entire congregation seems to respond to it more and more. I remember a number of years ago when it became like that in our parish; at first everyone was looking around at each other, and you could tell they were thinking that something was wrong! Now it appears to me that everyone welcomes these moments.

    I would not mind spending the night in the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament either; far from it. Actually, I have tried to place myself there in spirit at night many times (after whispering a prayer that if indeed it should happen, I wouldn’t set off any alarms and scare the priests). Now the truth is out. Yes, this is how my mind works. 🙂

  13. This meditation from Merton allows me to assuage the guilt I sometimes feel over enjoying the silence. The voice of the world calls me to “do something” but the voice in my heart calls me to just “be.” The Old Testament God may have communicated with thunder to the Israelites but the thunder of today’s world can drown out that gentle, loving voice with which God speaks to our hearts.

    “Be still and know that I am God.”

  14. Terry, well put.

    G, maybe we all should have a spiritual rest-in/sleep-in at our most preferred Tabernacles on First Saturday nights, and slip into the Lord’s Sunday just as John Paul II did (“Many noticed the remarkable coincidence that when he closed his eyes to this world on the evening of Saturday, April 2, 2005, it was on the eve of the second Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday, and also at the same time as the Marian devotion of the first Saturday of the month. In fact, this was at the core of his long and multifaceted pontificate; his entire mission in the service of God and man and peace in the world was summarized in the announcement he made in Krakow in 2002.”–Pope Benedict XVI)

  15. What an awesome post! And what wonderful, passionate, encouraging, inspiring comments from all your (our) friends! This is the insight of Thomas Merton that first drew me to him., 25 yrs ago…that very purposeful, direct, honest understanding of what it is to desire to be ALIVE in Christ…spirit, mind and body. When I read these quotes, it reminds me of why he was so interested in the Eastern traditions, later in his life. These are very basic truths that are inherent to many Eastern religious practices. Can’t you just hear Merton and the Dali Lama sitting down together, and discussing their appreciatoin for “balance, order, rhythm and harmony”?

    After the experiences of the last 2 months, I have been reminded of the need for reflective time, the value of just “being in the moment”, of silence (inside & outside)….of waiting in hushed silence for that still, small Voice…there is a place of honesty, humility and acceptance, trust and healing….being naked before God. No wonder we often fill up our days (and nights) with too much “noise” or “activity”….you can’t be in this place, and also resurrect “walls” that only serve to separate you from the Father and His love. In silence is a kind of intense humility, where we cannot escape, and we get to be “real” before our Creator….and thus more honest with ourselves.

    Gabrielle…”the truth of how your mind works”….now THIS is a topic that deserves a separate post all its own!! 🙂 (sorry, couldn’t help but tease you on that one!)

  16. Excellent points, Kristin, about Fr. Louis, but also as to how we are (and must indeed be) real and humble before Him in the silence, while knowing at the same time that He, as does Mary, wishes only to make us more like Himself.

  17. Terry, that’s the kind of guilt I meant too, in my comment to teresa. It’s not busyness for the sake of looking busy; I’m sure it comes out of our ingrained work ethic; Merton uses the word productive. We place a huge burden of being “visibly” productive on ourselves, I think.

    Carol, that’s a lovely thought, and I suppose quite possible for those who are near a location with 24-hour Adoration in place. And of course, there is online Adoration (or placing oneself there in spirit, as well). Re JPII, I’m sure many of us remarked on it, but not thinking of it as being a “coincidence”…it was such a beautiful way for Our Lord to show the world He was honouring and validating JPII’s devotion to Mary and to the Divine Mercy message.

    Kristin, I think a period of recuperation like you were going through can quite often be a time when people discover, or rediscover, the silence. When they cannot do what they are accustomed to doing, or be with coworkers, etc., then some of those walls start coming down…

    Hi Hush and Lucy. Humility is very quiet, isn’t it. But not uncommunicative…

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