Thomas Merton continues to speak with a voice that is insightful, compelling, and prophetic. His extensive writings provide ample scope for any compiler who attempts to set before the reader a coherent introduction to his thought, his questions, his concerns, his passions.
Words mattered: they were Merton’s stock-in-trade, his first and most characteristic art form. Few people have been the subject of so much scrutiny and interpretation, but an anthology enables Merton to speak for himself, and it allows the reader to engage directly with a man who—fifty years after his death—remains a surprisingly contemporary figure, addressing time and again the issues that matter to us and to our world.
The following words are from Merton himself and can be found in my book The Art of Thomas Merton: A Divine Passion in Word and Vision.
Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone. We find it with another.
Love seeks one thing only: the good of the one loved. It leaves all the other secondary effects to take care of themselves. Love, therefore, is its own reward.
Hope then is a gift…but to meet it we have to descend to Nothingness.
That’s the meaning of hope…to trust in the ultimate goodness of creation. Hope doesn’t mean an anticipation or expectation of a deliverance from an intolerable or oppressive situation or condition.… That’s what most of us are doing most of the time: wanting something other than what is. As I said—true hope is trusting that what we have, where we are, and who we are is more than enough for us as creatures of God.
If you exist, you exist in hope. To cease hoping is to cease existing. To hope, and to exist, is to have roots in God.
We are saved by hope for that which we do not see and we wait for it with patience.
On the surface I have my confusion. On a deeper level, desire and conflict. In the greatest depths, like a spring of pure water rising up in the flames of hell, is the smallness, the frailty of a hope that is, yet, never overwhelmed but continues strangely and inexplicably to nourish in the midst of apparent despair.
The real hope, then, is not in something we think we can do, but in God who is making something good out of it in some way we cannot see. If we can do His will, we will be helping this process. But we will not necessarily know about it beforehand.
Hope then is a gift. Like life, it is a gift from God, total, unexpected, incomprehensible, undeserved…but to meet it, we have to descend into nothingness.
It is the acceptance of life in the midst of death, not because we have courage, or light, or wisdom to accept, but because by some miracle the God of life Himself accepts to live, in us, at the very moment when we descend into death.
As Christ said, the seed in the ground must die. To be a seed in the ground of one’s very life is to dissolve in that ground in order to become fruitful. One disappears into Love, in order to “be Love.”
Anyone who has read the prophets and the New Testament with any attention recognizes that one of the most essential facts regarding Christianity is that, being a religion of love, it is also at the same time a religion of dynamic change.
Christian hope is confidence…in the dynamism of unfailing love.
The secret country is a country of loneliness and of a kind of hunger, of silence, of perplexity, of waiting, of strange hopes: where men expect the impossible to be born but do not always dare to speak of their hopes.
A Prayer from Thomas Merton
My Lord God
I have no idea where I am going.
I cannot see the road ahead of me
and I do not know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe
that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope
that I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this
you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore I will trust you always.
Though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death,
I will not fear,
for you are ever with me,
and will never leave me
to face my perils alone.