Monday, April 29, 2013

On Meditation, by Thomas Merton

Trappist monk, Thomas Merton (1915–1968), was one of the best known Christian writers of the 20th century. This is a classic passage of his on meditation:

In meditation we do not seek to know about God as though he were an object like other objects which submit to our scrutiny and can be expressed in clear scientific ideas.  We seek to know God himself, beyond the level of all the objects which  he has made and which confront us as “things” isolated from one another, “defined,” “delimited,” with clear boundaries.  The infinite God has no boundaries and our minds cannot set limits to him or to his love.  His presence is then “grasped” in the general awareness of loving faith; it is “realized” without being scientifically and precisely known, as we know a specimen under a microscope.  His presence cannot be verified as we would verify a laboratory experiment.  Yet it can be spiritually realized as long as we do not insist on verifying it.  As soon as we try to verify the spiritual presence as an object of exact knowledge, God eludes us.

In a word, God is invisibly present to the ground of our being: our belief and love attain to him, but he remains hidden from the arrogant gaze of our investigating mind which seeks to capture him and secure permanent possession of him in an act of knowledge that gives power over him.  It is in fact absurd and impossible to try to grasp God as an object which can be seized and comprehended by our minds.

The knowledge of which we are capable is simply knowledge about him.  It points to him in analogies which we must transcend in order to reach him.  But we must transcend ourselves as well as our analogies, and in seeking to know him we must forget the familiar subject-object relationship which characterizes our ordinary acts of knowing.  Instead, we know him insofar as we become aware of ourselves as known through and through by him. We “possess” him in proportion as we realize ourselves to be possessed by him in the inmost depths of our being.  Meditation or “prayer of the heart” is the active effort we make to keep our hearts open so that we may be enlightened by him and filled with this realization of our true relationship to him.  Therefore the classic form of “meditation” is repetitive invocation of the name of Jesus in the heart emptied of images and cares.

Hence the aim of meditation  in the context of Christian faith, is not to arrive at an objective and apparently “scientific” knowledge about God, but to come to know him through the realization that our very being is penetrated with  his knowledge and love for us.


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