In our September meeting, we will cover chapters 8-11 of Merton’s book Contemplative Prayer.
NOTE: We will start the book discussion portion of our meeting with Chapter 11 (XI) of Contemplative Prayer. If we only discuss one chapter Wednesday night, Chapter 11 is the one to discuss. We believe its content is essential to an understanding to (and, more importantly, an application of) contemplation, prayer, and mysticism.
We think you’ll find that the remaining chapters in the book (from Chapter 11 onward) are much more accessible and applicable to our lives. The first chapters (1-10) were very much about laying the historical framework for contemplation and mysticism, especially against the backdrop of monastic life. The historical framework is important to know, yes. But we think you’ll dig the last chapters in the book a lot more, with Chapter 11 being the pivotal chapter.
Also for Wednesday night, we’ll watch 20-30 minutes more of a DVD about Merton’s life.
Here are the suggested discussion questions for our meeting Wednesday, September 13th, at 7pm at Baker Book House:
CHAPTER XI (11)
1. The first question on page 45 is fundamental to understanding what this book is about: “What is the purpose of meditation in the sense of ‘the prayer of the heart’”? How often do you, in your prayer life, “gain a direct existential grasp, a personal experience of the deepest trust of life and faith, finding yourselves in God’s truth”?
2. Merton clearly states at the top of page 46 that, “Our desire and our prayer should be summed up in St. Augustine’s words: [“May I know you, may I know my self!”]. How does this differ from how you were taught prayer, or have been practicing it over the years?
3. Near the bottom of page 46, Merton writes a short paragraph that has the power and ability to radically alter a person’s perception of him/her self: “What am I? I am myself a word spoken by God. Can God speak a word that does not have any meaning?” What would change in your life – how you view yourself, how you view others – would be different if you realized, believed, and applied those words to yourself?
4. At the bottom of page 46 and in the first paragraph at the top of page 47, Merton reveals the answer to the question that has stymied people for thousands of years: “What is my true identity?” This goes hand in hand with “Who am I?” The answer, according to Merton, is to love. If you believed this answer from Merton, what you do differently right now, as well as in every subsequent moment after this one?”
CHAPTER VIII (8)
1. St. Bernard and Merton write about the monastic life being found in three vocations. Bernard names three people. Who are they? Merton names three vocations. What are they?
2. Have you ever thought of Mary as being a contemplative?
3. “Christ comes only in secret to those who have entered the inner chamber and closed the door behind them.” Agree? Or disagree?
4. “Peter the Venerable, St. Bernard’s contemporary and Abbot of Cluny, was less hesitant and even more explicit than Bernard in encouraging solitary private prayer.” Do you agree “solitary private prayer” is important? If so, how do you make sure you get time for it?
CHAPTER IX (9)
1. Who was Peter of Celles? When and where did he live? When did he die?
2. Repeatedly, Merton writes of potential (often illusory) conflicts between contemplation and action. Do you see any conflicts between the two in your own life? If so, how do you overcome them?
3. “Without virtue there can be no real and lasting contemplation. Without the labor of discipline there can be no rest in love.” Agree? or disagree?
4. These chapters are about monks. Do you find this information applicable to your own life, even though you are not a monk?
CHAPTER X (10)
1. By this point in the book, Merton has resolved the seeming conflict between “active” and “contemplative” or “labor” and “rest.” Merton writes that Peter of Celles resolved the apparent conflict by pointing out that life is both. How would you describe your own prayer life? More “active”? Or more “contemplative”?
2. Pages 40 and 41 offer a lot of names, terms, and titles. For example: Garcia de Cisneros (“the first Spanish mystic”)…Devotio Moderna…Imitation of Christ…and Counter-Reformation. Did any of the names, terms, and titles intrigue you enough to Google them? If so, which ones? And why?
3. On pages 42 and 43, Merton mentions another name of importance to contemplatives and mystics: Dom Augustine Baker. What did Merton write about Baker? In other words, what was the issue Baker addressed in some of his writings, starting with coining a phrase that caused a “life-long conflict” between himself and his brethren?
4. In the second to last paragraph on page 44, Merton explains how the “great deal of confusion” and “great gulf” can be cleared up and bridged. What does he say is the answer?
We’d like to finish Contemplative Prayer by the end of our October meeting.
A new Merton book was just published called A Course in Christian Mysticism. It looks promising from what we’ve read so far. And, of course, there are bunches of other Merton books we could dive into other than A Course in Christian Mysticism, including Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, a book which has been mentioned quite a few times in our discussions.
A pdf of the flyer for our September meeting can be downloaded by right-clicking here.
We print copies and drive them around to the usual places in and around Grand Rapids. But we can’t take the flyers everywhere. Plus, we don’t know who you know or where you hang out. So you’d help our group a great deal if you print these and put them up, or e-mail them to friends and family who may be interested in joining us this coming Wednesday night.
Bring yourself. Bring your friends. We’re looking forward to seeing you again!