Our next meeting – Wednesday, November 8th at 7pm – will be our last for 2017.
We take December off so that group members can be with family and friends instead of attending a meeting at Baker Book House, as uplifting and rewarding as ours is.
Beth plans to bring treats. If you’d like to bring something, please feel free.
November will be the last month for us to discuss Thomas Merton’s book Contemplative Prayer.
Beth and I have started a group devoted to Cistercian spirituality.
At this point in time, it’s an un-official adjunct of Merton’s abbey, Gethsemani. We don’t yet have official sanction from the abbey. But we’re working on it.
The purpose of the Cistercian group is to (a) support the monks at the abbey with prayer, (b) study works other than Merton’s, (c) explore the richness of the Cistercian tradition, a body of work that includes many classics of mysticism and contemplation.
If you’re interested, contact us. We’d like to meet during the day (breakfast, lunch, or on a Saturday) for the Cistercian group.
On to Merton’s book Contemplative Prayer…
These last five chapters are wonderful. They’re highly quotable, chock-full of wisdom, and brimming over with spiritual insights. As such, there’s a lot going on in them. So I offer the following study guide to help you find some nuggets that I thought were important. I won’t ask questions so much as point to sentences or paragraphs I believe are exceptionally noteworthy.
Another amazing chapter, from the opening paragraph to the last. We could spend the entire evening discussing just this chapter. Rather than pick specific sentences or ask questions, I’d like to mention things for you to ponder, and perhaps bring up at our meeting…or perhaps just use in your own spiritual life.
“The contemplative is one who would rather not know the know.” (page 67)
“Contemplation is essentially a listing in silence, an expectancy. And yet in a certain sense, we must truly begin to hear God when we have ceased to listen.” (page 68)
What is quietism? Which spiritual tradition is it most often associated with?
What is the difference between quietism and contemplation?
“The whole mystery of simple contemplative prayer is a mystery of divine love, of personal vocation and of free gift.” (page 72)
And the entirely of the last paragraph on page 73, which is profound.
The theme of this chapter, if I may suggest one, is either “Dread” or “the consequence of a guilty conscience caused by falling short, either willfully or accidentally.”
From the first paragraph: “Sometimes one feels that a well-intentioned and inculpable atheist is in many ways better off – and gives more glory to God – than some people whose bigoted complacent and inhumanity to others are signs of the most obvious selfishness!”
Do you agree with Merton? Why or why not?
As to the rest of the chapter, Merton explains “dread” and why it is both good and bad.
Have you ever experienced the “dread” about which Merton writes? If so, how did you get past it?
The theme of this chapter, if I may suggest one, is “good and bad meditation.”
How does Merton distinguish and define each?
Merton writes in the first chapter, “Is all this talk of dread, the desert, nothingness, poverty, simply an excuse for the negativism and inertia of a subjective spirit?”
Merton writes on pages 84 and 85: “Unless the Christian participates to some degree in the dread, the sense of loss, the anguish, the dereliction and the destitution of the Crucified, he cannot really enter into the mystery of the liturgy. he can neither understand the rites or the prayers, nor appreciate the sacramental signs and enter deeply into the grace they mediate.”
Setting aside Merton’s primary audience for this book (monks, specifically, and Catholics in general), do you agree with his assessment that Christians cannot fully “get” Jesus’ suffering unless we, too, experience some of what he experienced?
Note the full paragraph at the bottom of page 85 that begins with “Let us frankly.” It’s an important one.
Merton writes often of love. In this chapter, he mentioned “the mystery of Love” in the second paragraph on page 88. To what does Merton refer? What is “the mystery of Love”?
Note the last paragraph on page 88 that starts with “The purpose of the dark night…” It has been mentioned that the “dark night” is a positive thing. It can be. But, while in it, it is far from positive. One must emerge from it a better person for it to be positive. In other words, these period of “dark night” and “dread” and “poverty” and other seemingly negative aspects are only positive in retrospect. During them, we feel the opposite of positive.
The final chapter wraps up everything and concludes (on page 94) this way: “Without contemplation and interior prayer the Church cannot fulfill her mission to transform and save mankind. Without contemplation, she will be reduced to being the servant of cynical and worldly powers, no matter how hard her faithful may protest that they are fighting for the Kingdom of God. Without true, deep contemplative aspirations, without a total love for God and an uncompromising thirst for his truth, religion tends in the end to become an opiate.”
I don’t know what to say about that. It’s a powerful statement that ought to give all Christians serious pause, to question what they’re doing personally – and what their churches are doing corporately.
Also, if we ask him really nicely, maybe we can get Greg to tell us about his pilgrimage to Greece last month. He walked in the footsteps of the Apostle Paul.
Finally, here is the latest flyer for our meeting next Wednesday. (Right click on “here” and download to your computer.) If you’d pass it along via e-mail, or print it out and tape it up places where you think it would be noticed and appreciated, we’d deeply appreciate it.
See you next Wednesday night!
The book we’ll discuss beginning January 8th will be Merton’s Love and Living. Baker Book House will have some available in a week or two. I’ll ask them to order 6-8 copies of it. If they run out because you bought them, they’ll order more. Read the first few chapters (including any Introductions or Foreword there may be).