This guide to monastic prayer, written in 1968 and thus turning out to be Thomas Merton's final testament to us, is now available in a new edition commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of his death. While he wrote it for other monastics, all seekers drawn to explore the full dimensions of prayer will be enriched by his words, especially as they take on added meaning in today's dizzying world.
The climate in which monastic prayer flowers is that of the desert, where human comfort is absent, where the secure routines of the "earthly city" offer no support, and where prayer must be sustained by God in the purity of faith.
Thomas Merton (1915-1968), Catholic convert, Cistercian monk and hermit, poet, contemplative, social critic, and pioneer of interreligious dialogue, was a seminal figure of twentieth-century American Christianity.
"How many different faces Merton reveals—here, the serious scholar of monasticism. This process of grounding his identity enabled him to enter deep within, thus to better engage with the outer world. While some may miss his `snarky usurper of status quo' face, a few glimmers appear: his condemnation of sacrifice that's `infantile self-dramatization' or prayer that disintegrates into `operatic self-display.' In this book, Merton addresses those simply trying to keep themselves together, to maintain interior silence and spiritual freedom in a dizzying world. He aptly names the dread of being untrue to our best self, and of standing alone before God in naked need. His counsel: rest in God, find ourselves rooted in concrete experience as well as in God's truth. His words hold a mirror to our times. No gimmicks nor shortcuts on this path, an invitation to an inner sanctuary and the springs of silence, without which there is no wisdom."
Kathy Coffey, Author of When the Saints Came Marching In
"Merton's last book, The Climate of Monastic Prayer
, is the climax of a lifetime spent in both in the practice and the theory of prayer. Its particular benefit is that it takes as its focus the negative experiences that sometimes come to people who pray regularly, the ennui, the confusion, the anxiety, the dread. He tackles these difficulties head on and seeks to find a response to them in the wisdom of monastic tradition.
"Fifty years after it was written the book retains a surprising relevance with solid teaching expressed in Merton's typically relevant language. It will come as a revelation to many readers."
Michael Casey, OCSO, Author of Seventy-Four Tools for Good Living
"We live in turbulent times and our lives sometimes feel overwhelming. Yet Merton would remind us that the Divine is in our midst and prayer is as much an attitude as something we do. Merton weaves texts from our rich spiritual heritage with his insights on a stance of continuous prayer. Merton's path serves to ground his followers in the present moment and attend to the Divine in our midst. I highly recommend this for our lectio."
Laura Swan, OSB, Associate editor of Magistra, author of The Benedictine Tradition
"In this his final book, Thomas Merton draws on years of extensive study and practice to provide a guide to prayer and contemplation directed to both monk and layperson alike. With a clarity born out of his own contemplative experience, Merton leads the reader to understand the essence and nature of prayer, and the transformation made possible by receptivity to the love of God. This is essential reading for those interested in understanding contemplative Christian theology and practice, as well as for all who want to understand the spirituality of one of the most important American Catholics of the twentieth century."
Gregory K. Hillis, Associate Professor of Theology, Bellarmine University
"Do not be put off by the adjective `monastic.' This is a book for all who are serious about the life of prayer. Here Merton makes accessible classic texts, writers, and practices on monastic prayer. Without losing sight of the context of the social and political circumstances of the late 1960's, the work is concerned primarily `with personal prayer . . . in its meditative and contemplative aspects.' (14) It reflects Merton's voracious reading and interests, for example, in the Desert Christians of the 4th century, Christian mystics (especially St. John of the Cross, and the 14th C. Rhenish mystics), Russian literature and theology, inter-religious dialogue, and the relationship between active and contemplative life. But, perhaps most importantly in our religious context, Merton asserts that `The contemplative way is, in fact, not a way. Christ alone is the way.' (116)"
Bonnie B. Thurston, co-author of Philippians and Philemon (Sacra Pagina, vol. 10) and Maverick Mark: The Untamed First Gospel
"There is no better contemporary guide to the Benedictine tradition of prayer than Thomas Merton! Drawing on the classic image of the desert, Merton invites all women and men to pursue a practice of personal prayer in the hopes of overcoming our tendency toward falsity in order to discover our true selves in God."
Daniel P. Horan, OFM Catholic Theological Union, Chicago
"This is a gorgeous and wise book: the mature Merton at his best. I found myself with renewed gratitude, even after all these years, for his witness, ripened and made spacious by years of attentive awareness. Steeped in the wisdom of the classic monastic traditions yet alive to the anguish and paradoxes of the world around him, Merton offers in this his last book, not a method of prayer, but a vision of human life suffused by prayer in all its various-ness and utter simplicity. He urges us to silence, listening, and existential questioning, yes. But also to emptiness, darkness, dread, and to an eschatological longing born of the `fervor of contemplation.' I will return to engage these pages again and again."
Wendy M. Wright, Professor Emerita of Theology, Creighton University
"The `climate' of monastic prayer, Merton says, is the desert, the monastic community, but this wonderful book, from his last years, is for all of us. Merton shows us something he pushed for from the start—that prayer is our breathing, not just close to our life and experience, but totally wound up with every moment of our consciousness, every minute of everyday existence. This is a rich feast for us today, not recipes, but a kind of counseling on prayer's omnipresence that we need to hear."
Michael Plekon, professor emeritus of The City University of New York, author of The World as Sacrament
"Parts of this book are more helpful than anything ever written on Christian prayer. I love this: Merton assures us that our feelings of self-doubt, exile, and what he calls `lostness,' are at the heart of when and why to pray—to discover who we are."
Jon M. Sweeney, author of The St. Francis Prayer Book, and editor of A Course in Christian Mysticism by Thomas Merton