Thoughts in Solitude by Thomas Merton

★★☆☆☆ (2/5)

A selection of my favourite passages from the book

  • Before we can see that created things (especially material) are unreal, we must see clearly that they are
  • Temperament does not predestine one man to sanctity and another to reprobation. All temperaments can serve as the material for ruin or for salvation.
  • If we make good use of what we have, if we make it serve our good desires, we can do better than another who merely serves his temperament instead of making it serve him.
  • But human freedom does not act in a moral vacuum. Nor is it necessary to produce such a vacuum in order to guarantee the freedom of our activity. Coercion from outside, strong temperamental inclinations and passions within ourselves, do nothing to affect the essence of our freedom. They simply define its action by imposing certain limits on it. They give it a peculiar character of its own.
  • If we really deny ourselves, our self-denial will sometimes even deprive us of things we really need. Therefore we will feel the need of them.
  • Nor does the spiritual life exclude thought and feeling. It needs both. It is not just a life concentrated at the “high point” of the soul, a life from which the mind and the imagination and the body are excluded. If it were so, few people could lead it. And again, if that were the spiritual life, it would not be a life at all. If man is to live, he must be all alive, body, soul, mind, heart, spirit.
  • A purely mental life may be destructive if it leads us to substitute thought for life and ideas for actions.
  • The activity proper to man is not purely mental because man is not just a disembodied mind. Our destiny is to live out what we think, because unless we live what we know, we do not even know it. It is only by making our knowledge part of ourselves, through action, that we enter into the reality that is signified by our concepts.
  • Self-conquest is really self-surrender. Yet before we can surrender ourselves we must become ourselves. For no one can give up what he does not possess.
  • Discretion warns us against wasted effort: but for the coward all effort is wasted effort.
  • Without courage we can never attain to true simplicity. Cowardice keeps us “double minded” —hesitating between the world and God. In this hesitation, there is no true faith—faith remains an opinion.
  • The proud man claims honor for having what no one else has. The humble man begs for a share in what everybody else has received.
  • Meditative prayer is a stern discipline, and one which cannot be learned by violence. It requires unending courage and perseverance, and those who are not willing to work at it patiently will finally end in compromise. Here, as elsewhere, compromise is only another name for failure.
  • In meditative prayer, one thinks and speaks not only with his mind and lips, but in a certain sense with his whole being. Prayer is then not just a formula of words, or a series of desires springing up in the heart—it is the orientation of our whole body, mind and spirit to God in silence, attention, and adoration.
  • you want to have a spiritual life you must unify your life. A life is either all spiritual or not spiritual at all. No man can serve two masters. Your life is shaped by the end you live for.
  • And yet we, who can have many things we don’t need and many more which are scandalous for us to have—we are poor, because we have them with permission!
  • Great though books may be, friends though they may be to us, they are no substitute for persons, they are only means of contact with great persons, with men who had more than their own share of humanity, men who were persons for the whole world and not for themselves alone.
  • A humility that freezes our being and frustrates all healthy activity is not humility at all, but a disguised form of pride.
  • In our age everything has to be a “problem.” Ours is a time of anxiety because we have willed it to be so. Our anxiety is not imposed on us by force from outside. We impose it on our world and upon one another from within ourselves.
  • A man knows when he has found his vocation when he stops thinking about how to live and begins to live. Thus, if one is called to be a solitary, he will stop wondering how he is to live and start living peacefully only when he is in solitude.
  • It is not speaking that breaks our silence, but the anxiety to be heard. The words of the proud man impose silence on all others, so that he alone may be heard. The humble man speaks only in order to be spoken to. The humble man asks nothing but an alms, then waits and listens.
  • When we receive our solitude by intervals, we taste its value by contrast with another value. When we really live alone, there is no contrast.
  • Landscape is a good liberator from all such images, for it calms and pacifies the imagination and the emotions
  • Do not flee to solitude from the community. Find God first in the community, then He will lead you to solitude.
  • A man cannot understand the true value of silence unless he has a real respect for the validity of language: for the reality which is expressible in language is found, face to face and without medium, in silence. Nor would we find this reality in itself, that is to say in its own silence, unless we were first brought there by language.
  • God does not tell His purest secrets to one who is prepared to reveal them. He has secrets which He tells to those who will communicate some idea of them to others. But these secrets are the common property of many. He has other secrets, which cannot be told. The mere desire to tell them makes us incapable of receiving them.

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