Thomas Merton is wrong: Christian mysticism is a bad idea

Thomas Merton is wrong: Christian mysticism is a bad idea.

Thomas Merton was a great proponent of ecumenism.  For Merton, all religion, East and West, sought the same thing: unity with God.  He was also a beautiful writer.  Nevertheless, it seems to me that he got something fundamental wrong. 

The goal of Christian mysticism is to find unity with God.  Solitude, contemplation, self-denial and often silence all aim at the emptying of the self in order that we might be filled with God.  But what if the goal of unity is the wrong goal?  The proper Christian goal is faith in God and following the teachings of Jesus Christ.  Chief among Christ’s teachings is loving and caring for other people. 

Whatever unity with God that is necessary in order to feel fulfilled is achieved through the eucharist (communion).  We partake of the blood and body of Christ, and so incorporate his body into ours, and our body into the membership in the church.  What else is needed?  What else is there? *

Contemplation is about the self, not God

If this is so, what purpose does the contemplative search for mystical unity with God serve?  I think it serves solely the need of the individual, and little to do with a greater unity with God.  What if instead of the word “unity,” I substituted “a feeling of belonging to God’s world because I am one of his creatures.”  Putting it this way is more long winded, but it says all that need be said.  The search for wholeness is a search for self, not God. 

The experience of God in this world does not rest on the acceptance of propositions and assertions.  Arguments are not important.  The experience of God rests on faith in the unseen and unknown, and in this sense it is not wrong to say that there is a mystical element in Christianity.  But faith and feeling are different from mystical unity: they don’t require the purging of the self; they depend upon a type of non-rational knowledge.

Zen or no Zen  

For Merton, Zen was entirely compatible with Christian mysticism if by Zen we mean “the quest for direct and pure experience on a metaphysical level.”  (Merton, OZ, p 102; DD, p 149)

Who says we want or need direct experience of God on a metaphysical level?  And what does metaphysical mean here anyway, except beyond the physical?  It seems to me that this “metaphysical” experience is designed to soothe or satisfy human longing for completion.  That’s not God’s job.

The right attitude is that of Job, who learns in the end that he knows nothing, that the world is a wonder he can barely comprehend, and that his task is to accept whatever God brings him (AH).  In other words, there is a vast distance between Job and God; it was meant to be that way; and it will remain that way.  Or as God puts it, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.” (Isaiah 55:8)

From this perspective, it is impious and foolish to seek unity with God.  Not unity, but a vast respectful distance seems to be the attitude of the Bible.  Christianity changes things.   Jesus shares our humanity, and in the eucharist we participate in God.  But the basic idea remains, just as the continuity between the Old and New Testaments remains.  We experience God most respectfully when we recognize that God’s love is premised on the distance between God and man not their unity.  Between creator and created there is always a void.  The void may be bridged by love, but it is a human conceit that we can become the void and so be one with God.

The prophet and the Pope

The prophet delivers a message the world needs but does not want to hear: that there is something deeply wrong in society, and it can be named.  For Merton, the problem was alienation, and his answer was “world consciousness.” 

The alienation that Merton wrote of was not economic, but spiritual, our estrangement not only from God, but from ourselves (FV, pp 153-154).  The concept is not very clear, but I am more interested in Merton’s solution, “world consciousness.”  For Merton had come to see the world as a single organism composed of “one human family, one world.” (RT, p 65; DD, p 190)

Recently I saw a film documentary by Wim Wenders, “Pope Francis: A Man of His Word.”  Though Francis too talked in terms of one human family, he spoke from the ground up.  Needed are actual human families in which the parents love each other and their children, while having the leisure to do so.  Needed too is meaningful work, communal ties of affection and friendship, and loving care for those in need.  For Francis, world consciousness begins not in contemplation, but in those small places where humans meet, greet, and love each other.


Contemplation turns inward, in an attempt to find unity and wholeness with God.  It is a private pursuit, perhaps even a self-indulgence for those few with the time and resources to pursue it.  Pope Francis talks about bringing God into our everyday life with partners, children, neighbors, and the needy.  The two paths are not completely incompatible, but I disagree with Merton when he says

Solitude has its own special work: a deepening of awareness that the world needs. A struggle against alienation. True solitude is deeply aware of the world’s needs. (CGB, p 18)

I don’t think it’s true.  “The world is too much with us,” and solitude is necessary.  But a life of solitude is a retreat, and most important things are learned amid the love and the company of others.  Pope Francis said that it was in his work as a parish priest listening to confessions that he came to understand how important leisure and family time are.  It’s not an experience that can be learned in solitude. 


* Doctrinal differences on transubstantiation, what really happens to the wine and the host, don’t seem important here.


C. Fred Alford, After the Holocaust: The Book of Job, Primo Levi, and the Path to Affliction.  Cambridge University Press, 2009. [AH]

Thomas Merton, Thomas Merton on Zen.  Sheldon Press, 1976.  [OZ]

John Moses, Divine Discontent: The Prophetic Voice of Thomas Merton.  Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014.  [DD]

Thomas Merton, Faith and Violence.  Notre Dame Press, 1994.  [FV]

Thomas Merton, Redeeming the Time. Burns & Oates. 1966.  [RT]

Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander. Sheldon Press, 1977. [CGB]

42 thoughts on “Thomas Merton is wrong: Christian mysticism is a bad idea”

  1. I think that the natural world itself is obviously beautiful and dangerous.If God made it then God must be more than that.So seeking unity seems terrifying to me
    On the other hand, there is love and kindness between people, maybe not all the time, but there has to be or we would die.So God must be more loving and kind we are.So to seek God might be attractive.But we’d be doing it for selfish reasons or as an escape from the demands of real life.
    But that leaves me a problem.Is God Evil because there is evil in this world? Not in the natural world but in the human world.
    Or is all I have written nonsense?

    1. I have spent excessive amounts of time hiking I have never seen “evil”. But I often times run into the devil. Self deception is a funny thing.

      1. I suppose Evil is a concept that we use to label behaviour that we think is extremely bad
        Hitler to me was an evil man or a portrayal of what such could be

      2. If you had lived near Auschwitz I read the people there did not see anything wrong or evil.
        I’m not saying this is true of you but we do have the capacity to not see things that we don’t want to see

      1. I suppose that I mean that you shouldn’t seek God for your own personal gain how to stop you from seeing what needs doing in the world. According to what Jesus said where two or three are gathered together I am there l in thr midst of them. We find god through other people and we can show love and care which is probably very difficult in certain economics systems

    2. What you have written is understandable if we stay in our minds and follow reasoning. However, reasoning is limited to this world. To develop a sense of knowing that follows an unknowing of all the beliefs and so-called truths one has learned is to open one’s heart to what is Really Real and allow that Mystery to permeate one’s being. God or the Eternal One (names do not matter) is everything. Truth is a Living Reality and not a belief system. We can walk in the joy and the suffering, in the good and the evil letting all those unanswerable questions fall by the wayside.

  2. Not nonsense, you have written a thoughtful reply. For me it all comes down to how distant God is. Does he intervene daily, or has he left us to ourselves? If the latter we can’t blame God. But, we can’t always thank him either. Fred

  3. I think now that meditation should be judged by its fruits.That is in improving how we love/help others and ourselves
    It might be therapeutic but can be dangerous in excess quantities I have read.We might try to escape our troubles but perhaps it would be better to talk to somebody.
    I suppose everything can be misused.Not that I’d blame someone.

  4. If you suffer deeply and despair you may find God.I don’t know why some do and others don’t.But it should not be done on purpose
    Does that make sense?

  5. I find this article insightful. I agree with the writer that Thomas Merton’s understanding of Christian mysticism was wrong. It is the height of human conceit to seek unity with God through our own merits. That’s pride and that was the fall of Lucifer and his fallen spirits. Lucifer
    believed that he was equal in power and might that he can ascend to the Throne of the Most High. Adam and Eve believed in the lie of Satan and fell too. God is the Creator and nature and man are the created. We can not force our way to God because God seeks us first as we are created for Himself. Thomas Merton, Henry Nouwen and the rest of the New Age thinkers had a wrong concept on Contemplation. It is more about the Self than about God! Can we trust Thomas Merton? Anybody who read about his life and works knows that he was a paradox and had a rebellious streak in him. He has clearly diverted from orthodox Christianity and had fully embraced the mysticism of eastern religions and practices. To me he does not qualify as an authentic Christiam spiritual writer.

    1. I think you are writing from your own belief system,, which may be your God. When we reduce the Mystery of God to mere beliefs and how things must be we then follow that age-old tendency to idolatrize the self and all of its understandings. Contemplation is letting go of all of that and opening to the Mystery of God, without judgment. It seems to me that you do not understand mysticism at all. Only God is what is Really Real so why do we replace our God with our beliefs and interpretations of the Bible … our thoughts about Christian Orthodoxy?

  6. Sem, thanks for writing.  Take a look at my most recent post (as of 3/5) on Christianity and Buddhism.  Fred

  7. I fully understand your concerns about Merton, but that’s because I also understand the mind of one who fails to look beyond the veil of what they are brought up to believe.
    You can apply all the negativity you want to what doesn’t fit into your belief system, but that doesn’t make what you don’t believe in not true – nor is what is beyond your veil any truer than what you believe in. Both are right, and both have their places. But to sanctimoniously deny the relevance of another way of life is to hold so fast to one’s belief that it would make it impossible for the two worlds to commune in any progressive way. Oops! That word. But it’s a fact that being ultra conservative is to stagnate. And all your reliance on the “Word” as you find it does not change the facts.
    Here’s an example. Science – all fields of science – have concluded that the Universe is about 13 billion years in the making. But if you follow the generations of Man in the Bible, it’s barely 3600 years old and all that “history” was created in the one act. What the Bible portrays as a “day” is regarded as an “epoch” by science, an event that occurred over billions of Earth years each. So taking the Bible literally in all of its pages seems to be ignoring some relevant science fact.
    Here’s another example. Do you consider that the Mormon Bible is less factual than the Christian Bible? They think of themselves as Christians. But a major difference in the Mormon belief is that God lives on a planet in some far off star system, and if we die in His favor, then we become a God like him on our own planet with our own “subjects.” That’s their fact. And of course it conflicts with yours, just like Merton’s fact conflict with yours. And your facts are no truer than anyone else’s belief system. That’s a fact.
    By all means, continue in your belief, but do not make the mistake of belittling another – because that, according to the Bible – is not the Christian way.
    Merton sees humanity from a different perspective. Just like some people like okra and others do not, Merton’s theology may not be your “okra.” That doesn’t make Merton’s “okra” something that others should not partake of. Nor should you go about warning others not to partake in what isn’t your “okra.”
    Only when you die will know the Truth. And others have literally died and come back from their medically declared dead state with a truth that is way different than what they believed in before they died. And you can say it’s not true – like the people who believe in a flat earth – and you really won’t know what the truth is until you die.
    Be happy that you think you have found the “truth,” and leave others to be happy in what they have found to be their “truth.” Or be like the Muslims who follow the Prophet’s teachings to destroy all that is not in line with his teaching because it is for their own good.

    1. All I can say in response to John’s comment is that I practiced Buddhism for almost a year in S. Korea, and came away with the deepest respect for the seriousness with which so many Buddhists practiced their beliefs, which seem to me right or useful. I just don’t think Buddhism mixes very well with Christianity.

    2. I 100 % agree with this take on the article . This kind of approach of ‘my way is right, therefore you must be wrong ‘ .. is an anathema to me. What about ‘thou shalt not judge’ .. ? God knows us by what is in our hearts, I think this is what many who call themselves Christian often misunderstand. To categorically class someone else’s experience and journey in faith as simply ‘wrong’ is misguided and at best arrogant. We can only ever know what feels true for us, and follow it with sincerity and faith. Any system we engage with, be it religious or otherwise, is open to being influenced and even skewed by people’s own leanings, insecurities, needs, and biases, and sacred texts can be tools to suit different agendas, as history shows over and over again.

      If one person needs to label another as simply ‘wrong’ in order to maintain a sense of rightness and ‘self-righteousness’, then that kind of faith appears somewhat fragile. Very often preaching truth can be an excuse for not LIVING it oneself. When we truly LOVE our faith, then God knows our heart, and we dont need to put another’s faith down, or annihilate those whose relationship to God seems different to our own. Faith is not a weapon against others, to divide and judge.

      Throughout history, colonisation, suppression, shaming and domination of others has been disguised as conversion. The demonisation and destruction of indigenous communities, many of whose actual ways were more in line with the basic tenets of which Christ spoke, than those who wished to oppress them through religious power. The egoistic, colonising mentality does not arising from compassion, love, wisdom, kindness, or any of the precepts of the New Testament.

      That doesn’t mean we can be wishy washy in our own expression of faith, but it does mean we can walk our path and LIVE the truth we have found through our own sincere journeys, and know in our own hearts to be good and true, without ever needing to label another’s path wrong or misguided. The more we live our truth rather than preach it, the more genuinely drawn to God those close to us will be.

      I love the image of the elephant as God, and believers as people in blindfolds all touching a different part of the elephant and describing what they feel. They all have a general feel of what an elephant is, common factors like the warmth or overall texture, but the shapes and textures of the trunk, the tusks, the feet, the tail, the ears would be very different.

      There IS only God, a God’s being is vast and mysterious because we all have our blindfolds, ‘until we see him face to face’, and we are all trying to create a picture of God from words and texts and personal experiences that we have been gifted, and give the best possible expression to that as we can , by means of our faith and our worship. Is the man touching the tusk describes an elephant as curved and smooth and cold, more right than the man touching the trunk, who argues that an elephant is rough and wrinkled and has warm air blowing out of it?

      If they thought to swap places or ventured a little further than their own limited point of contact, they would realise that all these apparently different things they are experiencing are simply the many aspects of one truth, this vast, unified being we call God. And there are many names for God. But a name is not the same as the truth, only ever a human attempt to define the indefinable.

      I am sure when we drop our own version of the blindfold, maybe it’ll only come when we are at the threshold of this world, we wont be worrying one jot about whose description of the Elephant was right, we’ll be too swept up in the wonder of witnessing such an indescribable presence !

      As far as God goes, I believe we will finally know ourselves as inseperable aspects of this one living, unified truth, and all the beliefs that apparently separate us and make us vie for rightness, will be reveal themselves to be simply unnecessary baggage on the journey.

      Our differences should be cause for curiosity, co-operation, and celebration! All that is important is how unconditionally we love, how fully we live and how deeply we forgive… surely ?

      1. correction to my original comment:

        where I have written:
        “There is only God, a God is …”
        .. I meant to write.
        “There is only one God, and God is … ”

        Apologies I should have re-read and edited

        There is only ONE God, and God is

      1. But, isn’t it about the ‘heart’ and not about whether one’s belief is right or wrong. If my heart is open and pure will I not see past my beliefs and open to the vast reality we call God? Who declares which belief is right and which belief is wrong? If beliefs are our way to God then our beliefs are our gods. This is the meaning of idolatry. There are over 7 billion people on the planet. Does one of them have the right belief? How do we find the right belief in this vast cemetery of beliefs?

    3. I cannot agree that the Mormons belief we’ll get our own planet if we are good is of an equal value to following the example of Jesus and loving our neighbours. I find it hard to understand they will call themselves Christians the I do not question their attempts to be good people if that is what they are trying to do

  8. The key issue in this commentary is that self remains. You can’t serve self if the result is death to self. I hear no willingness in this person’s view to “Be crucified with Christ” resulting in “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” To seek union with God, one must “Deny yourself and take up your cross.” Union has nothing whatsoever to do with keeping your self-identity, cozying up with God, or following rules. Union (oneness) with God can only happen when a personal sense of self is gone (crucified). The understanding of this appears to be missed by the author.

    1. Mary makes a good point, and I think we disagree about fundamentals. The author thinks oneness with God is the goal, and I suppose this does require unselfing. I think Christ came to teach and exemplify how humans could live a good life among other humans, and so love others as Christ loves us. If something like that is true, then it’s almost impossible to be a Buddhist and a Christian. One has to choose.

      1. Did you miss Mary’s point Calford? Or did I ?
        you have determined that Buddhism doesn’t aim to help people live a good life and love others ? Of course it does ! It is easier to have one system to follow in ones pursuit of that way of life, but it certainly does not mean that Buddhism and Christianity are mutually exclusive .. in both Christianity and Buddhism the unifying principle is ultimately surrender of the self / ego / in order to embody unconditional compassionate regard for others. This always requires meeting our suffering and dissolving our desire for recognition or gain from a worldly perspective. Both demand a conscious and willing sacrifice, and can be aspects of the same journey, rather than a question of right or wrong.

  9. Hi Mr. Alford —

    Your use of the definite article catches my attention:

    The proper Christian goal . . .

    The right attitude . . .

    The experience of God in this world . . .

    I balk. Are there not different gifts, different ministries (1 Cor 12:4-5)? Merton did not claim that mystical contemplation was “the” Christian goal, “the” right attitude, “the” way to know God in this world. The contemplative or mystical life was, in his personal struggle and Catholic doctrinal setting, an arduous vocation, a calling, a mode of living needful for some Christians but not for others — not for most, in fact.

    So Merton was fine, and more than fine, with Christians being in and of the world — getting married, driving trucks, all of it. He spoke out of his own place, as must we all, but he was pluralist to the bone. By contrast, your X’ing out of contemplation and solitude as futile or worse seems narrow. You, re. satisfying the human longing for completion: “That’s not God’s job.” Bohr, reputedly, to Einstein: “Stop telling God what to do.”

    Second, it seems to me that your version of Merton’s mysticism is a straw man: “The goal of Christian mysticism is to find unity with God. Solitude, contemplation, self-denial and often silence all aim at the emptying of the self in order that we might be filled with God.”

    For Merton, unity with God was not a state to be achieved but a fact to be realized. Contemplation was for him not a system for loading up on a tankful of God but an opening of the self so that the gift already given, God’s presence in all things at all times, might be seen and known in a particular way. But that presence was not something that successful mystics had and others lacked:

    “At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes of our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will. This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us. It is so to speak His name written in us, as our poverty, as our indigence, as our dependence, as our sonship. . . . It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely … I have no program for this seeing. It is only given. But the gate of heaven is everywhere.” – Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

    Finally, this from your piece: “Contemplation . . . is a private pursuit, perhaps even a self-indulgence for those few with the time and resources to pursue it.” Sure, except that everything anybody ever does beyond clawing for the next bite of food and gulp of air can be written off as an indulgence for those with the time and resoures to pursue it: every song, joke, tale, dash of pepper, note of music. Yea, and every blog post, and every response thereto. The charge of privileged hobbyism rings particularly hollow when leveled at Merton, who struggled every day, who found anything but cushion-sitting contentment in the monastery, who worked his ass off every day, whose “private pursuit” generated a shelf of writings that are still running like fire through the minds of millions of people.

    Merton wasn’t wrong; he just wasn’t you. Or me.



    1. Helpful response Larry. I think you are just right about my use of “the,” as in “the Christian attitude.” And maybe you are right about Merton’s mysticism–it has its place. I think I’m probably a little prejudiced against Merton because of his attempt to have it all, as exemplified in his having a sensual/sexual relationship with a young woman for a couple of years while he was a monk, and living in his own hermitage on the grounds of his abbey while receiving famous visitors there. Still, Merton was above all human, and while I understand Christianity (I think), and sort of understand mysticism, I’m not sure either remains authentic when combined. However, I will certainly no longer say things like “the Christian attitude.” It’s presumptuous. Fred

    2. Wonderful Larry !!! Contemplation is a vital part of our communication with God. It is a form of listening .. not self indulgence although I am sure it can be misused that way, just as any other religious form can be misused. Prayer can often be a way of talking to God, but how do we listen if we never make a space for a reply ? Prayer and worship without contemplation is incomplete, and often more a way of throwing our problems at God and asking them to be fixed. I love what you say about Merton. Wise and true .

  10. In my very limited experience of mystical contact with something other than a human being the experience consoled me with kindness and intimated I should rejoin human society and mix with people
    I didn’t go looking for this and I don’t think one should

  11. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. This is a common directive of folks who have read about christian mysticism but have not experienced the love of mystical prayer in their own lives. I am a novice mystic. There are some key points you misrepresent. As you called it, becoming “filled with God” is not the height of hubris, but the height of humility. To empty oneself means to completely turn your soul over to Jesus and filling oneself with His love. If you think about this, it is essentially means that you are laying it all on the line for Jesus, right down to your core and into your soul. You are saying to Jesus, my soul belongs to you. If you read St Theresa of Avila or Saint John of the Cross you will get more insight into what this means and the heights of God’s love plus attitudes to be wary of. Certainly you need to be wary, Satan is crafty and we can’t stand against him on our own (but we can with Jesus). As one learns more about christian mysticism there are markers to confirm it is a sublime form of prayer. First, are the fruits of mystical prayer. It naturally leads one to become a better christian. More focused on Jesus as our savior, focused on actively helping our neighbor, being more earnest in prayer. I am just an average person, yet I am praying pretty much all day on and off and even in the night if I wake up, regardless of where I am or what I am doing. Giving thanks to God, loving Jesus and accepting God’s love in return is what I have experienced. You may suggest, these are only feelings and feelings are borne of the human and not God. I would challenge that. I didn’t practice my way into mysticism, it came to me spontaneously. I also questioned whether those moments were authentic early on, and I was also fearful they could be borne of the devil. Seeking proper spiritual direction helps with discernment. We are spiritual beings, although bound by flesh at this point of our existence. Humanity is limited by logic, rationality and human experience. We are naturally limited and mysticism is supernatural – so I get it’s not well understood. It requires one to let go of human boundaries and recognizing that God is present. “If you seek Me, you will find Me, if you seek Me with all your heart I will let you find Me”. Tapping into the spiritual world to be closer to God is not unfathomable and it is real. There are many saints and normal people like myself who place the Holy Trinity above all. Thomas Merton certainly did reach out to other religions and you can argue this is right or wrong, but I think he recognized that they were are also pursuit of God – that is, putting God before all others. Whether they can be saved is not up to me – I put my trust in Jesus, but I will not judge anyone who earnestly pursues God nor will I condemn them or others who seek friendship with them. So much more to say but I have to get to work! God bless.

    1. Greg, thoughtful comment. Since I’m not receptive to the mystical experience, it’s hard for me to understand. I recognize my limits as a critic. As long as mysticism is mixed with discernment (can the experience be shared with others?), I think people must do what works for them, as long as they remember that there is work to be done in this world, for real people are really suffering, and Christ reminds us that caring for our neighbor is caring for Christ. Fred

    2. St Teresa of Avila and st. John of the Cross were both Jewish but there family is converted to to Catholicism at a time in Spain when Jews were being badly treated I was very surprised to learn that in the Carmelite order founded by St. Teresa the practises and the spiritual readings were actually from the Jewish mystical tradition.

  12. Quoting Greg, “To empty oneself means to completely turn your soul over to Jesus and filling oneself with His love. If you think about this, it is essentially means that you are laying it all on the line for Jesus, right down to your core and into your soul. You are saying to Jesus, my soul belongs to you.” . . . . .
    I understand the words, I just can’t imagine what it feels like. I pray to be more open to God, and what that means to me has something to do with letting things be, not always trying for control. If I could do that, I could probably understand the mystical experience better. As it is, I’m about to give my neighbor some food for the “Little Free Pantry” (I can’t carry it myself). That’s how I serve God, that and writing checks to Oxfam, UNICEF, etc. I think this is an important part of being a Christian, and if the search for mystical union with God distracts us from giving to others in need, then it’s a problem. But I imagine one can do both. Fred

  13. This is a great example of where the richness of the comments truly exceeds that of the original blog poster…. thanks to Larry, Greg, Rose, and Mary for your wonderful insights and pushback against the narrow thought of this post and its theologian.

    Merton is great, D.B. Hart is great, NDE’s are life-changing (see Howard Storm). Mysticism and its corollary experiences are important and seem to point to a deeper reality outside of normal time as we experience it…

    Love and blessings

  14. My view is is that we should develop life with people in the world and participate fully. Sometimes when we are near death or suffering in other words we may experience some mystical events but there seems to guide you back to society and to life. Enjoying ourselves in mystical Union with God we should ask ourselves we are trying to escape from reality. Sometimes it’s better not to look for mystical experiences because it’s tempting to dwell in them to evade the demands of life. I will not be happy if our leading politician tells us they enjoyed mystical prayer instead of discovering the leader of the Conservative Party was a tax evader.

    1. I mean, that’s true and good points… but honestly think it doesn’t really accurate describe those involved in mystical thought and contemplation (well, maybe those in a more New Age context)…. But this is something Christian mystics and contemplatives are always working through and being mindful of (e.g. The Center of Action AND Contemplation). This is something Merton also wrote a ton about, and of course he was very involved in activism, in peace movements, in the anti-war conversation and action, and interfaith dialogue. Sounds hardly like sitting around admiring one’s belly button…

      1. Someone very wise said to me that meditation should be judged by its fruits. This was someone in the Catholic church but I think it’s appropriate for a wider audience

  15. If you remember this you Bible quotation, Elijah had hidden in a cave at the mountains because he was a friend of Queen Jezebel was going to kill him but listen to the still small voice which is contemplation but the message told him to go back down the mountain and continue being a prophet.

    And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. “And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave.

  16. In response to John Brennan McLean’s thoughtful comments. You say “Only God is what is Really Real so why do we replace our God with our beliefs and interpretations of the Bible … our thoughts about Christian Orthodoxy?”

    My first thought is that I don’t really trust myself, or anyone else, ‘opening himself to the mystery of God.’ I am so influenced by my day to day life I that I fear that opening myself to the mystery is nothing more than my own fears, needs, and desires at the moment. You may be able to open yourself in a more pure way, and that’s great for you. But then we have nothing to discuss, nothing to share. And no guidance on how to live, like the guidance found in the New Testament’s reporting of the sayings of Jesus. At least that’s how I see it. Fred (ps, I wrote the post on Merton, but I can’t find a better place to put this reply than in “new comments.”)

  17. In response to Dr. Alford’s comments, I am so influenced by my day to day life I that I fear that opening myself to the mystery is nothing more than my own fears, needs, and desires at the moment. You may be able to open yourself in a more pure way, and that’s great for you.

    Can we cognitively understand the mystery of life dwelling on this lonely planet? I don’t think so. Nineteen years ago the desire of my heart was no longer about my cognitive self when I first opened my heart in earnest for some relief from the existential and emotional pain I felt. I followed the response to my cry and I was compelled to keep following this Presence that I felt in my body and soul. It was like a walk in a deep dark forest but there was light on the path as I let my ‘self’ fall behind and I moved with great desire in my heart towards the love I experienced in my existential pain. My desire grew and as I moved along the path I began to let go of my cognitive beliefs ( I realized how limited my world was due to clinging to a cognitive way of knowing). I do not now regard my beliefs to be absolutes (hard beliefs). I do hold ‘soft beliefs’ that are questions about this journey I am on. My awareness of the Presence becomes stronger as I move into the ‘deep dark forest.’ I see that the issue may be that most people want to ‘know’ before they walk into the deep dark forest. How can we know before we open up to our fears? How can we refer to language-bound ways of knowing when we know that our languages are limited to the cultural worlds we dwell in. Language cannot travel into the infinite universe and discover ‘ultimate reality.’ I can only say that fear begins to fall away when one sets the desire of their heart towards the One who is. If the desire of our heart is only about ‘me’ I then will find myself caged in the sense of who I think I am. This may be what Simone Weill meant when she said, “all disorders are disorders of the heart.”

  18. John’s comment about the limits of cognitive thinking and that there is much we can experience, maybe the most important things, that are beyond words and doctrine seems right. Perhaps my relative lack of openness to non-verbal experience is a lack of imagination on my part. How could I know that this wasn’t true? Still, I find the teachings of Jesus about how to live and love others in this world the most valuable contribution of Christianity to my life. I won’t repeat myself anymore. By the way, one contributor to this string said the comments are better than the original posts. That’s fine with me. BTW, my goal is to have a better website and that means better discussions. And that means some readers will make a greater contribution than I. At least in that regard, I’m not a prisoner of my ego. Fred

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