What Does the Contemplative Life Require?

merton-jean-jacketCatholic monk and writer Thomas Merton grew into his contemplative life at Gethsemane monastery in Kentucky. He didn’t enter the monastery as a full-blown contemplative. He learned his calling over time.

As I explore what it means to nurture and cultivate a Christian contemplative life while living in the inner city and working an 8-hour day to the rhythms of the American work force, I find Merton’s list below revealing.

This will give us some idea of the proper preparation that the contemplative life requires. A life that is quiet, lived in the country, in touch with the rhythm of nature and the seasons. A life in which there is manual work, the exercise of arts and skills, not in a spirit of dilettantism, but with genuine reference to the needs of one’s existence. The cultivation of the land, the care of farm animals, gardening. A broad and serious literary culture, music, art, again not in the spirit of Time and Life – (a chatty introduction to Titian, Prexiteles, and Jackson Pollock) – but a genuine and creative appreciation of the way poems, pictures, etc., are made. A life in which there is such a thing as serious conversation, and little or no TV. These things are mentioned not with the insistence that only life in the country can prepare a [person] for contemplation, but to show the type of exercise that is needed.–Thomas Merton

The Inner Experience: Notes on Contemplation, edited by William H. Shannon (HarperSanFrancisco, 2003, p.131).

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