Thomas Merton: ‘The Mask of Affability’

Photo by Thomas Merton
Photo by Thomas Merton

In silence we face and admit the gap between the depth of our being, which we consistently ignore, and the surface which is untrue to our own reality. We recognize the need to be at home with ourselves in order that we may go out to meet others, not just with a mask of affability, but with real commitment and authentic love. That is the reason for choosing silence. —Thomas Merton

Love & Living, edited by Naomi Burton Stone and Br. Patrick Hart (Harcourt, 1979, p. 41)

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).

“Be Still and Know” contemplative prayer video

One of the great things about working at Sojourners is always getting to do something new. Here’s a video made by our assistant editor Jeannie Choi and our interactive media producer Matt Hildreth interviewing me about contemplative prayer.

I had just come back from accompanying a friend at “Divorce Court” when I made this video – so the chance to “breath in and breath out” was greatly appreciated! Hope you like it. (Read Ruth Haley Barton’s article on contemplative prayer here.)