We are exploring the foundational question: What does it mean to be human?  We are drawing from the “10 C’s” to learn what they tell us about being human.  We are currently dealing with the “C” called Contemplation or Meditation.  The late Catholic monk, Thomas Merton, has lots to say about contemplation. 

Thomas Merton. Photo from the Thomas Merton Center

About Silence, he says this. 

Be still
Listen to the stones of the wall
Be silent, they try
To speak your

To the living walls.
Are you?  Whose
Silence are you?

Such an invitation!  Listen to the stones of the living walls and learn who one is, to whom one belongs. 

I cannot read this poem without thinking of a sweat lodge where, thanks to the ancient wisdom of the indigenous peoples, a ceremony is created wherein the rocks themselves, the oldest beings on earth–our elders– speak to us when they are heated up and glowing. 

Sweat lodge. Photo by Hvoenok, Adobe Stock

I do not know if Merton ever experienced a sweat lodge but I remain profoundly grateful for the numerous ones I have been blessed to attend.

Another poem by Merton speaks to silence as well.

       …The whole
World is secretly on fire.  The stones
Burn, even the stones
They burn me.  How can a man be still or
Listen to all things burning?  How can he dare
To sit with them when
All their silence
Is on fire? 

“Sweat Lodge” by Kristof Zerbe, Flickr

Here too I hear Merton invoking a sweat lodge.  But he is also speaking to a profound truth revealed in post-modern science and that is that every atom in the universe contains photons or light waves. 

Thus all atoms and all beings are on fire.  All beings are a burning bush.  One does not have to travel to Mount Sinai to encounter the Divine if every bush is a burning bush, every leaf, stone, fish, bird, animal and person.  We are all on fire.  We need to take our shoes off like Moses did and reverence that. 

We have to “sit with them” and be receptive to them.  We have to dare to sit and listen.  To dare silence.  That is the contemplative way.  Merton says: “Contemplation is essentially a listening in silence, an expectancy.” All beings are, in Eckhart’s words, “words of God and revelations of God.”  Merton knew this well.  But it takes silence to grasp it.

“Behind the pain fear/Etched on the faces/Something is shining/Like gold but better/Rumours of glory…” Bruce Cockburn sings of the Divine fire in each of us. Uploaded to Youtube by WFUV Public Radio.

For Eckhart, emptying the mind is the most powerful prayer, one almost omnipotent to gain all things, and the noblest work of all is that which proceeds from a bare mind….A bare mind can do all things.  What is a bare mind?  A bare mind is one which is worried by nothing and is tied to nothing which has not bound its best part to any modes, does not seek its own in anything, that is fully immersed in God’s dearest will and goes out of its own. 

A bare mind dwells in the now.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Christian Mystics: 365 Readings and Meditations, pp. 313, 312, 318. 

And Matthew Fox, Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior for Our Time, pp. 42f.

Banner Image: Sunrise silence. Photo by Linda Xu on Unsplash

Do you agree with Eckhart that “a bare mind can do all things?”  That’s pretty wild talk, isn’t it?  Do you feel what Merton is saying, that all beings are on fire?

Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior For Our Time

While Matthew Fox recognizes that Meister Eckhart has influenced thinkers throughout history, he also wants to introduce Eckhart to today’s activists addressing contemporary crises. Toward that end, Fox creates dialogues between Eckhart and Carl Jung, Thich Nhat Hanh, Rabbi Heschel, Black Elk, Karl Marx, Rumi, Adrienne Rich, Dorothee Soelle, David Korten, Anita Roddick, Lily Yeh, M.C. Richards, and many others.
“Matthew Fox is perhaps the greatest writer on Meister Eckhart that has ever existed. (He) has successfully bridged a gap between Eckhart as a shamanistic personality and Eckhart as a post-modern mentor to the Inter-faith movement, to reveal just how cosmic Eckhart really is, and how remarkably relevant to today’s religious crisis! ” — Steven Herrmann, Author of Spiritual Democracy: The Wisdom of Early American Visionaries for the Journey Forward

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3 thoughts on “Merton (and Eckhart) on Contemplation”

  1. Avatar

    Thank you for sharing Bruce Cockburn’s song, Rumours of Glory. It awakened my spirit this morning and lifted me into Glory.

  2. Avatar

    Thank you, Matthew, for today’s DM. “Bare Mind” and “listening to the living walls” spoke to me. Especially in these times when everyone I encounter seems to be stressfully intense about viruses or politics. It is not always easy for me to remain peaceful and balanced when my mind gets hooked.
    You also reminded me of my several sweat lodge invitations for which I am ever grateful.
    Thank You, Mark Berry (I had the pleasure of finally meeting one of my favorite authors in Auburn at Foothill Center.)

    1. Carol Kilby

      I agree Mark, this series Matthew’s offering us on contemplation is extremely valuable. The path back to a peaceful balance is a surprising one. Eckhart’s invitation to no-thingness, to contemplate on the quantum void from which all has emerged is powerful for me. On the path of detachment, the Via Negativa, I become conscious of my choices to be other than the voices of crisis declare me to be, and more than the voices of despair predict that I am. The Bare Mind, beautiful repose, and restoration. Blessings. Carol Kilby for DMTeam.

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