Eckhart & Merton on Silence and Contemplation – Cont.

In Contemplation, one dares the dark.  One enters into silence and darkness. Eckhart is famous for celebrating the Apophatic Divinity, the God of “superessential darkness who has no name and will never be given a name.”  Darkness indeed. 

The prophet said: ‘You are truly a hidden God’ (Is. 45:15) who dwells in the ground of the soul where the ground of God and the ground of the soul are one ground.

Evening sunset in Regent’s Park, London, United Kingdom. Photo by Luke Stackpoole on Unsplash.

When we talk of God “we have to stammer” and thus it is best to “maintain total silence about that which is the source of all things.”   Indeed,

…the most beautiful thing which a person can say about God consists in that person’s being silent from the wisdom of an inner wealth.  So be silent and do not flap your gums about God.

Merton too celebrates the Apophatic Divinity:

My love is darkness!
Only in the Void
Are all ways one:
Only in the nigh
Are all the lost
In my ending is my meaning.

And again in the following poem:

Standing in the light and shadow. Photo by Steve Halama on Unsplash.

Closer and clearer
Than any wordy master,
Thou inward Stranger
Whom I have never seen,
Deeper and cleaner
Than the clamorous ocean,
Seize up my silence Hold me in Thy Hand!

And in this admonition for the role of silence—even in church. 

Let there always be quiet, dark places in which people can take refuge.  Places where they can kneel in silence.  Houses of God, filled with God’s silent presence.  There, even when we do not know how to pray, at least we can be still and breathe easily….a place where your mind can be idle, and forget its concerns, descend into silence, and worship God in secret.  There can be no contemplating where there is no secret.

Fr. Richard Rohr OFM discussing contemplative prayer and why it is important.

And this from his Asian Journal:

The deepest level of communication is not communication but communion.  It is wordless.  It is beyond words and it is beyond speech and beyond concept. 

He speaks of silence as a “golden zero.”

Fire turn inward
To your weak fort,
To a burly infant spot,
a house of nothing.
O peace, less this mad place:
Silence, love this growth.

The flame of the heart. Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash.

O silence, golden zero
Unsetting sun
Love winter when the plant says nothing.

Merton also links solitude to art and to nature when he writes the following:

In the interior life there should be moments of relaxation, freedom and ‘browsing.’  Perhaps the best way to do this is in the midst of nature, but also in literature.  Perhaps also a certain amount of art is necessary, and music…You also need a good garden, and you need access to the woods, or to the sea.  Get out in those hills and really be in the midst of nature a little bit!  That is not only legitimate, it is a certain way necessary….The woods and nature should be part of your solitude….

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior for Our Times, pp. 37, 39. 

And Matthew Fox, A Way To God: Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality Journey, pp. 73, 75f. 

Matthew Fox, Christian Mystics, p. 301.

Banner Image: Gazing on the horizon in the midst of the ocean. Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash.

Queries for Contemplation

Do you also find darkness and silence and solitude in art and nature as Merton does?  And Eckhart does?  How useful is that to you and your work and relationships?

Recommended Reading

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

A Way to God: Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality Journey

In A Way to God, Fox explores Merton’s pioneering work in interfaith, his essential teachings on mixing contemplation and action, and how the vision of Meister Eckhart profoundly influenced Merton in what Fox calls his Creation Spirituality journey.
“This wise and marvelous book will profoundly inspire all those who love Merton and want to know him more deeply.” — Andrew Harvey, author of The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism

Passion for Creation: The Earth-Honoring Spirituality of Meister Eckhart

Matthew Fox’s comprehensive translation of Meister Eckhart’s sermons is a meeting of true prophets across centuries, resulting in a spirituality for the new millennium. The holiness of creation, the divine life in each person and the divine power of our creativity, our call to do justice and practice compassion–these are among Eckhart’s themes, brilliantly interpreted and explained for today’s reader.
“The most important book on mysticism in 500 years.”  — Madonna Kolbenschlag, author of Kissing Sleeping Beauty Goodbye.  

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1 thought on “Eckhart & Merton on Silence and Contemplation – Cont.”

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    Two more quotations on silence:

    “…therefore, in order to achieve that state of Silence which is beyond thought and word, either the path of knowledge, which removes the sense of “I,” or the path of devotion, which removes the sense of “mine,” will suffice. So there is no doubt that the end of the paths of devotion and knowledge is one and the same.”
    Ramana Maharshi (H)

    “The simple, absolute and immutable mysteries of divine Truth are hidden in the super-luminous darkness of that silence which revealeth in secret. For this darkness, though of deepest obscurity, is yet radiantly clear; though beyond touch and sight, it more than fills our unseeing minds with splendours of transcendent beauty.”
    Dionysius of Areopagite [Pseudo-Dionysius] (C)

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