Catholic monk Thomas Merton declared that every non two-legged creature is a saint. Furthermore,
…every plant that stands in the light of the sun is a saint and an outlaw. Every tree that brings forth blossoms without the command of man is powerful in the sight of God. Every star that man has not counted is a world of sanity and perfection. Every blade of grass is an angel singing in a shower of glory. These are worlds of themselves. No man can use or destroy them.
He criticizes his and our inability to be grateful and present to the immediate joy of being when he chastises himself:
Dance in this sun, you tepid idiot. Wake up and dance in the clarity of perfect contradiction. You fool, it is life that makes you dance: have you forgotten?
Much of Merton’s sensibility to the sacredness of nature no doubt comes from his Celtic roots as both his parents were of Welsh ancestry and it is the Celtic tradition that settled all the way down the Rhineland and so imbued Eckhart and Hildegard (raised in a Celtic monastery) as well as Saint Francis in north Italy with a respect for the sacredness of nature.
Editor Kathleen Deignan writes that Merton “celebrated gratefully the Celtic spirit that coursed through his Welsh blood” and Celtic monasticism and how he
…shared a similar spiritual temperament with these masters of natural contemplation (theoria physike) who sought God less in the ideal essences of things than in the physical hierophanic cosmos.*
It becomes readily clear that beginning with his move to the hermitage in 1960, a new part of his Celtic soul opened up.
His engagement with nature as farmer and deforester was also tactile, athletic, even sensuous; like his father, he loved to walk barefoot in the woods, feeling the fragrant pine needles of Gethsemani beneath him.
We are told that “the natural world played” a great significance “as the ecstatic ground of his own experience of God.”*
Listen to his own words:
I live in the woods out of necessity. I get out of bed in the middle of the night because it is imperative that I hear the silence of the night, alone, and, with my face on the floor, say psalms, alone, in the silence of the night….
The silence of the forest is my bride and the sweet dark warmth of the whole world is my love and out of the heart of that dark warmth comes the secret that is heard only in silence, but it is the root of all the secrets that are whispered by all the lovers in their beds all over the world.
Yes, nature is his bride. Deignan comments on this passage that
in time…his unique subjectivity opened to the cosmos in wonder and awe, sounding a silent interval of praise in the rapturous hymn of creation.
This was the mature Merton, washed in the creation spirituality of Meister Eckhart and his Celtic forebears.
*Kathleen Deignan, ed.,When the Trees Say Nothing: Thomas Merton Writing on Nature, pp. 32f., 22f.
Adapted from Matthew Fox, A Way To God: Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality Journey, pp. 56f., 59f.
See also: Matthew Fox, Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior for Our Times.
Banner Image: Dew in the grasses. Photo by Anton Atanasov from Pexels
Queries for Contemplation
Do you recognize every non-two legged creature as a saint? And every plant as a saint and an outlaw? And every blade of grass as an angel? If not, what are we missing? If we do, what follows from that?
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.
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
Join Matthew Fox for a thought-provoking 7-week course: Answer the Call for an Uncommon Life Through the Mystical Teachings of St. Hildegard, Tuesdays, 6/15 to 7/27. While the course has begun, registration remains open, with recordings of past classes available. Learn more HERE.
Join Rabbi Rami Shapiro and Rev. Matthew Fox for a 1.5-day Virtual Teach-in on “Cosmic Wisdom and the Divine Feminine: Lost Insights for an Emerging World.” Friday, June 25, 4:00 PM to Saturday, June 26, 2:30 PM Pacific (GMT/UTC-7). Enroll HERE.