Today, December 10, is the anniversary of Thomas Merton’s entering the monastery in 1940 and also the 54th anniversary of his untimely death.

The Martyrdom of Thomas Merton by David Martin and Hugh Turley.

About the latter, significant research recently has pretty much concluded that he died a martyr for peace.*  My own investigations came to the same conclusion, indeed, they culminated with my meeting a person a few months after my book on Merton came out who worked with the CIA as a young man in southeast Asia at the time and I asked him, “Did you guys kill Thomas Merton?” and he answered: “Yes we did.  And I have spent the last 40 years of my life cleansing my soul from what I did working for the CIA as a young man.”  

Merton had much to say about a healthy via negativa and therefore the season of Advent that we find ourselves in.  One of his definitions of contemplation is this: “Contemplation is essentially a listening in silence, an expectancy.” 

Surely Advent is both an expectancy and a listening in silence. 

It is Merton who tells us to “love winter when the plant says nothing.”  Nature is undergoing darkness and solitude and silence this time of the year after all.   “Be in the midst of nature!” he advises.  “The woods and nature should be part of your solitude.” 

“Solitude, Ranca Upas, Indonesia.” Photo by kilarov zaneit on Unsplash

He elaborates on solitude this way:

If you see a heavenly light
I, Solitude, am your professor!
I go before you into emptiness,
Raise strange sounds for your new mornings,
Opening the windows
Of your innermost apartment…
For I, solitude, am thine own self:
I, Nothingness, am thy All.
I, Silence, am thy Amen! 

Here Merton invokes the God of darkness:

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


*See Hugh Turly & David Martin, The Martyrdom of Thomas Merton: An Investigation; and John Smelcer, Enacting Love: How Thomas Merton Died for Peace; and Fox, A Way To God, pp. 141f.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, A Way To God: Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality Journey, pp. 68-71, 73.

To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner Image: “Greeting the dawn.” Photo by George Coletrain on Unsplash

Queries for Contemplation

Do you find yourself expectant and listening in silence at this time?  Do you sense others are doing the same?  What are we expectant about?

Recommended Reading

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


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9 thoughts on “Thomas Merton on Repose, Silence and Advent”

  1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
    Richard Reich-Kuykendall

    Today, December 10, is the anniversary of Thomas Merton’s entering the monastery in 1940 and also the 54th anniversary of his untimely death. You say that, “Merton had much to say about a healthy via negativa and therefore the season of Advent that we find ourselves in. One of his definitions of contemplation is this: “Contemplation is essentially a listening in silence, an expectancy.” Surely Advent is both an expectancy and a listening in silence. Merton tells us to “love winter when the plant says nothing.” Nature is undergoing darkness and solitude and silence this time of the year after all. “Be in the midst of nature!” he advises. “The woods and nature should be part of your solitude.” Then you end our DM with a beautiful reflection by Merton on solitude and the God of Darkness. You ask if I find myself expectant and listening in silence at this time? Yes, I am expectant–waiting to see my two grandsons’ experience of Christmas! Unfortunately, having done religious services for over 30 years for Advent and Christmas, my idea of the via negativa at this time of the year is to be “via negativa” about the whole thing–resting in silence and not going to church.

  2. Avatar

    I have been trying to be faithful to centering prayer practice, which is a helpful way to sit in silence and solitude and to be open. Waiting and watching during this advent season and being open to the spirit and the hope that comes with the sleeves rolled up is very freeing for me.

  3. Avatar

    Silence, the cozy overcoat worn comfortably by introverts
    and boots lined with solitude.
    Natural watchfulness, our instinct serves us well on paths of contemplation.
    Turning away from windswept chaos
    we find the stillness of a winter-hushed forest
    taking shelter and resting
    in our-selves

  4. Avatar

    In my past I have easily resonated with Merton’s words in today’s DM, “Love winter, when the plants say nothing. Nature is undergoing darkness, solitude and silence. Be in the midst of nature… in the woods… and practice this.” However, something now has happened that threatens my ability to practice this.

    There are two acres of woodlands next to my property, that have recently been purchased by a builder. The other day, he came with his backhoe and chainsaws. I knew this day of darkness and destruction would come. I have spoken often with the ancient trees, the granite stones, the earth and all the spirits of this little piece of sacred land… weeping over their plight… speaking prayers of gratitude for their many blessings of beauty I have received over the past 25 years, due to the gift of their essence and presence. I managed to hold off the devastation for a few more days, due to the builder not acquiring the necessary permits in his attempt to use our driveway as his entryway in building his new road into the forest. Now my husband and I are trying to arrange the finances to buy half of the woodland forest he plans to destroy. Time is of the essence and I’m not sure how it will all unfold. I find it difficult to be silent, to find solitude within all of this destructive darkness.

    1. Avatar

      Would that you could buy all the woods!

      I once rented a cottage in woods. I saw surveying stakes. I called a local wetlands conservancy. The person I called came, walked through with me, wrote a report. It had 5 different riparian zones along a creek,… The owner evicted me, but largely donated the land as a park instead of subdividing. It now has parking and rest rooms in our clearing, paths throughout, and a bridge to get across the creek instead of using a log. Overdeveloped, from my point of view, but available to all instead of only 2 or 3 renters and not shut off in developed lots with some trees left standing.

      Maybe you are looking/could look for others, a conservancy,.. who would buy this or join you in buying this land? Establish permanent protection? Or a parks district, county, city? How they would develop it is a consideration.

    2. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Jeanette, Today it is easy to hear the stress in your comment. You write: “Now my husband and I are trying to arrange the finances to buy half of the woodland forest he plans to destroy. Time is of the essence and I’m not sure how it will all unfold. I find it difficult to be silent, to find solitude within all of this destructive darkness.” First of all I wish you Godspeed in your buying of half of the woodland which is up for destruction !!! As to finding solitude in the midst of chaos, you will need more than good luck you will need “one-pointedness”–or “singlemindedness” or as Jesus said, “Let your eye be single.” In times like these, the only thing that will get us through is a sense of trust that all will turn out as it should.” “And we know that all things work together for good, unto those who love God…” (Romans 8:28)–not that all things are good, but that all things work together for good…

  5. Avatar

    I feel called to be expectant and listening at this time, yet often, even in my contemplation time,
    I’m noisy inside. Yet I’ve noticed I can ask Love for mercy and to be put back on my listening path,
    and I get mercy again and again, which allows me to immediately re-enter silence with renewed
    gratitude for Love.

    I’m deeply grateful for your beautiful Meditation today, Matthew Fox, which invites us to relish the wisdom of
    our amazing brother Thomas Merton. Thank you too, from the bottom of my Thomas Merton-inspired heart,
    for your astonishing courage in seeking the truth about the terrible injustice of his assassination by the CIA. I
    feel you, Hugh Turley, David Martin, and perhaps a few others really carried the torch for us all.

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