Merton says that silence is necessary and churches should provide plenty of it: 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….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.
We undergo silence and experience anew “man’s enormous want” when we encounter silence and a “house of nothing.”
Fire, turn inward
To your weak fort,
To a burly infant spot,
A house of nothing.
O peace, bless this mad place:
Silence, love this growth.
O silence, golden zero
Love winter when the plant says nothing.
Sister Lentfoehr, a fellow poet and close friend to Merton, elaborates on what Merton, building on Eckhart’s understanding of nothingness and the dark night, is meaning. She writes:
It is when we lose the ‘self,’ according to Eckhart, ‘the persona that is the subject of virtues as well as visions, that perfects itself by good works, that advances in the practice of piety—that Christ is finally born in us in the highest sense.’ This is the pure, the perfect poverty, when one is no longer a ‘self,’ a concept that touches the ‘point of nowhereness,’ a point of nothingness in the midst of being.
It is here where the Christ is born.
There too, Eckhart tells us, we “return to our unborn self” and become as free “as we were when they were not yet” and “in this poverty, people attain the eternal being that we once were, now are, and will eternally remain.”
Merton’s apologia for living in a hermitage in the woods incorporates the darkness of the night.
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.
Notice how important the silence is—it is “necessary” and “imperative” and invites aloneness.
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 Merton’s bride. And with nature comes darkness—not only at night but also in the winter, in advent.
Adapted from Matthew Fox, A Way To God: Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality Journey, pp. 73-77, 60.
To read a transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.
Queries for Contemplation
How does it feel to you to hear Merton say the silence of the forest is his bride and how we learn of secrets heard only in silence and the root of those secrets are being whispered by all the lovers in their beds all over the world? What does that mean to you in this advent time?
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.