Thomas Merton on the Monastic Way

Thomas Merton is one of the most famous of monastics of recent times. He was a prolific writer, a man who experienced deep tensions within him and who knew how to name and describe those tensions (for the benefit of his readers). Merton was one who made accessible to the larger world, what was at the time, a rather hidden, mysterious, confusing Monastic Way. Merton was a Cistercian Monk. The Cistercians were a renewal movement  (begun in 1098) in the Benedictine tradition. The Cistercians sought to recapture the original simplicity and austerity of the Benedictine Way. Bernard of Clairvaux and Aelred of Rievaulx were among the most famous of the founding Cistercians. (Please note the Final Note about Merton at the end of the post.)

Here is the thought from Thomas Merton I want to unpack with you.
Let's break down this lengthy thought.

There are pathways that are central to the monastic life. Prayer... reading... meditation... and any of the activities of the monastic life have a series of goals in mind. All the various pathways and methodologies of spiritual formation are not practiced as an end in themselves. They are in the service of a greater purpose.

That purpose includes:
1.  Purity of heart.
2.  Unconditional and totally humble surrender to God.
3.  A total acceptance of ourselves and our situations as the will of God.
4.  The renunciation of all the deluded images we have of ourselves, including exaggerated estimates of our own capacity to obey God's will.
5.  This renunciation will also include the embracing of God's necessary grace so we are able to obey God's will so we may experience its EXACTING TRUTH in all the difficult demands of daily life.

The pathways must be carefully and diligently "embraced" and "practiced" for it is a difficult thing indeed for us to truly desire, totally surrender to and closely follow the EXACTING TRUTH of God's Will for us. The invitation and summons of Jesus to a radical and costly discipleship can be daunting. You naturally wonder - how can I do this? Merton wants you to understand several things.

First - on your own, you cannot and will not rise to the summons of Jesus to follow Him.

Second - God has made a provision (by his grace) of the means that He uses to form the life of Jesus in you. These provisions are pathways and practices of prayer, devotion, meditation on Scripture, discernment, worship and more.

Third - the pathways are means of grace and yet, you need grace, even to practice the pathways.

Four - monastics were those who chose the setting of "withdraw from the world" so they would be able to more fully attend to these practices and pathways.

Five - however, the VAST MAJORITY of Christians will not (and cannot and should not) make the choice of withdraw. Instead, we make the choice for this total and humble surrender in the midst of daily life in the world.

Six - for us, the disciplined practice of the pathways by which God's transforming grace is daily lavished upon us - becomes even more vital. 

Seven - for leaders, who daily live in the challenges and struggles of leadership - you especially need a life of great intimacy with Jesus. Five to ten minutes, a few times a week are just not going to create a transforming friendship that remakes you from the inside out.

As this year is drawing closer to its end... and as a new year will soon be upon us... it would be good for you to carefully consider your patterns and rhythms of spiritual formation. And then to consider what changes you believe will be used by God to create a greater loving, humble surrender of your life and leadership to the will of God in all its EXACTING TRUTH.

Brian K. Rice
Leadership ConneXtions International

LCI - Here to help you live into a loving, humble surrender to the will of God.

Final Note:
There is much in Merton's many books that are profoundly insightful. At the same time, careful discernment is needed, especially in his later writings, for Merton began to move away from historic, orthodox Christian faith and embrace eastern religious ideas. With that qualification, this quote by Merton in the post is "spot on."