Contemplative Prayer

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Contemplative Prayer Class

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Okay, as usual, let's go back and review a bit what we covered last time, also because I didn't give adequate treatment to some of those things. We were in such a rush at the end of the last class. We were going through Art in Section 5 on Pure Contemplation. Let me just outline that again for you. First of all, a description of mystical contemplation and a list of what he calls its essential elements. A list which turned into a surprisingly meandering treatment of contemplation with a good deal of cogency in it, however. And then five texts on contemplative prayer. You get the feeling throughout this Section 5 that he's not happy with any particular scheme and so he's sort of moving around, trying different perspectives. So he gives you five texts and discusses each one a little bit, but without a whole lot


of consistency. That's not his preoccupation, consistency, and then he gives you three signs of contemplative prayer. I want to talk about those a little bit. And then finally he talks about what he calls the paradox of the illuminative way, which is really the conflict, the duality, the tension, and the interior struggle that the illuminative way brings on. Synthesizing those points from the eleven elements that he picks up, the first one is a vague point, because there's something, probably a lot of his difficulty in this section comes from simply the ungraspability of contemplation. He wants to say so many things about it, and then at the same time realizes that whatever you say about it is not it, doesn't really touch it. But he says contemplation is an experience of loving or unitive knowledge which transcends all our activities and faculties, even our knowing.


It's a gift and a self-communication of God. Secondly, contemplation is a function of love, and he keeps repeating that. Thirdly, contemplation requires detachment, and the detachment and the love are connected, of course. It's a kind of priority of love. And fourthly, contemplation has a dark side. It's frequently painful and also brings about an interior crisis, what he calls an interior revolution, a conflict within us. I'm not going to say anything about those five texts, but they're worth close study because they're key texts. Some of them are, like the one from Dionysius, and also the one from Ricebrook, a very central text. These three signs, these seem to be an adaptation of the three signs in St. John of the Cross and the Ascent of Mount Carmel, Book 2, Chapter 13, which are the indication that somebody should give up discursive meditation and turn to contemplative prayer.


It's amazing how much space John of the Cross uses on that issue. He comes back to it again and again and again, against, I guess, the hard-headed spiritual directors who are not willing to let people give up their point-by-point meditation. The books of meditation that you had coming from that time and the centuries after that are enough to drive you into the ground. The methodical, meticulous way in which meditation was pursued, trying to draw logical conclusions and then trying to squeeze out some emotion and a resolution out of your reflections. Oh, what suffering people were subjected to. You can imagine in communities where you were taught that's the way you were formed, you were to do that, and meanwhile your nature wants to do something else, and grace is, as it were, attracting you to something more simple. Merton's three signs here are on page 67, it's his 73, and they're not, they're pretty


far from the signs that St. John of the Cross gives you, but they're obviously operating on the same principle. It may be that somewhere else in the works of John of the Cross there's another treatment of these three signs which is different. But Merton's got the first one is this inexplicable and undaunted seeking, that is this desire and the movement that the desire motivates. The second one is a forgetfulness of other things, an indifference to other things, other things seem meaningless. And the third one is difficult for me to distinguish from the first one in a sense, it's a sense of attraction, an experience of attraction which binds the soul to this inserior grace or presence, even though it seems utterly dry and unsatisfying. Let me read the three signs of St. John of the Cross. This is from Kavanaugh's edition, page 140 and 141.


The first sign, and remember these are for giving up discursive meditation, that rational point-by-point method. The first sign is that one cannot make discursive meditation or receive satisfaction from it as before. Dryness is now the outcome of fixing the senses upon subjects which formerly provided satisfaction. When he says senses here he means imagination basically. As long as one can, however, make discursive meditation and draw out satisfaction, one must not abandon this method. Meditation must only be discontinued when the soul is placed in that peace and quietude to be spoken of in the third sign. That's clear enough. The second sign is an awareness of a disinclination to fix the imagination or sense faculties upon other particular objects, exterior or interior. So there's this sense of some kind of a wall between you and particular things. They may be particular objects of meditation, or they may be actual things in the outer


world. They may be people's situations, the context of daily life. People frequently have that experience when they're sitting in a crowd or something like that. They seem to have nothing to do with what's going on. But this is a more continuous and stronger experience. The first is a disinclined to fix the imagination purposely upon extraneous things. The third and surest sign is that a person likes to remain alone in loving awareness of God without particular considerations, very much like Martin's third sign, in interior peace and quiet and repose and without the acts and exercises, at least the discursive ones, those in which one progresses from point to point of the intellect, memory, and will, and that he prefers to remain only in the general loving awareness and knowledge we mentioned, without any particular knowledge or understanding. So it's that gravitation, that magnetism that Martin's talking about.


And St. John of the Cross says, to leave safely the state of meditation and sense, which is imagination really, imagination and feelings connected with imagination, and enter that of contemplation and spirit, the spiritual person must observe within himself at least these three signs together. Of course there's a movement back and forth, the person returns to meditation. It's in Kavanaugh, page 140, 140 and 141, it's this one, the hardbound complete work. Probably the paper found is the same page number, I'll try to check to see. Let's close that door because the rest of the world is going to know about it. Okay, now this business about the paradox of the, oh yeah, he's got something about


the threshold of the illuminative way here. It's a relief after what he's been talking about on page 68, R68, his 74. He goes into a piece of poetic prose, and suddenly comes the awakening to a new level of experience. So now you get the idea that there's actually a progression here, at least in the third and fourth parts of this section five of this article. There's a progression from these signs to an awakening of the illuminative way, and then to the conflict within the illuminative way. Now you notice here that Merton has, without saying it, accepted this threefold scheme of the spiritual life of 1, 2, 3, affirmative, illuminative, and imitative. So he's talking about entering the start here, and he's talking about the threshold of the


illuminative stage. Okay, and the illuminative stage is the stage when the consciousness expands and is enlightened, and the darkness, the darkness at least is pushed away. It may come back, and will come back, but one is aware just of another dimension of the, just of a new dimension of reality. However, these are not airtight compartments. You've heard that a lot already, but just to prove it, the purgations, because the nights of St. John of the Cross are purgations, and the purgations go all the way up to the unitive life, and what's more, the phases all overlap anyhow. So even in the unitive stage, there's still purgation going on. There's still plenty of night, plenty of darkness. It would be nicer if we had clear categories, and you could sort of graduate the way we do in school. But it takes a lot of effort. Wasn't he a little bit back and forth in the illuminative, where it was like some darkness,


because your conscious world couldn't perceive the illuminative? That's what he's getting into when he gets to the paradox of the illuminative way. That's going to come up in a minute. He gets deeper, because for him, the light is always darkness too, to put it very strongly. Remember that quote from Pseudo-Dionysius, which says, the ray of darkness, the divine ray of darkness, the ray of divine darkness, which is an incredible phrase. But Merton goes along with that completely. So contemplation is always a kind of light and darkness, which is not simply an alternation, but somehow the light is right in the darkness, and the darkness is light. That's what you find in John of the Cross too. And it's the darkness of faith that's not, it's partly experiential, and partly, in some way, ontological. The language comes largely, not only, but comes in our Western tradition from John of the


Cross, because of that language of night that he uses, the night of the soul, the dark night. Another vocabulary might talk about that as emptiness or as desert wilderness. So that's a very nice couple of paragraphs there on our page 68, about this sort of honeymoon phase. But it's also one of Merton's enthusiastic pages when he forgets about the back and forth of it. And what does he say? From then on, its whole life is transformed. Although externally, sufferings and difficulties and labors may be multiplied, the soul's interior life is not completely simple. It consists of one thought, one preoccupation, one love for God alone. Now, obviously, that's an idealization, especially in the light of what follows, where he talks


about the paradox of the illuminative way. Now, this paradox is a conflict, it's a struggle. But notice that Merton somehow seems to himself to be undergoing more turbulence while he's writing this section than he is in some of the other sections. And so you'll find that nothing quite settles down for you, and that's probably appropriate. And he ends, more or less, with this section on the struggle, isn't it? He spends a long time, he's got, what, about four pages on that struggle or paradox or conflict, the interior revolution, as he calls it, of the illuminative way, the middle way. And therefore, it's obviously a matter of experience for him, and probably of present experience at that time. So the interior revolution is the transition from an exterior to an interior life and an


interior self, and it involves bewilderment and intense interior warfare. He identifies this paradox explicitly in two ways, two different ways. It's interesting. Down towards the bottom of 75, he says, The paradox of the illuminative way is then that the awakening and enlightening of the inner man goes with the darkening and blinding of the exterior man. Now, that sounds very, let me just say, logical in a way, but it's not logical at all when you experience it, because you may not experience the awakening and enlightening of the inner man at the same time or strongly enough to reassure you about what's happening to the exterior man. Notice that in these stages, the movement is from outside to inside, so it's as if as


you're moving from pergative to unitive, you're also moving inward, I'm sure. And it's as if this illuminative way is in the middle, and that's why he talks about the paradox, the struggle, the conflict of the illuminative way, of the middle way, as it were, where outside and inside seem to be at war with one another, or where the, what do you call it, the illumination of the interior is accompanied by the purgation of the exterior. That's right. But then there's also the purgation of the interior. I don't want to draw too sharp a parallel, but it's a movement of interiority, interiorization, as well as a movement of illumination and union. Okay, that's one definition of this paradox of the illuminative way. Yes? The question on knowing the darkening of the exterior first, I think it's easier if you're conscious. Well, I think it's probably a little bit harder to discern the illumination of the


interior. I mean, it would just be a pretty simple feeling of love for God, or the character we were in. I think it's different in different people. Notice the way that he's talking about contemplation here. And the word contemplation itself has a kind of, it relates more to the mind than to the feelings, okay? So we're coming from there. We're coming from the side of knowledge, an experience of, let's say, the deep intellect, something like that. And moving, once in a while he'll mention that it's also, or it's centrally, an experience of love. So he's coming from that cognitive side, that side of the mind. And so he's talking more in terms of light than of love. But different people experience these things in different ways. I think that some personalities are much more open and much more sensitive and receptive on the side of love, on the side of feeling, than they are on the side of light or knowledge. And so their experience tends to be more affective. And so some of what he's writing about the other, because Merton has a bit of a Buddhist


tendency himself, a bit more inclined towards the cognitive side, or on the side of John on the cross rather than St. Teresa. Notice he never quotes Teresa of Avila. He always quotes John on the cross. So he's in that line, which is the more apophatic line, but it's also the more intellectual line. Whereas a person more on the feeling side would experience this awakening more on that side too, an awakening of love. They would speak of an awakening of love and, what would you say, a sense also of union within them. Loving union rather than of light. How would you explain like the cognitive interior, the enlightenment of the cognitive interior? That's what I'm having a hard time understanding, because the exterior, I can see it's the kind of thing you normally see. Yes, okay. For the interior. Okay. Yeah, it is confusing. But I think the key to it is that the understanding and the feeling themselves go all the way


down to the center in some way. And in some way there's a Trinitarian image within the human person. So I don't like to use this thing too much. I use one of Cyprian's poems. How's that? So suppose this is the spirit down here. This is the center of the person, okay? And then you're moving through levels of psyche and mind here, okay? Levels of depth. And the exterior world is out here, okay? So, say we've got the cognitive over here. I'll put knowledge. And we've got the affect over here, I'll put love. So, as you move inwards, the two come together more. But as all the way down, as far as one can experience, it's as if our experience can only be that knowledge and love in some way. They come together, they converge, but it's knowledge all the way and it's love all the


way, all the way down to the center, I believe, okay? They get less and less distinct. And the touch of God may be totally indescribable, but insofar as we can describe it, it's about knowledge and it's about love. Because how can we experience anything without knowledge? See, knowledge and experience become the same thing, don't they? Knowledge and experience, at a certain level, knowledge has to be experienced, doesn't it? When we're talking about this kind of knowledge, and not just something you know in your head or not something you know by repetition, but we're talking about immediate, unitive experience, which has to be a knowledge. As it gets more spiritual, experience becomes more of a knowing. But it also becomes, at the same time, it continues to be a feeling, but it's a deeper, purer feeling, okay? So I think we have to be willing to take these two metaphors of knowing and feeling all the way down to the center of the human person, insofar as we can experience anything at all, okay? Merton will talk also about a union which is beyond experience, that's something else. Or John LaCrosse will talk about a union with God in the substance of the soul.


Okay? Now, is it beyond knowing? Is it beyond feeling? If it is, then it's beyond experience. Or it's another kind of experience that we don't even have any language for, because of its depth and purity, okay? But remember, John LaCrosse likes to talk about, he talks about this image of God in the Trinity in the psyche, it's the psychological image of the Trinity, of intellect, will, and memory. So this is intellect moving in here. And this is will, and then memory somehow, he even tends to identify with the substance of the soul, I guess, in the tradition of St. Augustine. So, knowledge starts out here with something very crude, can be, what, it can be even sense knowledge out here, something you can see. I see a red Mustang out here. And then it gets subtler and subtler, and it's like logical knowledge, and then it's an intuitive knowledge, and then it's a very pure, intuitive knowledge for which there


are no words, and it moves, gets purer and purer over time, and meanwhile, it's a version of feeling, okay? But, he talks about memory and substance down here, but he's still talking about experience in some way, and so there's still a knowledge involved, and there's obviously a feeling involved. But, we get beyond our words, it's a problem. But, we have to be willing to allow those various levels of knowing. Maritain talks about that kind of thing in that great big book of his, remember, what's the name of that book? Something about degrees of knowledge, let's see. Okay, he's got two definitions of this struggle of the illuminative way. One of them is that darkening and blinding of the exterior man as the interior man is enlightened and awakened. That's something to reflect upon, I think, and see if it resonates with your own experience


if you have that double experience sometimes, of being in a fog outwardly, and not just being, what would you say, attracted inwardly, or touched, but also be enlightened, if you experience that real paradox of light and darkness, in terms of exterior and interior. The other definition, over on R71, is 77. The great paradox of the illuminative way is that, when progress becomes serious, that it gives the bewildering impression that all spiritual life has collapsed and that progress is in a mess. One suddenly seems to be going backwards. And he says the reason for that is it's not our own activity anymore, and we're used to gauging our progress by our own activity. We check the miles off, sort of, by what we've done and what we've achieved, or at least the sense of some kind of activity, some kind of operation going on.


But here there isn't anything, it's the touch of God and so on. Of course, we may be going backwards, too. There's an Ashley Brilliant card that says, yes, you may be paranoid, but they really are activities. Okay, perhaps we shouldn't spend much more time on this, because we have to begin our material with today. Let me say something about that business of the dark nights of John of the Cross, though, because I'll also refer you to Kavanaugh. He's got a very nice scheme, an outline of the Ascent of Mount Carmel and the Dark Nights and the Dark Night of the Souls, books that go together, on 62 and 63, about the same volume, 62 and 63, because there are really four nights, okay? There's the active night of sense and the passive night of the senses.


There's the active night of the spirit and the passive night of the spirit. And as far as I understand it, all of those together are the dark night of the soul, okay? including and embracing both sense and spirit. Because also in the Dark Night of the Soul, in that book, he includes the passive night of the senses. So, the Ascent and the Dark Night, those two books are completely organized according to this scheme of the four nights. Now, the active night is what we do, in other words, it's what we renounce, what we forego, what we set aside, what we leave behind, what we deny ourselves. And the passive night is the passive purification by the very light of God, by the very, you might say, invasion of God. And this is contemplation, therefore. You might be puzzled.


I was puzzled about what, and I had to check this out again, about what the active night of the spirit could be. We can imagine pretty well that the passive night of the spirit would be when the divine light, the divine fire in you is deeply burning within your psyche, within your spirit. And you feel it as pain, you feel it as negativity, as oppression perhaps, or alienation, or even condemnation in some way, as being totally lost, totally in the darkness. That's not so hard to imagine. Probably all experience on it. What would the active night of the spirit be? The active night of the sense is fairly obvious, too, because it's not allowing, not using your imagination, it's not, as well as the exterior senses, but the interior senses of imagination and feeling, depriving you of all kinds of delights and things, you know, allowing a kind of space, a void, an emptiness, a darkness there. The active night of the spirit, remember the spirit for him is intellect, will, and memory.


So the active night of the spirit is the denial of intellect, will, and memory, okay? It's as simple as that. And of course it's catalogued, and he goes through it quite concretely. In books two and three of the Ascent of Non-Karma. So we have to renounce our desires to understand things, and to enjoy things. He also correlates these three faculties, or parts of the soul, with the three theological virtues. Faith relates to the intellect, love relates to the will, and hope relates to the memory. Any questions on that before we go on?


These things up here on the left, those are some passages, remember that, those 13 pages that you've got somewhere in your binder, that are quotes, Merton quotes from other books of his, about contemplation. Those are the pages and the numbers in those 13 pages where he has texts that directly refer to this pure contemplation that we've been talking about in his section five. Even though all of those quotes practically relate, indirectly at least, and implicitly to the pure contemplation, because whenever he's talking about contemplation he's got that somewhere in his mind, somewhere in the background. So I put them up there so you can take a look at them if you want, you can mark them or check them off. On our general outline for the course, we had intended to talk about ways and means. However, I'm not going to spend a lot of time on this, because you get a lot of that in other places, and the whole of monastic life is set up to supply ways and means for


contemplation. So I'd refer you to, for instance, the Comaldes Constitutions. There are three chapters there where the ways and means are set out. You've got chapter three, which is about prayer, where you've got several levels. You've got Eucharist, you've got Divine Office, you've got Lectio Divina, and then you've got what they call Oratio Privata, or Interior Prayer, as it's translated there. And then you've got chapter four on monastic asceticism. And in chapter four, the basis that's used is from an early Comaldes work, I can't remember which it was, the Life of Rommel, perhaps, or the Constitution of Blessed Rudolph, I don't remember, where Saint Rommel is said to have left his disciples no compendium of doctrine of his own, but the rule of Saint Benedict, and he left them


a way of solitude, of silence, and of fasting. Selendi, Tachendi, and in Cella, Miminendi. Something like that. Those three things, okay? So solitude, silence, and fasting are taken as the key ascetical means in the way of Saint Rommel, in that sense. But behind that you've got all the monastic vows, and you've got the rule of Saint Benedict and everything. Poverty, chastity, obedience. These things all, as it were, taken for granted. So it would lead us into too big an area to try to discuss all of that. And then in chapter five, you've got poverty and work, both of which are involved with this. Work may seem to be pulling on the opposite end of the rope from contemplation, but it's something also that relates to contemplation. And poverty does too. You remember that book of Panikkar's, Blessed Simplicity, that I've often referred to?


He has a good grip on the contemplative orientation of monasticism, and the central monastic virtue for him is blessed simplicity. Now if you think about that, it's amazing how many of the monastic practices and renunciations can be embraced under that term simplicity. The most obvious one is poverty, but it includes also the renunciations of the vows. The other ones, you know, celibacy, chastity, and obedience, and so many other things. So it's a very good general kind of title, I think, for the monastic way. Relating directly to what we were talking about, contemplation, that is, as union and as unity, as unitive experience, and as interior experience. And also relating, resonating, with what we just read in St. John on the Cross, where it's a matter of purification. His whole thing there, in all of those works on the dark nights, is purification, whether


it's active or whether it's passive, whether it's of the senses or whether it's of the spirit. It's all in the same direction. To say simplicity, to say simplification, or to say unification, would be simply synonyms, different perspectives on the same thing, the same way. Of course, at the bottom we have to place, talking about ways and means, the theological virtues, which are the substance of Christian life, that is, faith, hope, and love. If we must have a diagram, of course we must, I'm just going to rest this for a few minutes. I think we can talk about these ways and means the same way that we talked about prayer,


before the ways of prayer. Let's see, here you could put the way of simplicity, and all of those renunciations, the renunciation of the world, all of the purifications that are part of monastic life. Here you could put the way of the word, which means Lectio Divina, and also the liturgy, and everything that flows from that. So, if you've got the way of simplicity is the way of emptying, the way of purgation, okay? So you're creating an empty space here, and then the way of the word, or the category of the word, that's where you're putting something into the empty space, that's where you're putting the seed into the ground. This is like the purification of the ground, it's like what we call the weeding, the harrowing, whatever. It's the creating of the space, and this is the beginning of the filling of the space, which is also going to be illumination.


And over here you've got the way of love, which, when you're talking about prayer, is affective prayer, okay? So it's also part of the liturgy, isn't it? Because the liturgy is a way of praise, and it's very much about community, the whole community dimension of Christian monastic life. So very much of the rule of St. Benedict is about this. And of course, if you've got all the rest of this, and you don't have this, you don't have the Gospel. So Christian monastic life is a special focus on this, and especially the Benedictine monastic life. And then finally, what I call, maybe the way of emptiness. And as a way, or means, this is practically identical to contemplation, and up here I would put something like just silent meditation. Just, and notice how, if we go to simplicity down here, and there's emptiness up here, and they're in a straight line, they're in a direct line. One is moving away from the world with this way of simplicity, or purgation, and one is


moving towards God by this way of emptiness, which is also unity up here. So this is like the external correspondence to this interior reality up here. Okay, this being a way of asceticism, this being a way of contemplation. It's possible, of course, to make all kinds of correlations there, like the Jewish tradition of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, or the purgative, illuminative, and unitive ways. Or St. John of the Cross, with his purgation in the nights, where he talks about the purgation of sense, that would be at the bottom. And then of intellect, and will, and finally memory, at the top, which he equates with substance, with something like the center of the spirit of the human person. Now he's just talking about purification there.


Now here we're not only talking about purification, we're talking about the nourishing, the feeding with the word, for instance. What I propose is that that's just the structure of our psyche, so you can always use that scheme for organizing things. It makes you think you know something, if you have a diagram. There are also four margas, as they call them, in Hinduism, remember, of the way of thought, of knowledge, the way of action, the way of devotion. There's another one, I believe, which is the way of samadhi, the way of contemplative emptiness, but I don't find that where I was looking for. There's a book by an American who sets out very nicely the Hindu way in terms of the four ways. But the fourth one for him is not the way of emptiness or the way of contemplation. It's the way of yoga, of discipline. Okay, now we get to our section six, and we're going to have to give it short shrift if we


want to finish today. Let me, first of all, give you a brief outline, and then we'll see if there are any questions about it, and then I'd like to make a couple of accents before we quit today. Before I forget it for next time, please read the next section of Martin, which is section six, is it not? Seven, okay. Now notice we're sort of past the peak of our study of contemplative prayer, and we're heading down into the, what do you call it, the peripheries, the accessories. The context and other factors. Now in this section six that we assigned ourselves for today, first of all Martin talks about


illuminism, and for him illuminism is the kind of obsession with experience. In other words, going for the experience, and making an idol, making a god out of one's spiritual experience. Now the word illuminism has a lot of history, of course, in Christianity, and it's not maybe the best word to use because it's been used very heavily and unjustly sometimes. I think that, as Thomas Keating writes about it, that there was a prejudice against contemplation in the Christian tradition during certain centuries, like about the 16th, 17th century, does he say? 17th, anyhow. In terms of illuminism, that is contemplation was accused of being illuminism or quietism. These isms get used, like communism, get used in a very kind of scattered and blanket and


careless and unjust way sometimes. At any rate, what he's talking about here is going for experience instead of going for God, and so he's very cautious about that. And here you always find a paradox, as you do at St. John of the Cross, where he tells you to ignore and renounce all kinds of experience, and he fills his books with spiritual experience. So they're a veritable kind of candy store of delights, and then he's telling you all the time to renounce it, go past it. So this is just riddled with paradoxes, as is necessary when talking about something like this, which is essentially paradoxical. And he talks about drugs, and this was just the time, remember he wrote this in 1959, the drug thing was young at that point, and he's talking about Aldous Huxley here, who wrote a book called The Gates of Perception, about his own experience with drugs, mescaline and so on. So Merton is treating it as though the questions were all still open and the evidence were


not yet in, so it's different now, thirty-five years later, when we've seen so many people ruined by drugs and so on. But he's extremely cautious, although he admits the possibility that there may be a spiritual experience induced by drugs, yet he's saying that nobody should go for it that way, and he's saying that, I think, almost intuitively, instinctively, because he knows there's something wrong, because he knows somehow that it's a short circuit, and that experience somehow is not it, and he may be getting this experience with me while you're losing something else, but it's very hard, from the point at which he's speaking, it's very hard to pin that down. The true contemplative is a lover of sobriety and obscurity. He prefers all that is quiet, humble, unassuming. He has no taste for spiritual excitements.


They easily weary him. Yeah, I think it's true, and then you go over and you read that other page where he's talking about the Great Awakening to the Illuminative Way, and there's plenty of excitement there. So, once again, we're in the paradox, we're in the revolving door, you see. Then the section on contemplation and neurosis. He sounds rather ruthless here, as he often does. I suppose he got this way from being novice master and so on. He sounds that way very often in that book, New Seeds of Contemplation. Basically, what he seems to be saying is that there are two kind of attitudes. One is neurotic, and the other one is healthy, towards contemplation. The neurotic attitude is basically an attitude of withdrawal from life. It's an evasion, withdrawal from reality, and a sinking into a kind of trance, a kind


of semi-conscious state, which looks very much like a contemplative state, looks very much like the prayer of quiet, but isn't. And the other way, he says, is not a withdrawal from reality, but somehow a movement towards reality, in which the person is awakened rather than entranced. And the first one, the neurotic one, he says, has in some way to go for the experience and to put great value on the experience, because that's the only way he can justify what he's doing, justify his evasion. It's the only way in running away from reality that he can make his life worthwhile, is to say, this is it, illumination, enlightenment, whatever it may be, you know, satori, contemplation. So he really makes that a big deal. And really what he's doing, however, is somehow subconscious instead of superconscious.


So that's the thesis. The neurotic cannot help but self-consciously exploit his opportunities for spiritual experience. He's compelled to do this, to allay his anxiety and to justify his withdrawal from reality as a religious act. In actual fact, his contemplation is a lie, an act of idolatry. So Merton sounds like Moses. You're going down from Sinai and slaying, you know, slaying all about him, and smashing the golden calf and so on, and dividing them into two camps, the sheep and the goats, and telling Aaron and his sons to slay the goats. I don't know if it's as simple as that. It may be that we all have some or both in us, you know, that we all have some of this neurotic tendency, including Merton. So we have to be a little careful about that ruthless kind of judgment we see here. Nevertheless, what he's saying, I think it's true, that we have to discern within ourselves where the evasion is and where the truth is, where the authenticity is, and make a choice


therefore to turn away from one and go towards the other. But I think it's not only is it a mixed matter, but I think it's also a repeated choice that we have to make as we're in different situations throughout our life. Sometimes it's hard to tell which of those two situations you're in, whether you're in a state of genuine, let's say, prayer of simplicity or something like that, or a kind of trance, a kind of numbness. But the very concern with that, keeping your conscience awake and open, and keeping open the possibility in your mind that you are in an inauthentic position, and the desire for the truth is a safeguard, and the willingness to open it up to somebody else and to get some feedback on it. But once we decide that we're okay, we're safe, we're really in the contemplative land


and we don't have to worry about veracity or reality checks any longer, we can really be in danger. Then he goes off on the institutional contemplative life once again, over on our page 78. So it's obviously something very much in his mind at that time. And he's talking about a rhythm of life which is hostile to contemplation, that is, the tempo of life which is geared to the, as he would say, the extrovert person. And he's thinking now of the tractor outside the window, as he writes, and the cheese factory that he has to go to. Then he's got a section there on the desire for contemplation. That's kind of what you call an obligatory treatment of one of the questions of that day, as to whether you can legitimately desire contemplation. And notice that once again we get to the paradox, don't we?


The paradox that we're meeting everywhere. Because take the Buddhist perspective in which it's actually the extinction of desire that is the state of enlightenment, okay? Virtually the same. Even the word nirvana means what? The blowing out of the flame means the extinction of desire. So how can you desire the very extinction of desire? Or to put it another way, if you desire contemplation, you're going away from, against contemplation because contemplation is the absence, the termination of desire, okay? Is the non-desire. So therefore to desire is to go in an opposite direction. So he has to deal with that paradox here. And he's dealing also with a lot of stuff that we don't need to think about because it's history now. Those questions that were fought about 30 years ago or 40 years ago about contemplation. So he continues to stress, repeats his stress on some of his points here. First of all, contemplation just exists.


It is a fact. It's not a doubtful matter. But secondly, it's not something extraordinary. It's something ordinary that belongs in normal Christian life. Not only in Christian life, but in the life of all the religious traditions. Contemplation should not be exaggerated, distorted, and made to seem great. It's essentially simple and humble. If we desire contemplation, we should be desiring more than contemplation. We should be desiring, what would you call it? The union and the purity of heart that go with contemplation. And that Gashin identifies with contemplation. Then towards the end of this section, down at the bottom of 146 and the top of 147, he gets specific about the real obstacles to contemplation. Not so much the desire for contemplation, but he says rigidity and prejudice, for one thing. He thinks he knows what it is beforehand.


And the second thing is this success orientation, by which direction, you know. So it's rather hard to get rid of that. It's deep in us, at least Americans. He who thinks that contemplation is lofty and spectacular cannot receive the intuition of a supreme and transcendent reality, which is at the same time imminent in his own ordinary life. That's quite profound. It reminds me of one of my favorite Rahner articles, The Experience of God Today, where he talks about the change in the quality, actually, of the experience of God in history. And that today we cannot seek it in the extraordinary. We must seek it somehow in the depths, in the imminence of our own ordinary lives. I wonder if Merton had read that Rahner article at the time. And then finally, he's got a long section on the sense of sin. I think this is a very important section in Merton's work.


First of all, he's very ironic about modern man and the innocence of modern man, who he says is full of sin and doesn't have any sense of sin. And something very sinister in our culture is the kind of movement towards the extinction of a sense of sin. One might be surprised to say that the first step toward spiritual liberation is not so much the awareness of what lies at the end of the road. The experience of God is a clear view of the great obstacle that blocks its very beginning. That obstacle is called sin. You can argue about which comes first, which the contemplative touch of God, the attraction to God, or the sense of my personal sin, which comes first. Because one can be inside the other. Your sense of sin may have inside it a touch of the presence and union with God. But Merton is at his literary best when he's writing about the foibles of modern man


in contemporary society. He's wickedly sharp and ironic, sarcastic, as here. The hopeless innocence of modern man who is so full of sin that he no longer experiences contrition and is consumed with guilt only for what is relatively inoffensive. He's like the Johann Sebastian Bach of sarcasm when he gets going. He just plays. And then the distinction between sin and guilt. Guilt for him here is something social. In other words, guilt is being disapproved. If I'm guilty, that means I'm anxious because I'm afraid somebody's going to blame me. But sin is something authentic, and his paragraphs there about the genuine sense of sin, starting at the bottom of 81, 147, and going through the next page, are quite important. Not because I have violated a law outside of myself, but because I have violated the


inmost laws of my own being, which are at the same time the laws of God who dwells within me. See, this is the contemplative perspective, which is unitive and imminent in the sense of it's not this dualistic idea of you're going against an exterior law, but the violation of the law which is one with you and is God at the same time. The violation of the being of yourself and the being of God, and the two being intimately related. To have a sense of sin is to realize myself to be not only morally but spiritually dead. Moral death would save or rather of guilt. I've been killed by the violation of a law. There he's being a little bit arbitrary with his language, moral and spiritual. But spiritual death is the sense of having separated myself from truth by complete inner falsity, from love, by selfishness, from reality, by trying to assert as real a will to nothingness. Once again, a literary Martin, he's the poet of this kind of thing.


The sense of sin is then something ontological and immediate, which does not spring from reflection of my actions in comparison to the moral code. It springs directly from the evil that is present within me. Note the symmetry of that with the contemplation that he's talking about. Do you see that? A contemplation is an immediate experience, unmediated by symbols and ideas and concepts and perceptions and other things of God. And this is an immediate experience of sin. It's like a negative experience of God. It's like a negative contemplative experience. There's something to think about. I think it's quite profound. And then he gets sarcastic again about collective morality and the kind of society where the only guilt you feel is some kind of offense against the common code. And meanwhile, you and everybody else are ignoring all kinds of real sins and evils.


Somewhere he wrote something about Eichmann. I don't remember where. Eichmann, you remember, was in charge. It was at Auschwitz or the whole system. I think he was in charge of the whole liquidation of the Jews. And he was a perfectly good man. His trial and everything, he appeared as a perfectly upright man who was simply following orders and simply doing what he should do, as people do in the service, as people do when they're working for the government or in the military. You do what you're told and you do it as well as you can. That's what he was doing, exterminating millions of Jews, just as he was told to do. That's what he's talking about, you see. Where the only guilt you feel, the only sin it's possible for you to experience in yourself is somehow breaking the common code, is somehow offending your society, getting out of step with the common thing that's going on. This is a very important awakening, not only for somebody in Nazi Germany, but for Americans


as well, you know. Because I think the time of Vietnam, for instance, was the time of our beginning to wake up to that, when people would riot in the streets about what was happening in Vietnam. That's this kind of awakening, you see. Where you decide, look, the whole thing is wrong. The whole thing's going in the wrong direction. We have to be able to do this. So Merton is a prophet in that sense. Take, for instance, the willingness of the majority of believers, he means religious people, to accept the hydrogen bomb with all that it implies, with no more than a shadow of theoretical protest. Elsewhere, he'll talk about the whole just war, you know, and so on. But it's been remarked that the more totalitarian a society is, for example, out of Russia or Hitler's Germany, the less its members feel any sense of sin. So the society absolves you from sin. There's a subtle, very powerful psychology operating there, as in Hitler's propaganda, by which anybody who's a member of this thing, stays at step, doesn't feel any guilt or


sin at all. No problem at all. You just go along. It's like an artificial god. It's a completely idolatrous kind of empire. So then, in contrast to that, he says on 83, it's the vocation and mission of the contemplative to keep alive the spirit of man and to nurture, at least in himself, personal responsibility before God, and personal independence from collective irresponsibility. Hence, part of the mission of the contemplative is to keep alive in the world the sense of sin. So here, Merton joins hands with somebody like Berrigan. And you know how active Merton was, or vocally was, about things like peace and nuclear weapons and so on. This relates to Merton identifying a monastic movement, the Desert Fathers, with the first axial period, remember? With a time of the emergence of individual consciousness and a sense of individual responsibility


against the background of collective and tribal societies back in what, even in the BC time, time of Buddha and so on, and then in our own tradition in the Desert Fathers. Then one more point here before we quit. And that is, he says, because of the horrors of our time, the experience of contemplation itself is different today than it was in ancient times. Now, that's something I'd like to come back to in our final session in a couple of weeks. But is the contemplative experience really different nowadays than it was in the 5th century, in the 11th century, time of Saint Romuald, or in the 16th century, the time of John of the Cross and Saint Teresa? That was 16th century. Is it different today? And if it is, is there any explanation, is there any meaning that we can take from that? Merton says there is. He says that the experience of contemplation itself is somehow related to the spirit of


the times, and therefore the evil, the particular evils that are present in our world of today are going to affect or be reflected in your own contemplative experience. And he implies here that the experience of light, which has characterized the contemplative experience in earlier times, is not going to be so predominant in our experience today, but rather an experience of darkness and an experience of emptiness. So he says a lot there that he doesn't pursue and doesn't develop afterwards. But see, the implications of that are very great, enormous implications for all that he's been saying, because it puts everything that he's been saying about contemplative prayer, contemplative experience, in a different perspective, in a different light. So he'd like to see that more developed. It puts it in sort of parentheses. The contemplative life in our time is therefore necessarily modified by the sins of our age.


They bring down upon us a cloud of darkness far more terrible than the innocent light of unknowing. Now, you have to take that relatively, too, because there were evils in those ages, too, and those evils were no doubt somehow part of the contemplative experience. This doesn't begin today, it doesn't begin just now, but there's something to it. It is the dark night of the soul which is descended on the whole world. Contemplation in the age of Auschwitz and Dachau, Solovki and Karaganda, is something darker and more fearsome than contemplation in the age of the Church Fathers. Well, in the age of the Church Fathers, the devil was around, too, and there were, you know, horrors in the world, immense horrors. Maybe there wasn't so much Christian complicity in the horrors, though, in those days. I don't know, for one thing. It's something to think about, because I think it's important for the whole subject. And so on the next page, the final page of this section, or page 84, he says that we


can't expect to have dramatic contemplative experiences in our time. We can expect our contemplative life itself to be a life of emptiness and a sense of dullness. Leave nothingness as it is. In it he is present. Our contemplative life today must be a life of deep sorrow and contrition. And remember that Merton is a poet, he's an artist, and he's the kind of writer who will, at one moment, move with the intuition and the feeling of that moment, say something, and at another moment, move with the intuition and the feeling of that moment, and say something which seems completely different, whereas on a completely different tone. And in a sense, that's good, because it allows him to move closer to the curvature of truth. And he would if he was working from hard and fast principles and was a completely logical person.


Okay, any questions before we quit today? By being unfair to the material, we've actually gotten up to the end of the chapter. Okay, next time we'll tackle part seven there. Thank you.