I met on my retreat to “Neverland” two people who had met Thomas Merton. I don’t know how the subject came up, but I took it as a sign to polish off some of his books that I read during my sabbatical. Both men who knew Merton. met him as he was attempting to bridge the gap between Eastern and Western spirituality.
He once said, “… in spiritual life there are no tricks and no shortcuts. Those that imagine they can … usually ignore God’s will and grace. They are self-confident and even self-complacent. They make up their minds they are going to attain to this and try to write their own ticket in the life of contemplation.”
His words are important to consider as we finish the first month of this new year, as resolutions are already broken, and our path of good intentions are paved with roadblocks. Eastern religions make short shrift of a contemplative life that begins with self-confidence. We can’t face the difficulties of a life of prayer, contemplation, and meditation unless we approach it as a child, a beginner who needs to learn the basics. Those who think they know from the beginning will never, in fact, come to know anything.
The psalmist in Psalm 39, one of Merton’s favorites, pledges, “I will guard my ways that I may not sin with my tongue.” Perhaps as we enter this new year we should begin with a similar pledge — by going through a portion of the day in silence. Silence frees us from the compulsion to control others and begins the contemplative way.