Listen to the stones of the wall.
Be silent, they try
to speak your
to the living walls.
Who are you?
are you? Whose
silence are you?
Who (be quiet)
are you (as these stones
are quiet). Do not
think of what you are
still less of
what you may one day be.
be what you are (but who?)
be the unthinkable one
you do not know.
O be still, while
you are still alive,
and all things live around you
speaking (I do not hear)
to your own being,
speaking by the unknown
that is in you and in themselves.
“I will try, like them
to be my own silence:
and this is difficult. The whole
world is secretly on fire. The stones
burn, even the stones they burn me.
How can a man be still or
listen to all things burning?
How can he dare to sit with them
when all their silence is on fire?”
–Thomas Merton (from “The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton)
Keep your eyes clean and your ears quiet and your mind serene. Breathe God’s air.
Work, if you can, under God’s sky.
But if you have to live in a city and live among machines and ride in the subways and eat in a place where the radio makes you deaf with spurious news and where the food destroys your life and the sentiments of those around you poison your heart with boredom, do not be impatient, but accept it as the love of God and as a seed of solitude planted in your soul.
If you are appalled by those things, you will keep your appetite for the healing silence of recollection. But meanwhile—keep your sense of compassion for the people who have forgotten the very concept of solitude.
You, at least, know that it exists, and that it is the source of peace and joy.
You can still hope for such joy. They do not even hope for it anymore.
–Excerpt from New Seeds of Contemplation, by Thomas Merton.
*(changed “His” to “God’s” and “men” to “people” to make language more gender-inclusive)
The song of my Beloved beside the stream.
The birds descanting in their clerestories.
His skies have sanctified my eyes, His woods are clearer than the King’s palace.
But the air and I will never tell our secret.
Christ has sanctified the desert and the wilderness shines with promise.
The land is first in simplicity and strength.
I had never before spoken freely or so intimately with woods, hills, buds, water and sky.
On this great day, however, they understood their position and they remained mute in the presence of the Beloved.
Only His light was obvious and eloquent.
My, brother and sister, the light and the water.
The stump and the stone. The tables of rock.
The blue, naked sky.
–Excerpt from Entering the Silence, by Thomas Merton.
You fool, it is life that makes you dance: have you forgotten? Come out of the smoke, the world is tossing in its sleep, the sun is up, the land is bursting in the silence of dawn.
The gentle earth relaxes and spreads out to embrace the strong sun. The grasses and flowers speak their own secret names.
—The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton (New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1977), p. 691.
O Lord, my God, where have I been sleeping? What have I been doing? How slowly I awaken once again to the barrenness of my life and its confusion. You will forgive me if it is often that way—I do not mean it to be. How little faith there has been in me—how inert have been my hours of solitude, how my time has been wasted. You will forgive me if next week, too, my time is all wasted and I am once again in confusion. But at least this afternoon, sitting on a boulder among the birches, I thought with compunction of Your love and Your kingdom. And again tonight, by the gatehouse, I thought of the hope You have planted in our hearts and the Kingdom of Heaven that I have done so little to gain for myself and for others.
Forgive me, O Lord, by Your Cross and Passion and Resurrection. Teach me to see what it means that I am saved by Your Church. Teach me how, as a priest, I am to bring others to the knowledge of You and of the Kingdom and to salvation. Teach me to live in You with care for the purity of faith, with the zeal of true hope, and with true and objective charity for my brothers, for the glory of the Father, Amen.
–Excerpt from A Search for Solitude by Thomas Merton, pp. 61-62.