Tuesday, September 24, 2019

City Notes '19 Special | The Abbey of the Genesee Silent Retreat Readings by Thomas Merton: Thoughts in Solitude

There is no such thing as a prayer in which “nothing is done” or “nothing happens,” although there may well be a prayer in which nothing is perceived or felt or thought. … God, in His mercy, accepts our unsuccessful efforts in the place of real meditation. Sometimes it happens that this interior helplessness is a sign of real progress in the interior life – for it makes us depend more completely and peacefully on the mercy of God. + Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude

Recently, I was given the privilege to spend 72+ hours with Cistercian monks and other ministers of our denomination at The Abbey of the Genesee in Upstate New York. This invitation and gift is meant to develop within church planters and ministers the historic practice of going into "out-of-the-way spaces" without technology or distraction, in some ways imitating Christ's practices during His ministry to be alone with our Father. The plan was for 36 hours of my time there to be in complete silence, which I have never done before, but was really looking forward to in having an extended time of solitude and silence with God. Each day had a steadfast liturgy to participate in with the monks. My favorite moments with them were Lauds + Mass, Vespers, and Compline.

3:30 a.m. | Vigils: First Prayers + Psalms 
6:30 a.m. | Lauds + Mass: Morning Prayers + Psalms + Scripture Readings + Eucharist 
10 a.m. | Tierce: Mid-Morning Prayers 
12 p.m. | Sext: Midday Prayer + Psalms
2 p.m. | None: Mid-Afternoon Prayer
5:30 p.m. | Vespers: Evening Prayers + Psalms  
7:30 p.m. | Compline: Night Prayers + Psalms 491134

In preparation for this silent retreat, there were three books I planned to digest and meditate on specifically. These were Henri Nouwen's The Genesee Diary and Thomas Merton's Thoughts in Solitude (given to me by our denomination ahead of time) along with Paul Pastor's The Face of the Deep

This special version of City Notes will include favorite pull quotes from all three, featuring little subheads I gave for each quote as a point of reference. The first post included excerpts from Nouwen's The Genesee Diary. This post will feature excerpts from Merton's Thoughts in Solitude.

The Abbey of the Genesee Silent Retreat Readings | Thoughts in Solitude by Thomas Merton

Part I | Aspects of the Spiritual Life 

IV | 

Self-Surrender: Real self-conquest is the conquest of ourselves not by ourselves but by the Holy Spirit. Self-conquest is really self-surrender. Yet before we can surrender ourselves we must become ourselves. For no one can give up what he does not possess. More precisely – we have to have enough mastery of ourselves to renounce our own will into the hands of Christ – so that He may conquer what we cannot reach by our own efforts. + pg. 18

V | 

Risk Everything to Gain Everything: Laziness and cowardice are two of the greatest enemies of the spiritual life. And they are most dangerous of all when they mask as “discretion.” … Laziness and cowardice put our own present comfort before the love of God. They fear the uncertainty of the future because they place no trust in God. … Laziness flies from all risk. Discretion flies from useless risk: but urges us on to take the risks that faith and the grace of God demand of us. For when Jesus said the Kingdom of heaven was to be won by violence, He meant that it could only be bought at the price of certain risks. And sooner or later, if we follow Christ we have to risk everything in order to gain everything. We have to gamble on the invisible and risk all that we can see and taste and feel. But we know the risk is worth it, because there is nothing more insecure than the transient world. “For this world as we see it is passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:31). + pgs. 22-23

VI | 

Distress Is Advantage When We Have Nothing to Seek but Jesus’ Mercy: If we know how great is the love of Jesus for us we will never be afraid to go to Him in all our poverty, all our weakness, all our spiritual wretchedness and infirmity. Indeed, when we understand the true nature of His love for us, we will prefer to come to Him poor and helpless. We will never be ashamed of our distress. Distress is to our advantage when we have nothing to seek but mercy. We can be glad of our helplessness when we really believe that His power is made perfect in our infirmity. + pgs. 25-26

VI | 

True Compassion & Forgiveness: The surest sign that we have received a spiritual understanding of God’s love for us is the appreciation of our own poverty in the light of His infinite mercy. We must love our own poverty as Jesus loves it. It is so valuable to Him that He died on the Cross to present our poverty to His Father, and endow us with the riches of His own infinite mercy. We must love the poverty of others as Jesus loves it. We must see them with the eyes of His own compassion. But we cannot have true compassion on others unless we are willing to accept pity and receive forgiveness for our own sins. We do not really know how to forgive until we know what it is to be forgiven. Therefore we should be glad that we can be forgiven by our brothers (and sisters). It is our forgiveness of one another that makes the love of Jesus for us manifest in our lives, for in forgiving one another we act towards one another as He has acted towards us. + pgs. 26-27

VII | 

Full of Promise: We enjoy created things in hope … not as they are in themselves but as they are in Christ – full of promise. + pg. 28


True Gratitude Is Constantly Awakening to New Wonder: Our knowledge of God is perfected by gratitude: we are thankful and rejoice in the experience of the truth that He is love … There is no neutrality between gratitude and ingratitude. Those who are not grateful soon begin to complain of everything. … True gratitude and hypocrisy cannot exist together. They are totally incompatible. Gratitude of itself makes us sincere – or if it does not, then it is not true gratitude. … To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything He has given us – and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him. Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God. + pgs. 32-33

X | 

Let Us Embrace Reality & Live Our Lives: Why did Christ become Man if not to save men by uniting them mystically with God through His own Sacred Humanity? Jesus lived the ordinary life of the men of His time, in order to sanctify the ordinary lives of men of all time. If we want to be spiritual, then, let us first of all live our lives. Let us not fear the responsibilities and the inevitable distractions of the work appointed for us by the will of God. Let us embrace reality and thus find ourselves immersed in the life-giving will and wisdom of God which surrounds us everywhere. + pgs. 37-38

X | 

Real Progress in Prayer: There is no such thing as a prayer in which “nothing is done” or “nothing happens,” although there may well be a prayer in which nothing is perceived or felt or thought. … God, in His mercy, accepts our unsuccessful efforts in the place of real meditation. Sometimes it happens that this interior helplessness is a sign of real progress in the interior life – for it makes us depend more completely and peacefully on the mercy of God. + pgs. 41, 43

X & XI | 

Presence Regardless of Feeling: If we can, by God’s grace, turn ourselves entirely to Him, and put aside everything else in order to speak with Him and worship Him, this does not mean that we can always imagine Him or feel His presence. Neither imagination nor feeling are required for a full conversion of our whole being to God. Nor is intense concentration an “idea” of God especially desirable … We ruin our life prayer if we are constantly examining our prayer and seeking the fruit of prayer in a peace that is nothing more than a psychological process. The only thing to seek in contemplative prayer is God; and we seek Him successfully when we realize that we cannot find Him unless He shows Himself to us, and yet at the same time that He would not have inspired us to seek Him unless we had already found Him. The more we are content with our own poverty, the closer we are to God, for then we accept our poverty in peace, expecting nothing from ourselves and everything from God. + pg. 43, 46


The Sinful Self is Not My Real Self in Christ: I could not know You, I would be lost in this darkness, I would fall away from You into this void, if You did not hold me to Yourself in the Heart of Your only begotten Son. Father, I love You Whom I do not know, and I embrace You Whom I do not see, and I abandon myself to You Whom I have offended, because You love in me Your only begotten Son. You see Him in me, You embrace Him in me, because He has willed to identify Himself completely with me by that love which brought Him to death, for me, on the Cross. … (Father) You have willed to see me only in Him, but in willing this You have willed to see me more really as I am. For the sinful self is not my real self, it is not the self You have wanted for me, only the self that I have wanted for myself. And I no longer want this false self. But now Father, I come to You in your own Son’s self, for it is His Sacred Heart that has taken possession of me and destroyed my sins and it is He Who present me to You.


Awakened to Life by the Voice of Jesus: There will never be any awakening in me unless I am called out of darkness by Him Who is my light. Only He who is Life is able to raise the dead. And unless He names me, I remained dead and my silence is the silence of death. … My life is a listening, His is a speaking. My salvation is to hear and respond. For this, my life must be silent. Hence, my silence is my salvation. … The soul is offered to (Jesus) when it is entirely attentive to Him. + pg. 69

Part II | The Love of Solitude

II | 

Prayer to Follow: My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please You. And I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this You will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust You always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for You are ever with me, and You will never leave me to face my perils alone. + pg. 79

VII | 

The False Quest for Some Special Experience When Prayer Becomes Distraction from God: Suppose that my “poverty” be a secret hunger for spiritual riches: suppose that by pretending to empty myself, pretending to be silent, I am really trying to cajole God into enriching me with some experience – what then? Then everything becomes a distraction. All created things interfere with my quest for some special experience. I must shut them out, or they will tear me apart. What is worse – I myself am a distraction. But, unhappiest thing of all – if my prayer is centered in myself, if it seeks only an enrichment of my own self, my prayer itself will be my greatest potential distraction. Full of my own curiosity, I have eaten of the tree of Knowledge and torn myself away from myself and from God. I am left rich and alone and nothing can assuage my hunger: everything I touch turns into a distraction. Let me seek, then, the gift of silence, and poverty, and solitude, where everything I touch is turned into prayer. + pgs. 92-93

VIII & IX | 

Christ Comes Unexpectedly: Christ, Who will come unexpectedly at the end of time – and no one can guess the moment of His coming – comes also to those who are His own at every moment of time, and they cannot see or guess His coming. Yet where He is, there they are. … Just as there is no way of saying with certainty where and when He will appear at the end of the world, so too there is no way of saying with certainty where and when He will manifest Himself to contemplative souls. … To catch Him is as easy as catching the lightning. And like lightning, He strikes where He pleases. … There is no technique for finding Him. They find Him by His will. And His will, bringing them grace within and arranging their lives exteriorly, carries them infallibly to the precise place in which they can find Him. … It is a greater thing and a better prayer to live in Him Who is Infinite, and to rejoice that He is Infinite, than to strive always to press His infinity into the narrow space of our own hearts. As long as I am content to know that He is infinitely greater than I, and that I cannot know Him unless He shows Himself to me, I will have Peace, and He will be near me and in me, and I will rest in Him. + pgs. 94-95, 97

XI | 

Called to Be Witnesses of Divine Mercy: We are called to fulfill and to realize the great mystery of His power in us, the power that raised Him from the dead and called us from the ends of the earth to live, to the Father, in Him. Whatever may be our vocation we are called to be witnesses and ministers of Divine Mercy. + pg. 103


His Will to Become Temple of Holy Spirit: Shall I drive evil out of my soul by wrestling with my own darkness? … It is sufficient to turn away from my darkness to His light. I do not have to run away from myself; it is sufficient that I find myself, not as I have made myself … but as He made me in His wisdom and remade me in His infinite mercy. For it is His will that my body and soul should be the Temple of His Holy Spirit, that my life should reflect the radiance of His love … Then I will truly know Him, since I am in Him and He is truly in me. + pg. 125

Next post: City Notes '19 Special | The Abbey of the Genesee Silent Retreat Readings by Paul Pastor

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Christ is all,

Rev. Mike "Sully" Sullivan

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