Thursday, January 11, 2007

prayer, public and private

The life of a monk is one of continuous public prayer. From early morning until bedtime, the day is structured around the Liturgy of the Hours. Thomas Merton prayed and sang the Psalms - the public prayer of the Jews - throughout the day for twenty seven years. As a priest, he celebrated the Eucharist everyday.

Merton’s private prayer is intensely personal, but born from his deep immersion in public prayer.

This prayer was written before midnight Mass in 1941, when he had been at Gethsemani for only a couple of weeks:

“Your brightness is my darkness. I know nothing of You and, by myself, I cannot even imagine how to go about knowing You. If I imagine You, I am mistaken. If I understand You, I am deluded. If I am conscious and certain I know You, I am crazy. The darkness is enough.” (“Meditations”, December, 1941, p. 2)

Only once did he ever write explicitly about how he prayed. In a letter to the Sufi, Abdul Aziz, dated January 2, 1966, Merton says:

“I have a very simple way of prayer. It is centered entirely on attention to the presence of God and to His will and His love. That is to say it is centered on faith by which alone we can know the presence of God. One might say this gives my meditation the character described by the Prophet as “being before God as if you saw Him”. Yet it does not mean imagining anything or conceiving a precise image of God, for to my mind this would be a kind of idolatry. On the contrary, it is a matter of adoring Him as invisible and infinitely beyond our comprehension, and realizing Him as all. My prayer tends very much toward what you call fana. There is in my heart this great thirst to recognize totally the nothingness of all that is not God. My prayer then is a kind of praise rising up out of the center of Nothing and Silence.” (“Hidden Ground of Love”, pp. 63-64)

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