Merton’s theology was lived.
His enthusiasm for tracking the presence of God in and for the world was a presence that was also profoundly personal. God surged in his bloodstream as well as in “the stream of the reality of life itself”.
Merton knew that he could not decode the “signs of his times” on his own. His awareness and writing was always attuned to the voices of others, both those who came before him and those who lived with him. He clearly admitted to the complexities and paradoxes of his own life.
And yet he did look (and speak) beyond what he “knew” …
“In active contemplation, there is a deliberate and sustained effort to detect the will of God in events and to bring [my] whole self into harmony with that will. Active contemplation depends on an ascesis [an inner work and discipline] of abandonment, a systematic relaxation of the tensions of [my] exterior self and a renunciation of its tyrannical claims and demands, in order to move in a dimension that escapes [my] understanding and overflows in all directions [my] capacity to plan. The element of dialectic in active contemplation is centered on the discovery of God’s will, that is to say, the identification of the real direction which events are taking, especially in my own life. But along with this there is a deep concern with the symbolic and ritual enactment of those sacred mysteries which represent the divine actions by which the redemption and sanctification of the world is effected. In other words, my active contemplation rests on a deep ground of liturgical, historical, and cultural tradition: but a living tradition, not dead convention. And a tradition still in dynamic growth and movement.”
(THE INNER EXPERIENCE, Edited by William Shannon, p. 58)