Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Merton and Hesychasm: The Prayer of the Heart


“… all reality mirrors the reality of God”. –Thomas Merton

Yesterday I was talking with a friend – a Catholic priest – and I mentioned that I was reading the book, “Merton and Hesychasm: The Prayer of the Heart”. I didn’t know how to pronounce the word “hesychasm”, because I have never heard it spoken. My friend, who has been a priest for over 50 years and is quite educated, was astounded that he, as well, had never before been aware of the word. He got out his big dictionary and “hesychasm” was not listed – but “hesychast” was. The same is true of the online dictionary.com.

The book is a collection of essays that explore Eastern Orthodox Christianity through the lens of Merton’s life and writings. Some of the essays are from Merton – the long prose poem, “Hagia Sophia”, the correspondence with Boris Pasternak, writings on the Desert Fathers, etc. – but most are from respected scholars, reflecting upon Merton’s encounter with the thought of Eastern Christian theologians and writers. The scholarship, to name just a few, includes Bishop Kallistos Ware, Jim Forest, John Eudes Bamberger, Basil Pennington, and Rowan Williams.

“Merton and Hesychasm” is the 2nd volume of The Fons Vitae publishing project to study world religions through Merton's writings. The first book of the series is “Merton & Sufism: The Untold Story”. Future volumes will include studies on Merton and Judaism, Merton and Taoism, Merton and Buddhism, Merton and Protestantism, and Merton and Art.

I have some more things to post here on louie, louie about Merton and the Prayer of the Heart, but I wanted to first introduce where it was coming from.

Hesychasm is, according to Bishop Kallistos Ware, the prayer of inward silence, the prayer of the heart. It is ...
“… not world-denying but world-embracing. It enables the hesychast to look beyond the world toward the invisible Creator; and so it enables the hesychast to return back to the world and see it with new eyes. To travel, as it has been often said, is to return to our point of departure and to see our home afresh as though for the first time. …”
(from the Foreward of “Merton and Hesychasm” p. xi)

4 comments:

  1. This looks like its going to be an interesting subject. I am exploring this issue in a novella I am writing, but in a more secular context. The idea that our inner is transformed and then we "try it out" in the world is the core of the story I am writing. The inner transformation provides us with a fresh view of the world, then add a little love in the mix, and our journey is wondrous.

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  2. The novella sounds interesting, Larry.

    I hope to explore a bit more this hesychast way of praying/being.

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  3. To understand this, it might assist you to study the book by Dostoevsky, named, "The Bothers Karamazov." Look in the beginning chapters, "The Russian Monk." This is Fr. Zossima, the referenced monk. The character, Fr. Zossima, is based on Saint Seraphim of Sarov, the most prominent saint in modern Russia. To understand this, it might assist you to study the book by Dostoevsky, named, "The Bothers Karamazov." Look in the beginning chapters, "The Russian Monk." This is Fr. Zossima, the referenced monk. The character, Fr. Zossima, is based on Saint Seraphim of Sarov, the most prominent saint in modern Russia.
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    Replies
    1. Here is Saint Seraphim of Sarov: http://orthodoxwiki.org/Seraphim_of_Sarov

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