Monday, August 20, 2007

merton on prayer and time, part 1

“We are indoctrinated so much into means and ends that we don’t realize that there is a different dimension in the life of prayer. In technology you have this horizontal progress, where you must start at one point and move to another and then another. But that is not the way to build a life of prayer. In prayer, we discover what we already have. You start where you are and you deepen what you already have, and you realize that you are already there. We already have everything, but we don’t know it and we don’t experience it. Everything has been given to us in Christ. All we need is to experience what we already possess.

“The trouble is, we aren’t taking time to do so. … If we really want prayer, we’ll have to give it time. We must slow down to a human tempo and we’ll begin to have time to listen. And as soon as we listen to what’s going on, things will begin to take shape by themselves. But for this we have to experience time in a new way.

“One of the best things for me when I went to the hermitage was being attentive to the times of the day: when the birds began to sing, and the deer came out of the morning fog, and the sun came up – while in the monastery, summer or winter, Lauds is at the same hour. The reason why we don’t take time is a feeling that we have to keep moving. This is a real sickness. Today time is commodity, and for each one of us time is mortgaged. We experience time as unlimited indebtedness. We are sharecroppers of time. We are threatened by a chain reaction: overwork- overstimulation – overreaction – overcompensation- overkill. …" (from a talk that Merton gave at the Cistercian monastery, Our Lady of the Redwoods, as recorded by David Steindl-Rast - September, 1968)

(to be continued)


  1. Pretty insightful on the part of Merton.
    I was reading a fine book by Timothy Radcliffe (What is the Point of Being a Christian?) and in it he quotes someone named Polanyi who wrote in 1944 about the "commodity fiction." It is the notion that everything can be bought and sold -- water, sperm, organs, genetic codes, all of God's creation. "The ownership of property becomes the foundation of human dignity. The rights of property are absolute and everything becomes property -- even, as we have seen, our own bodies." (quote from TR)
    This is diammetrically opposed to Aquinas (Radcliffe is OP)as well as Merton's notion of the gratuity of being. To see each person and their life as a work of creation in progress, whose ultimate destiny is in God, makes the commodification of time -- so much worse now than in Merton's era! -- an even greater tragedy.

  2. Beth:

    Thanks for the Merton quote for Moday - it really helped to calm me - I feel "fritzy" this week.


  3. Barbara - thanks for the thoughtful comments, isn't it the Native Americans who had no conception of land ownership, saying something like presuming to own the land is like presuming to own the air, or the sky?

    Sandy - you're welcome. I'm beginning to think that "fritzy" is the mark of holiness!:-)


2nd Sunday of Advent 2023

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