|Photo by Thomas Merton|
"Words were so very important to Merton. One reads his books not only for his surprising and challenging insights but because he plays with the music of words as if he were playing jazz clarinet or saxophone. No one is more articulate than Merton but also no one was more aware than he of the limits of words. Like arrows, words point but they are not the target. As he once remarked to his novices, “He who follows words is destroyed.”
Merton explores this topic more deeply a letter the Venezuelan poet, Ludivico Silva:
The religion of our time,
to be authentic,
needs to be the kind that escapes practically all religious definition.
Because there had been endless definition,
and words have become gods.
There are so many words that one cannot get to God
as long as He is thought to be on the other side of the words.
But when he is placed firmly beyond the other side of the words,
the words multiply like flies
and there is a great buzzing religion,
One tries to escape it by acts of truth that fail.
One's whole being must be an act for which there can be found no word.
This is the primary meaning of faith.
On this basis, other dimensions of belief can be mad credible.
My whole being must be a yes
and an amen
and an exclamation
that is not heard.
Only after that is there any point in exclamations
and even after that there is no point in exclamations.
One's acts must be part of the same silent exclamation.
It is because this is dimly and unconsciously realized by everyone,
and because no one can reconcile this with the state of
division and alienation in which we find ourselves,
that they all without meaning it
gravitate toward the big exclamation
that means nothing and says nothing:
The triumph of speech,
when all the words have worn out,
and when everybody still thinks
that there remain an infinite amount of truths
to be uttered.
If only they could realize
that nothing has to be uttered.
Utterance makes sense
only when it is spontaneous and free ....
[This] is where the silence of the woods comes in.
Not that there is something new
to be thought and discovered
in the woods,
but only that the trees
are all sufficient exclamations of silence,
and one works there,
drinking fruit juice,
This is religion.
The further one gets away from this,---
the more one sinks in the mud
of words and gestures.
The flies gather.
- Jim Forest, "Thomas Merton: One Foot in the Wilderness, One Foot in the World."