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Contemplative Prayer [Paperback]

By Thomas Merton (Author)
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Item description for Contemplative Prayer by Thomas Merton...

Originally for monks these essays on prayer and meditation are appropriate for everyone

Publishers Description
In this classic text, Thomas Merton offers valuable guidance for prayer. He brings together a wealth of meditative and mystical influences-from John of the Cross to Eastern desert monasticism-to create a spiritual path for today. Most important, he shows how the peace contacted through meditation should not be sought in order to evade the problems of contemporary life, but can instead be directed back out into the world to affect positive change.
"Contemplative Prayer "is one of the most well-known works of spirituality of the last one hundred years, and it is a must-read for all seeking to live a life of purpose in today's world.
In a moving and profound introduction, Thich Nhat Hanh offers his personal recollections of Merton and compares the contemplative traditions of East and West.

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Image
Pages   116
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 7.9" Width: 5.2" Height: 0.4"
Weight:   0.3 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Jun 1, 1996
Publisher   Image
ISBN  0385092199  
ISBN13  9780385092197  

Availability  28 units.
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More About Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton Thomas Merton (1915-1968) was a Trappist monk, spiritual director, political activist, social critic, and one of the most-read spiritual writers of the twentieth century. He is the author of many books, including The Seven Storey Mountain.

Thomas Merton was born in 1915 and died in 1968.

Thomas Merton has published or released items in the following series...
  1. Harvest/HBJ Book
  2. Image Classic
  3. Journals of Thomas Merton

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Authors, A-Z > ( M ) > Merton, Thomas > General
2Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Authors, A-Z > ( M ) > Merton, Thomas > Paperback
3Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Worship & Devotion > Meditations
4Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Worship & Devotion > Prayerbooks
6Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Spirituality > General
7Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Spirituality > Meditations
8Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Spirituality > Prayer

Christian Product Categories
Books > Christian Living > Spiritual Growth > Prayer

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Reviews - What do customers think about Contemplative Prayer?

Calling Unto Deep  Jul 26, 2006
Contemplative Prayer, the last book by the renowned Trappist monk Thomas Merton, is a treatise on the practice, benefits and dangers of contemplative prayer for modern day monks. Although it seems to have been written primarily for others that have devoted their lives to monastic living, the casual reader and spiritual seeker can still glean much from Merton's book. In its 19 chapters, Merton takes the reader from the desert, through the dark nights of contemplation, to the effects that such contemplation should have on the contemplative and, therefore, on the world.

Merton combines both personal insight and traditional Christian teachings on the practice of contemplative prayer; his sources include Scripture, the Desert Fathers, Patristic texts, as well as mystical writings from the Christian tradition, most notably those of St. John of the Cross. Perhaps reflecting the ecumenical spirit of the middle to late 60s that was present in the Roman Catholic Church - due in large part to Vatican II - Merton also uses various ascetic writings from the Eastern Orthodox Church, most notably excerpts from the Philokalia, which is sometimes referred to as "the Bible of Eastern Orthodox spirituality." Merton's use of sources and personal insight serve to convey a deep understanding of the practice of contemplative prayer; the reader is left feeling that (s)he is in the presence of a spiritual guide, a wise fellow seeker, and a friend.

There are two other sources that are worth pointing out although they are less obvious than the sources cited above. First, the existentialist theme that runs through the book is worth noting; Merton seems to desire to engage some of the intellectual trends of his time with his book. Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Gabriel Marcel are both alluded to and cited throughout the pages of this book; the idea of an "existentialist dread" of death and the darkness within the human self serve, at different times, as points of departure for Merton's teachings. Given the teachings of the urgency of the moment that both Existentialism and Christianity espouse and the unrest that was a part of life in both the United States and in the international community, such a coupling of Existentialism and Christian spirituality makes a lot of sense.

Secondly, Merton mentions at points the ground that the soul meets God on. Such an idea seems to recall the teaching of Meister Eckhart, the controversial Dominican monk and mystic of the 13th century . Merton never cites Eckhart and given the controversy surrounding the condemnation of Eckhart's, if Eckhart is a source for Merton's thought, Merton's apprehension of citing Eckhart makes sense. The parallels are worth noting, though. Yet, unlike Eckhart, Merton does not view union with God as an experience of the self dissolving into the Godhead. In fact, Merton does not at any point actually mention "union with God", but describes instead "the creative and healing work of the monk [by God]" as being "a participation in the saving death and resurrection of Christ" (26). Such language about "participation" certainly recalls the language used by the Greek Fathers when discussing union with God, a union where the Creator and the creature remain distinct but in a full, intimate communion.

Contemplative Prayer, although short, is not a light read. It calls one to look within before looking without; it is a call for self-confrontation. Each chapter - and even parts of chapters - could be read and meditated upon for days on end. This is a good thing, though, as it makes this book helpful guide for the spiritual journey.
An excellent guide to contemplative prayer  Jan 15, 2006
Thomas Merton was a monk, and in this book he explains ways that the non-monastic can live a life of prayer. In doing so he provides exercises for the contemplative novice (like me) and warns against bad habits of prayer that are easy to fall into. Here is his explanation of the purpose of monastic prayer: "To prepare the way so that God's action may develop this 'faculty for the supernatural,' this capacity for inner illumination gy faith and by the light of wisdom, in the loving contemplation of God" (p. 45). He writes well and clearly; one need not be a monk or an academic to understand what he is teaching.

This was the first book of Merton's I ever read. I read it during a grief-filled time in my life when I felt the need of something to anchor me, to help me to pray more meaningfully, to concentrate on listening to God more than on my own verbalizing. At one point he says that he is easily distracted by many things; I realized that I had just heard my true name--Easily Distracted By Many Things--for the first time. He promised to teach "a way of keeping oneself in the presence of God and of reality, rooted in one's own inner truth" (p. 23), and he did.

The book's introduction is by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Zen Buddhist; it includes a helpful series of prayers as well.

Merton helped me to heal, and to grow from the healing, and to re-engage an often hurting world. He opened up what was to me a new practice in Christian spirituality. I recommend you read him.

Advice for Novice Contemplatives  Oct 27, 2005
Thomas Merton was a Roman Catholic monk who wrote "Contemplative Prayer" as a primer (not a how-to book) for monks developing a prayer life. To help these monks, Merton attempts to define contemplateive prayer, offers its benefits, and points out dangers associated with it.

Merton distinguishes contemplative prayer from liturgical/corporate prayer. The latter fully engages the mind and emotions as a Christian decides what he wants to communicat to God, then expresses these thoughts/feelings. Contemplative prayer differs in that the Christian attempts to devoid himself of all his thoughts and feelings so that God can come directly to him--increasing this Christian's faith and understanding.

While this result is great indeed, there are also horrible dangers associated with contemplative prayer. The Christian a) may be contacted by a demon, b) might lose his faith, c) might experience intense dread as he believes that God has abandoned him, d) fools himself into thinking that God came to him when he actually created thoughts and feelings himself (and he thus becomes secure in false belief).

Merton deliniates particular blessings that one can gain through contemplative prayer. While an increased personal faith in and understanding of God is an individual's blessing, the Church is also blessed by contemplative prayer. Merton argues that deep contemplative prayer makes corporate/liturgical prayer more meaningful, which makes contemplative prayer deeper, etc. in a sort of upward spiral. He takes this idea further by advancing the idea that if it were not for the contemplative prayers of the monks, the Church (relying only on liturgical prayer) would move increasingly further away from Jesus Christ and lose its saving faith.

I disagree with this last point because I disagree with Merton's analysis of contemplative prayer. Merton advocates an immediate (without physical means), subjective encounter with God over and against a mediate (through physical means) objective encounter. God encounters the Christian through Scripture and the Sacraments and has given us physical, mental, and emotional faculties to respond to him. The idea that a correct understanding of God comes not through mediate means but through subjective personal experience runs counter to Biblical teachings.

Active meditation (where you actually do something, as opposed to Merton's idea of prayer) can certainly aid the Christian as well as the Church in the above described "upward spiral." Contemplating Scripture (that is, actually thinking about it and wrestling with it) does make prayer and worship more meaningful. However, emptying yourself of all your thoughts and emotions with the hope that God will be compelled to come to you is just plain dangerous--even if Christians of other centureis did it. Stick to Bible and Sacraments.

This book is not recommended.
Deeper understanding  Oct 1, 2005
This book, 'Contemplative Prayer', was Thomas Merton's last book. A prolific writing on spiritual topics, Merton was perhaps in an ideal setting to be able to write about the ideas and methods of contemplative prayer, being a Trappist. Trappists devote themselves to prayer, adding the disciplines of silence and solitude, things that are needed for the contemplative side of things to emerge.

In the introduction by Merton's friend, Thich Nhat Hanh, there is a nine-fold prayer that relates to many of Merton's ideas about contemplative prayer. However, it is a mistake (and both Hanh in the introduction and Merton in the text mention this) to think that prayer is something in and of itself - Christians and Buddhists tend to have the understanding that prayer without practice lacks efficacy.

Merton traces a strong history of contemplative prayer, from the earliest Christians (particularly the Desert Fathers and early monastics) to the latest theologians (Hahn relates Merton's ideas to Paul Tillich, and without mentioning him by name, Merton also seems to strive for that same purity that was the pursuit of Kierkegaard). Merton concentrates especially on various 'via negativa' methods and theologies - St. John of the Cross is but the most powerful example, but Merton draws on Gregory of Nyssa, John Chrysostom, Catherine of Siena, Meister Eckhart and others.

This is not a how-to manual for contemplative prayer. This was a subject that was beginning to interesting Merton more and more near the time of his death, and we can but wonder if he would have gone on to produce more practical writing on the topic after this piece. However, Merton, being a person with a good grasp for the authority and power of tradition and history, understood that the first task would be to understand what people have done before and how things have worked or not worked, before embarking upon a new subject for oneself. This is that product, and we are the poorer for not having a follow-up to the book.

Reading Merton is never wasted time. This is perhaps less 'spiritual' and more 'academic' than much of his writing, but it still has characteristic Merton sensitivity to subject, and is worthwhile for any looking for a deeper understanding of comtemplative practices.
Thinking about contemplation  Nov 9, 2002
This is not a how-to book. It is a study of the history and meaning and reason for contemplative prayer, deeply thought of, deeply experienced. My little old copy is dogeared and heavily underlined, having been read so many times. And it is not my first copy - I've given others to friends.
As with much of Merton's writing, it is a tool for examining our own prayer, our own lives. He shows us many ways we may be evading the very goal of our prayer, how we may be shielding ourselves from God's light shining upon us.
Merton did not write this book in order to become popular. It is not all sweetness and gentle breezes of the Spirit. It is more like a cold wind that seeks to blow away our defenses and leave us face to face with what our souls really want - God. Whether we enjoy the process is not the point, but a book like this lets us know that we are not alone on the path, that, tough as it is, others have gone before. It gives comfort in the old English meaning of the word: strengthening. Read this if you need a good dose of spiritual tonic.

review by Janet Knori, author of Awakening in God


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