Quotes by Thomas Merton
Joe Clark

Since mid-2004 or so, I've been interested in the writings of Thomas Merton. Merton was a contemplative Trappist monk in the mid 20th century. He had a lot of good things to say I think. Most of the statements are things I am already aware of in some sense, but he says them in such a way that they come alive to me in new ways.

Unlike a lot of the usual "great and awesome" books of our time, which often just restate what we all expect to hear, this book runs with some of the paradoxes I think about. He says things that just make sense to me, even though you don't hear them stated this way in our pop culture version of church. I would go so far as to say that Merton's writings have "changed my life" more than any other book I've read, save for the Bible itself. His tone reminds me of Michael Card, who makes much of paradox and contemplation in his music I think. Look for those themes in the quotes below, and I hope they will inspire you to check out his writings.

Date Added

For me to be a saint means to be myself [what God created me to be]. Therefore the problem of sanctity and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I am and of discovering my true self. Trees and animals have no problem. God makes them what they are without consulting them, and they are perfectly satisfied. With us it is different. God leaves us free to be whatever we like. We can be ourselves or not, as we please.

NSOC Pg 31

Feb 3, 2008

A tree gives glory to God by being a tree. For in being what God means it to be it is obeying Him... It is expressing an idea which is in God and which is not distinct from the essence of God, and therefore a tree imitates God by being a tree.... Therefore each particular being, in its individuality, its concrete nature and entity, with all its own characteristics and its private qualities and its own inviolable identity, gives glory to God by being precisely what He wants it to be here and now, in the circumstances ordained for it by His Love and His infinite Art.

NSOC Pg 29-30

Feb 3, 2008

Each individual in the mass is insulated by thick layers of insensibility. He doesn't care, he doesn't hear, he doesn't think. He does not act, he is pushed. He does not talk, he produces conventional sounds when stimulated by the appropriate noises. He does not think, he secretes cliches.

NSOC Pg 55

Jan 2007

Who has less to communicate than the mass-man? Very often it is the solitary who has the most to say; not that he uses many words, but what he says is new, substantial, unique.

NSOC Pg 54

Jan 2007

The great temptation of modern man is not physical solitude but immersion in the mass of other men...

NSOC Pg 54

Jan 2007

Without a certain element of solitude there can be no compassion because when a man is lost in the wheels of a social machine he is no longer aware of human needs as a matter of personal responsibility.

NSOC Pg 53

Jan 2007

Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.


Mar 2006

It is not healthy to be too constantly aware of [our feelings, our inward activity, our thoughts, our judgments and our desires]. Perpetual self-examination gives an overanxious attention to movements that should remain instinctive and unobserved.


Mar 2006

A life that is without problems may literally be more hopeless than one that always verges on despair.


Mar 2006

Selfish love often appears to be unselfish, because it is willing to make any concession to the beloved in order to keep him prisoner...A love...that is selfless...does not make unlimited concessions to the beloved.


Mar 2006

If we are going to love others at all, we must make up our minds to love them well. Otherwise our love is a delusion.


Mar 2006

If you have never had any distractions you don't know how to pray. For the secret of prayer is a hunger for God and for the vision of God, a hunger that lies far deeper than the level of language or affection.

NSOC Pg 221

May 2005

For if meditation aims above all at establishing in your soul a vital contact of love with the living God, then as long as it only produces images and ideas and affections that you can understand, feel and appreciate, it is not yet doing its full quota of work.

NSOC Pg 218-219

May 2005

If you think meditation has done its work when it has made you say you love God or feel that you love God, then you are still wrong...this is the real end of meditation -- it teaches you how to become aware of the presence of God; and most of all it aims at bringing you to a state of almost constant loving attention to God, and dependence on Him.

NSOC Pg 217

~Apr 20, 2005

How many there are who are in a worse state still: they never even get as far as contemplation because they are attached to activities and enterprises that seem to be important.

NSOC, Pg 206

~Apr 20, 2005

Indeed, too often the weakest thing about our faith is the illusion that our faith is strong, when the "strength" we feel is only the intensity of emotion or of sentiment, which have nothing to do with real faith.

NSOC Pg 186

~Apr 20, 2005

Do not be too quick to assume your enemy is a savage just because he is your enemy.... Do not be too quick to assume that your enemy is an enemy of God just because he is your enemy.

NSOC Pg 177

~Apr 20, 2005

Celebration is not for the alone. ... Celebration is not noise. It's not a spinning head. It is not just individual kicks. It is the creation of a common identity, a common consciousness. Celebration is everbody making joy. ... Celebration is when we let joy make itself out of our love. We like to be together. We like to dance together. We like to make pretty and amusing things. We like to laugh at what we have made. We like to put bright colors on the walls -- more bright colors on ourselves. We like our pictures, they are crazy.

"Love and Living",
The Street is for Celebration (pg 52-53)

Feb 7, 2005

We are perhaps too talkative, too activistic, in our conception of the Christian life. Our service of God and of the Church does not consist only in talking and doing. It can also consist in periods of silence, listening, waiting.

"Love and Living", Creative Silence (pg 39)

Jan 31, 2005

The power of genuine love is so deep and so strong that it cannot be deflected from its true aim even by the silliest of wrong ideas.

"Love and Living", Love and Living (pg 36)

Jan 31, 2005

I cannot find myself in myself, but only in another. My true meaning and worth are shown to me not in my estimate of myself, but in the eyes of the one who loves me...

"Love and Living", Love and Living (pg 35)

Jan 31, 2005

The basic error is to regard love merely as a need, an appetite, a craving, a hunger which calls for satisfaction. Psychologically, this concept reflects an immature and regressive attitude toward life and toward other people.

"Love and Living", Love and Living (pg 33)

Jan 31, 2005