Sunday, January 22, 2012

Thomas Merton on St. John of the Cross

Fr. Thomas Merton, O.S.C.O.

Two of my favorite contemplatives. Merton is a must-read for Christians (and anyone interested in mysticism and prayer)-- his Seven Storey Mountain is a classic and one of the best stories of coming to Christ.

St. John of the Cross is of course one of the most influential mystics. His Spiritual Canticle and Dark Night of the Soul are essential works for Christian mysticism.

Merton comments on the dark night of the soul, encountered on the journey to God:

This total self-denial, which St. John of the Cross pursues into the inmost depths of the human spirit, reduces our interior landscape to a wasteland without special features of any kind whatever. We do not even have the consolation of beholding a personal disaster. A cataclysm of the spirit, if terrible, is also interesting. But the soul of the contemplative is happy to be reduced to a state of complete loneliness and dereliction in which the most significant renouncement is that of self-complacency. Many men are attracted to a solitude in which they believe they will have the leisure and the opportunity to contemplate themselves. Not so St. John of the Cross:

(St. John) These times of aridity cause the soul to journey in all purity in the love of God, since it is no longer influenced in its actions by the pleasure and sweetness of the actions themselves, . . . but only by a desire to please God. It becomes neither presumptuous nor self-satisfied, as perchance it was wont to become in the time of its prosperity, but fearful and timid with regard to itself, find ing in itself no satisfaction whatsoever; and herein consists that holy fear which preserves and increases the virtues. . . . Save for the pleasure indeed which at certain times God infuses into it, it is a wonder if it find pleasure and consolation of sense, through its own diligence, in any spiritual exercise or action. . . . There grows within souls that experience this arid night (of the senses) care for God and yearnings to serve him, for in proportion as the breasts of sensuality, wherewith it sustained and nourished the desires that it pursued, are drying up, there remains nothing in that aridity and detachment save the yearning to serve God, which is a thing very pleasing to God. (The Dark Night of the Soul, i, 13. Peers, op. cit., vol. I, p. 393.)

The joy of this emptiness, this weird neutrality of spirit which leaves the soul detached from the things of the earth and not yet in possession of those of heaven, suddenly blossoms out into a pure paradise of liberty, of which the saint sings in his Spiritual Canticle: it is a solitude full of wild birds and strange trees, rocks, rivers, and desert islands, lions, and leaping does. These creatures are images of the joys of the spirit, aspects of interior solitude, fires that flash in the abyss of the pure heart whose loneliness becomes alive with the deep lightnings of God.

I have not travelled far enough in my prayer life to encounter such beauty. I had a discussion with one of our parish priests a while back about such mystical experience. He is a gentle and preternaturally happy man, always full of joy-- I suspected that he was a man of deep Christian mysticism-- and I asked him about mystical experiences.

He commented, as if he knew intimately, that even a momentary direct experience of God-- the quest of all mystics-- transforms you forever. 


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I saw the comment. Thanks, crus.

  3. Some time ago I read "The Spiritual Brain" by Mario Beauregard and Denyse O'Leary and I was very impressed. Here what amazon has to say about this book:

    Do religious experiences come from God, or are they merely the random firing of neurons in the brain? Drawing on his own research with Carmelite nuns, neuroscientist Mario Beauregard shows that genuine, life-changing spiritual events can be documented. He offers compelling evidence that religious experiences have a nonmaterial origin, making a convincing case for what many in scientific fields are loath to consider—that it is God who creates our spiritual experiences, not the brain.

    I highly recommend this book!

    1. An excellent work, Pépé. No doubt that someday it will be regarded as a rare example of honest academic inquiry in an age of materialist dogma.
      Good book. Fascinating read.
      Big recommend from me as well!

    2. More likely it will be completely forgotten as the meaningless drivel it is within a decade.

  4. He offers compelling evidence that religious experiences have a nonmaterial origin, making a convincing case for what many in scientific fields are loath to consider—that it is God who creates our spiritual experiences, not the brain.

    Can you give the most compelling example of such evidence?

    I'm not going to read the book, since I know that O'Leary is an appallingly bad writer and sloppy fact-checker (see her posts at UD).


    1. @troy
      I'm not going to read the book...

      The research was done by Mario Beauregard, I believe O'Leary helped on the English version.

      You can always make decision a priori but it's not a good way to acquire knowledge...

    2. Pépé,

      I note you didn't bother to respond to the actual substance of troy's post which was:

      "Can you give the most compelling example of such evidence?"

      One might even suppose that you couldn't respond with anything cogent.

    3. @anon (a.k.a le frileux)

      Can you give the most compelling example of such evidence?

      Yes, read the book!

    4. That's what I expected. You're afraid that if you give an example it will be demolished by the reality community.

      Dream on.

    5. @troy
      ...the reality community.

      Don't make me laugh!

      Your kind is more of the constipated community! What else are those who consider the human brain to be no more than electrified jelly?

      I will let Albert Einstein answer you:

      The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mystical. It is the power of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead.

      R.I.P. Troy!

    6. Au contraire mon ami! Einstein's remark applies uncannily well to yourself and not to me. It is you who cannot see the beauty of nature without some imaginary big daddy running the show. It is you who calls the material brain mere matter in motion, powerless without imaginary soul-stuff. It is you who thinks life is meaningless without the promise of an eternal paradise.

      You cannot even give a single example of evidence from a book allegedly full of evidence that Jesus creates spiritual experiences. Deep down you don't even believe that crap yourself. You live in denial, too afraid to face reality. RIP.

    7. Your saying that God is an imaginary big daddy running the show shows your total ignorance of spiritual matters. You really should read the book: it will benefit you a lot! It's also available in audio if you have problems in the reading department.

  5. Yes, read the book!

    Evading the question just demonstrates the utter lack of merit of your argument. Thus far, all you've done is the theist dance: dodge, weave, evade, lie, and dissemble.

    1. Sorry, but I cannot demonstrate the truth of more than 2000 years of worship and explain why 2.1 billion believe in Christ in one comment for guys who refuse to get rid of their blindfold and obstinately refuse to read a book. Just keep on cultivating your ignorance then!

    2. Nobody asks you to demonstrate anything. You were asked for a single example from that book that is supposed to be evidence for the claim that God creates spiritual experiences. You advertised the book! Is it too much to ask for a single example from a book that you claim to have read?

    3. Ok, Troy, since you need to be spoon fed, here is an exerpt from page 290 of the book:

      Materialist neuroscience cannot reduce mind, consciousness, self, and RSMEs to “mere neurobiology.” I think that the evidence supports the view that individuals who have RSMEs do in fact contact an objectively real “force” that exists outside themselves.

      FYI, objectively real “force” is God. You should also try to learn a bit about mysticism.


      PS: don't ask for more, I won't be typing the entire book for you just to satisfy your fancy!

    4. Thanks for that excerpt Pepe, but, um, it's not really evidence is it? It's just a statement of opinion. If I say "I think that the evidence supports the view that pink unicorns exist", would you consider my statement as evidence in favor of the view that such unicorns exist? I doubt it. So why did you quote an opinion rather than some actual evidence in favor of the view that God creates spiritual experiences? Is that really the best you can do?

    5. Anonymous - most will completely disregard your comments as 'internet banter' - if you don't reveal yourself in the light.

      Cockroaches scatter in the light.

      PS - yes, I'm a sinner, a hypocrite, and don't believe I created myself :-)