What did I hope to discover when I opened New Seeds of Contemplation? – I hoped to hear a word of wisdom, something from Merton that was infused in his walk, that might inform my own.
The most affective quote from the book:
When humility delivers a man from attachment to his own works and his own reputation, he discovers that perfect joy is possible only when we have completely forgotten ourselves. And it is only when we pay no more attention to our own deeds and our own reputation and our own excellence that we are at last completely free to serve God in perfection for his own sake alone. (58)
This thought and action is at the heart of everything else Merton wrote in New Seeds; everything else was a step in practicing self-forgetfulness. Not self-debasement or self-destruction, but a revelation that your true self can only be discovered when you lay aside your ego (or rather, the Spirit of God cultivates a new, living life in its place).
This letting go of your ego, your agenda, and the agenda of the current time and culture (e.g. things that clash with Jesus) is the heart and soul of spiritual formation, or as Merton phrases it: Contemplation – life lived in uninhibited union with God, his will in us, for us, and breathed out in our motions.
In order to “get there,” Merton provides a strong point:
“Everyone of us forms an idea of Christ that is limited and incomplete. It is cut according to our own measure. We tend to create for ourselves a Christ in our own image, a projection of our own aspirations, desires and ideals. We find in him but we want to find. We make him not only the incarnation of God but also the incarnation of the things we and our society and our part of society happen to live for.
Therefore, although it is true that perfection consists imitating Christ and reproducing him in our own lives, it is not enough merely to imitate the Christ we have in our imaginations.
We read the Gospels not merely to get a picture or an idea of Christ but to enter in and pass through the words of revelation to establish, by faith, the vital contact with the Christ who dwells in our souls as God.” (156)
This is life. This is “contemplation.” The Gospels and the things in our lives that cause remembrance of Jesus are the seeds of this new life. We must learn the art of cultivation.