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How To Pray Like Thomas Merton

A Trappist monk leaves a legacy of finding God’s presence in the beauty of inner silence.

How to pray like Thomas Merton

To be a person of prayer is to always be on the lookout for models of prayer. Again and again I have turned to Thomas Merton (Jan. 31, 1915 – Dec. 10, 1968) for sustenance, drinking in the well of his rich writings.

It would seem that we have little in common. After all, he was a Trappist monk, living and working in the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky farmland, saying the offices with his brother, savoring the silence, communicating to his many correspondents through letters, spending his last days as a hermit.

I live in a big city, commute by subway to and from work and check my phone constantly for emails and messages. I am married with kids, have a host of friends and live nothing like a hermit.

But throughout my busy days I love to check into my inner Thomas Merton, that creative, imaginative, questioning, praying person who is forever seeking and knowing God.

In his essay “Fire Watch, July 4, 1952,” he spends the night alone with God at the monastery. “There is no leaf that is not in Your care,” he notes. “There is no cry that was not heard by You before it was uttered. There is no water in the shales that was not hidden there by Your wisdom.”

I try echoing the same faithfulness in my busy urban world: “There is no baby crying, no homeless person begging, no pigeon flapping its wings, no phone buzzing, no car honking that You do not hear.”

I get caught up in the news cycle and wonder where God is, then turn to Merton who reminds me, “But there is greater comfort in the substance of silence than in the answer to a question.”

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Get that? Silence is God’s friend. And ours.

“Eternity is in the present,” he goes on to say. “Eternity is in the palm of the hand. Eternity is a seed of fire, whose sudden roots break barriers that keep my heart from being an abyss.” Eternity is here.

And whether I’m praying on the sofa in our TV room or in my bed or sitting on a subway train or listening to my colleagues at my desk and closing my eyes for a minute, I feel God’s presence.

As long as we are committed to seeking God, God will always seek us.

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