Monday, March 26, 2007

Merton on Liturgy & Contemplation

Contemplation is a gift of God, given in and through His Church, and through the prayer of the Church. St. Anthony was led into the desert not by a private voice but by the word of God, proclaimed in the Church of his Egyptian village in the chanting of the Gospel in Coptic - a classical example of liturgy opening the way to a life of contemplation! But the liturgy cannot fulfil this function if we misunderstand or underestimate the essentially spiritual value of Christian public prayer. If we cling to immature and limited notions of "privacy," we will never be able to free ourselves from the bonds of individualism. We will never realize how the Church delivers us from ourselves by public worship, the very public character of which tends to hide us "in the secret of God’s face."

from Seasons of Celebration New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1950: pp 26-27

This wonderful quote explains perfectly just how different true contemplative prayer is from the kind of self-regarding "meditation as self-improvement" teachings it is so often confused with by the uninformed and the prejudiced. Not only is real contemplative prayer rooted and grounded in the common life of the church, it is done for a reason, it is done in obedience to God, and it is done for, on behalf of, our sisters and brothers, on behalf of the whole broken Creation itself. (See my article on intercession and contemplative prayer on The Mercy Site...)

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