“The real function of discipline is not to provide us with maps but to sharpen our own sense of direction so that when we really get going we can travel without maps.”
— Thomas Merton, “Renewal and Discipline” essay in book Contemplation in a World of Action
I could have included any of thousands of quotes from Thomas Merton. This one comes from an essay I’m currently reading.
Monday was the 50 year anniversary of the death of Thomas Merton, one of the most important voices coming out of America in the 20th century. Exactly 27 years before his death, on December 10, 1941, Merton first arrived at the Abbey of Gethsemani, a Trappist monastery in Kentucky. That place became the fertile ground out of which grew Merton’s peacefully relentless spiritual and intellectual explorations.
Merton’s initial retreat from the world gave him a vantage point from which he engaged the world on the pressing issues of his time – an authentic human life in a dehumanizing society, nonviolence, racial justice, the purpose of education, the sham of materialism, the freedom of “the self no longer clothed with the ego” (Love and Living, p. 8,), the necessity of harmonizing with the natural world. He was a pioneer in exploring Eastern traditions and integrating their insights into Western ways of seeing.
In short, he’s someone whose voice we desperately need now.
Any of his writings would make a lovely Christmas present to yourself.
More info about his life and writings can be found HERE.
One more line from the same “Renewal and Discipline” essay:
“The passage from a stage in which one loves and worships God as a beautiful object of desire to a stage in which God ceases to be object and loses all definite limitations in our mind is something which cannot easily be described: but it is a perilous, though necessary, experience.”