Tag Archives: Knowledge

The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

I am responsible for encouraging, listening to, conversing with , praying for, preaching to, and teaching these people, leading both Pharisees and tax men in following Jesus.  Both show up in the place of prayer where I am a pastor.  Both are sinners.  I am pastor equally to both.  I don’t find it easy. (page 137)

Pharisees don’t technically do anything obviously bad, after all, and they do a lot of good by upholding the standards of community morality.  But neither are they particularly compelling advertisements for a life overflowing with milk and honey. (page 138)

Given the ease of deception is it any wonder that the place and practice of prayer should be the very best place where we can avoid God without anyone noticing?  So it is not surprising that the setting most conducive to the cultivation of interiority should be so often deficiient in it.

Nobody that i have every met starting going to church with the intention of cultivating hypocrisy. (page 139)

What would make my work as a pastor easy would be to stereotype the Pharisee and the tax man.  This would simplify things considerably.

There are stereotypes that are rich for demolition: the religious hypocrite versus the spiritual freelancer; institutional religion stiff with the starch of hypocrisy versus spontaneous spirituality keeping company with the birds of the air; religion swaddled in cliches and safe in the arms of Jesus versus spirituality that runs with the wolves and hazards life in the wilderness. (page 141)

And the story of the Pharisee and tax man is a vivid expose of the pretentious silliness of any so-called prayer that is not personal and ordinary, of prayer that is not embedded in the immediate and personal relationships and language of everyday life.

Cumulatively the three stories assure us that prayer, language used in relation to God, language used to cultivate the vast interiors that make up most of our life, is as natural on any Samaritan road as it is in any temple or church we find ourselves in. (page 144)

The Widow

Most people, maybe all, at one time or another, pray.  And may – who know how many? quite.  And why shouldn’t they?  If they don’t get what they ask for, if they don’t get what they think of as an “answer” why keep at it?  The remarkable thing about prayer is not that so many people pray, but that some of us keep at it.  Why do we keep at it?  Why do we keep praying when we have so little to show for it?  Anyone who has made a practice of prayer knows the feeling, overwhelming sometimes, that prayer is a leaky bucket.  You go to the river to get a pail of water, and by the time you get home the water is gone, the bucket empty, and all there is left to show for your effort is a damp trail soon to be wiped out by the sun. (page 125)

Given that this is God that is doing the revealing, there are necessarily many mysteries that we will never comprehend.  (A god you can understand is not God). (page 128)

Apocalyptic language can be understood as referring predictively to upcoming doomsday events: judgment, second coming, nuclear holocaust, whatever.  But the very same language can also be understood metaphorically to convey a sense of urgency.  Knowing Jesus’ fondness for metaphor and knowing the historical context in which he is working, it is far more likely that this is the way that Jesus used apocalyptic imagery. (page 130)

From Evagrius the Solitary

Often when I have prayed I have asked for what I thought was good, and persisted in my petition, stupidly importuning the will of God, and not leaving it to Him to arrange things as he knows is best for me.  But when I have obtained what I asked for, I have been very sorry that I did not ask for the will of God to be done; because the thing turned out not to be as I had thought… Do not be distressed if you do not at once receive from God what you ask.  He wishes to give you something better – to make you persevere in your prayer.  For what is better than to enjoy the love of God and to be in communion with Him? (page 132)

Merton’s Palace of Nowhere – Part 9 – The Door to Nowhere

From Douglas Steere:

The deepest prayer at its nub is a perpetual surrender to God./.. all meditation and specific acts of prayer might be seen as preparations and purifications to ready us for this never ending yielding.  Yet what is so often concealed is the there is a terrible dread that sweeps over me in the face of such an expectation.  If I am what I think myself to be and God is as I have picture him to be, then perhaps I could bear to risk it.  But what if he should turn out to be other than I have pictured him, and what if, in his piercing presence, whole layers of what I have known myself to be should dissolve away and an utterly unpredictable encounter take place.  (page 139)

Contemplation is the highest and most paradoxical form of self-realisation, attained by apparent self-annihilation. (page 140)

This loss, this going out, this ecstasy is not a going out from one form of self-containment into another, as though we were but pouring the precious fluid of our being into a bigger and more richly embellished container marked ‘mysticism’.  No.  Rather the going out is a going out into Being itself.  The awareness of our being is made one with the Being of God.  It is in contemplation that God becomes ALL in ALL in us as created persons called to perfect union with God. (page 142)

God, however, is not in existence, but is rather Existence itself.  He is that by which we are. (page 142)

How strange God’s ways are!  He calls us to a union we do not understand.  He calls us to a place of encounter which we cannot find.  We search and search.  Our silence reveals to us not a garden of delights but an awful nothingness.  God leaves us in an awful emptiness.  All our initial enthusiastic notions of prayer deteriorate into an acknowledgement of our utter superficiality and lack of authenticity before God.  We can only throw ourselves completely ion his mercy.  We can only believe that in Christ, God has already  spied us afar off returning repentant to his home.  In Christ God has already rushed out to meet us, fallen upon us and kissed us.  We can only accept that our poverty is so utterly deep that God himself will have to be our inheritance.  Our darkness is so intense that God himself will have to be our light.  (page 143)

At the centre of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes of our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will.  This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us. (page 145)

The following lengthy quote, written by Merton just before his death, echoes with the insight into the true self.

The three doors (they are one door)

1. The of emptiness.  Of no-where.  Of no place for a self, which cannot be entered into by a self.  And therefore is of no use to someone who is going somewhere.  Is it a door at all?  The door of no-door.


2. The door without sign, without indicator, without information.  Not particularised.  Hence, no one can say of it “This is it.  This is the door.” It is not recognisable as a door.  It is not led up to by other things pointing to it: “We are not it, but that is it – the door”  No signs saying “Exit”.  No use looking for indications.  Any door with a sign saying “Not-door”.  Or even “No Exit”.

3. The door without wish.  The undesired.  The unplanned door.  The door never expected.  Never wanted.  Not desirable as a door.  Not a joke, not a trap door.  Not select.  Not exclusive.  Not for a few.  Not for many.  Not for.  Door without aim.  Door without end.  Does not respond to a key.  Do not have you hopes on possession of the key.

Christ said “I am the door”.

This one door is the door of the Palace of Nowhere.  It is the door of God.  It is our very self, our true self called by God to perfect union with himself.  And it is through this door we secretly enter in responding to the saving call to:

“Come with me to the Palace of Nowhere where all the many things are one.” (page 147)

Merton’s Palace of Nowhere – Part 8 – Existence

And how does God display his power?  Above all, by existence itself. (page 133)

It is in fact a gift given to a few: Anyone can say: “There is a tree; that is a man.”  But how few are ever struck by the realisation of the real import of what is really meant by is?” (page 135)

The grace of Christ identifies me with the “engraved word” which is Christ living in me.  Vivit in me Christus.  Identification by love leads to knowledge, recognition, intimate and obscure but vested with an inexpressible certainty known only in contemplation. (page 136)

Merton’s Palace of Nowhere – Part 7 – God is our all

Once this is realised, everything becomes a potential symbol making communion with God possible.  A single sentence read in silence, a single word, a lone bird soaring aimlessly through a cloudless sky, a child stirring the water with a stick – anything, anything at all can bring us to the insight of the true self that says, “for me to live is Christ.” (page 127)

You are only who you are, yet you are “carried away by the same wind that blows all these people down the street, like pieces of paper and dead leaves in all directions.”  We are only who we are, yet who we are is God being God.  God loving and knowing himself in us not as vessels of his knowledge and love but as his very love and knowledge, his very self, created in us as persons.

The insight arises as an obscure yet deep realisation in fait that our ultimate identity is hidden in the secret of God’s identity.  Though no longer contained in the confining perimeters of questions and answers, we find ourselves to be a kind of question, a question which only God can answer:

The Father is a Holy Spirit, but He is named Father.  The Son is a Holy Spirit, but He is named Son.  The Holy Spirit has a Name which is known only to the Father and the Son.  But can it be that when He takes us to Himself, and unites us to the Father through the Son, He takes upon Himself, in us, our own secret name?  Is it possible that we come to know, for ourselves, the name of the Holy Spirit when we receive from Him?  I can ask these questions, but not answer them. (page 130)

We will never have this insight into the true self as long as we try to “have” an insight and then cling to what we think we have.  Trying to have the insight is like trying to swallow the sky.  The insight is that we are the insight.  The insight is that there is nothing to acquire, for there is no one to acquire it.  There is not insight other than the self we always have been, yet did not recognise.  We suddenly realise that we had it all along. (page 130)

We hear it in our next breath [the true self].  We touch it in our reaching out to our brother and sister.  And we see, hear and touch the true self not by mystifying everything but by simply letting each thing be.  Each thing is only what it is, and in that alone each thing is a manifestation of the ALL from whom all came, in whom all is sustained, and to whom all returns. (page 131)

Our silent prayer is poor, yet its poverty is its wealth, if we offer our prayer to God.  Our silent prayer is empty, yet its emptiness makes it full if we open ourselves to God who, upon the cross, showed us that fullness is emptiness – and upon the emptiness all things depend. (page 132)

Merton’s Palace of Nowhere – Part 4 – True Self Seeking God


Jesus is God’s answer to our cry. (page 64)


A helpful image in understanding the monastic notion of solitude and union with others is that of a large group of people formed in a circle.  As each individual in the circle simultaneously begins to walk slowly toward the centre of the circle, he or she discovers that all are inevitably drawing closer to one another.  Physically it is impossible for them all to stand at once in the precise centre.  But in prayer this is possible.  (page 66)


From Father Daniel Marsh: “Most are called to salvation primarily through witnessing to God in man by loving service to others.  The contemplative, while in now way exempt from loving service, finds salvation primarily through witnessing man in God by a life of fidelity to contemplative prayer.” (page 67)


Of course one of the procedural principles is that God is everything and we are nothing.  But they define what this means.  They mark off those who properly grasp it from those who do not.  Thus, while maintaining that they are nothing, they turn their nothing into a nothing that defines itself and thereby make that nothingness into a  kind of everything to which all who wish to know the truth must listen…. It is the false self expressing its futile, odious outcry against the Creative sovereignty of the divine freedom. (page 69)


The idea that you can choose yourself, approve yourself and then offer yourself (fully “chosen” and “approved”) to God, applies the assertion of yourself over against God. (page 69)


The notion of worthiness is often prominent in this expression of religion.  And the motivating force behind much of the principle making is, that of having the security of knowing one is worthy of God.  This knowledge is possible because God here is the God who does not go beyond our definitions (page 71)


Phrased differently, we can say that God cannot hear the prayer of someone who does not exist. (page 74)


Mertons Palace of Nowhere – Part 3 – True Self In Contemplation


What the solitude renounces is not his union with other men, but rather the deceptive fictions and inadequate symbols which tend to take the place of genuine social unity …. He (the solitary) realises that he is one with them in the peril and anguish of their common solitude: not the solitude of the individual only, but the radical and essential solitude of man – a solitude which was assumed by Christ and which, in Christ, becomes mysteriously identified with the solitude of God. (page 50)


We withdraw within not to retreat from life but to retreat from the constant evasion, the constant fearsome retreat from that is real in the eyes of God. (page 51)


We learn that to love Jerusalem is one thing: to prostitute ourselves to it another.  And deeper yet, we learn that we ourselves are Jerusalem.  We are Jerusalem redeemed.  With Christ we weep over ourselves in our failure to respond to his call.  And with Christ we find ourselves foreign and restored to life through the power of his cross. (page 51)


But the most I can do for the world is to transcend it so as to serve it as a person instead of a slave. (page 52)


The first map makers were known to have placed their own country at the centre of the world.  Each country still does the same today. (page 53)


We are called by the voice of God, by the voice of that ultimate being, to pierce through the irrelevance of our life, while accepting and admitting that our life is totally irrevelant, in order to find relevance in Him.  And this relevance in Him is not something we can grasp or possess.  It is something that can only be received as a gift. (page 55)


Merton said

A few years ago a man who was compiling a book on Success wrote and asked me to contribute a statement on how I got to be a success.  I replied indignantly that I was not able to consider myself a success in any terms that had a meaning to me.  I swore I had spent my life strenuously avoiding success.  If it had happened that I had once written a best-seller this was a pure accident, due to inattention and naivete, and I would take very good care never to do the same thing again.  If I had a message to my contemporaries, I said, it was surely this: be anything you like, be madmen, drunks, and bastards of every shape and form, but at all costs avoid one thing: success.  I heard no more from him, and I am not aware that my reply was published with the other testimonials. (page 57)


Both the craving for and the rejection of success are expressions of the false self which is false precisely because it fails to see things as they are. (page 58)


The cross is the great Christian answer to the world as a problem.  The cross is liberation.  The cross is the only liberation from the servitude to the illusions which are packaged and sold as the world… the cross transforms the world… and once the cross has been accepted fully in our life then we can begin to make sense about this whole entity, the world. (page 59)


Do we really choose between the world and Christ as between conflicting realities absolutely opposed?  Or do we choose Christ by choosing the world as it really is in him, that is to say created and redeemed by him, and encountered in the ground of our own personal freedom and of our love?  Do we really renounce ourselves and the world in order to find Christ, or doe we renounce our alienated and false selves in order to choose our own deepest truth in choosing beoh the world and Christ at the same time?  If the deepest ground of my being is love, then in that ery love itself and nowhere else will I find myself, and the world, and my brother in Christ.  It is not a question of either-or but all-in-one.. of wholeness, wholeheartedness and unity… which finds the same ground of love in everything.  (page 60)


There is no dualistic opposition of any kind.  We find that the world as an enemy disappears in an all-in-one wholeness in which we are recreated in the redeeming love of Christ.  Our prayer and our life become our yes to this saving wholeness. (page 60)

Merton’s Palace of Nowhere – Part 1 – Search for God

But in turning to pray such people confront the perplexity referred to above.  In solitary prayer we find ourselves facing the dilemma of having to do what we are incapable of doing.  It is like the situation created by the Zen master who tells the aspirant to “just sit.”  The aspirant quickly discovers that he or she can sit and do many things: sit and sleep, sit and think, sit and wonder, sit and wonder why one cannot stop wondering.  But to just sit is beyond us.  Our own ingrained complexity makes the simplest of acts the most difficult to achieve.  (page 18)


But at the fundamental level of prayer itself Merton has no solutions to the problems of prayer.  He tells us frankly that with prayer itself, “the only One who can teach me to find God is God Himself, Alone.”  (page 19)


Let no one hope to find in contemplation an escape from conflict, from anguish, or from doubt.  On the contrary, the deep inexpressible certitude of the contemplative experience awakens a tragic anguish and opens many questions in the depth of the heart like wounds that cannot stop bleeding. (page 19)

Merton’s Palace of Nowhere – Part 2 – False Self


The crux of the matter is, however, that we cannot be like God without God.  We cannot be like God by usurping God’s transcendant sovereignty in a spiritual coup that violates God’s will.  We cannot take our deepest self, which is a gift from God, and wrench it from God’s hands to claim it as a coveted possession. (page 34)


And yet it is this suicidal act that the brazen liar invites Adam to commit – and Adam accepts the offer!  In doing so, Adam, in effect, decapitates himself.  He tears out his own heart.  He gives birth to that sinister child of darkness and death that we are here referring to as the false self, the identity that Merton describes as “someone that I was never intended to be and therefore a denial of what I am suppose to be.” (page 35)


When we seem to possess and use our being and natural faculties in a completely autonomous manner, as if our individual ego were the pure source and end of our own acts, then we are in illusion and our acts, however spontaneous they may seem to be, lack spiritual meaning and authenticity. (page 36)


In our zeal to become the landlords of our own being, we cling to each achievement as a kind of verification of our self-proclaimed reality.  We become the centre and God somehow recedes to an invisible fringe.  Others become real to the extent they become significant others to the designs of our ego.  And in this process the ALL of God dies in us and the sterile nothingness of our desires becomes our God. (page 36)


This is the man I want to be but who cannot exist, because God does not know anything about him.  And to be unknown of God is altogether too much privacy. (page 36)


We are not very good at recognising illusions, least of all the ones we cherish about ourselves – the ones we are born with and which feed the roots of sin.  For most people in the world, there is not greater subjective reality than this false self of theirs, which cannot exist.  A life devoted to the cult of this shadow is what is called a life of sin. (page 37)


After Adam had passed through the centre of himself and emerge on the other side to escape from God by putting himself between himself and God, he had mentally reconstructed the whole universe in his own image and likeness.  That is the painful and useless labour which has been inherited by his descendants – the labour of science without wisdom, the mental toil that pieces together fragments that never manage to coalesce in one completely integrated whole; the labour of action without contemplation, that never ends in peace or satisfaction, since no task is finished without opening the way to ten more tasks that have to be done. (page 38)

Merton’s Palace of Nowhere – Part 5 – False Self Seeks God

On how the false self seeks God:


“Let them claim that the world has a definite meaning: but that they do not know what the meaning is.  Let them claim life has its obligations: but they do not want to find out what they may be.  They assert that the gods are all quite real, but they do not want to have anything to do, one way or another, with divinity.  Rightness, piety, justice, religion consist, for them, in the definition of various essences.” Page 74


Merton calls this group the “right thinking.” God never excites them, for they are only excited when one of their definitions is threatened or when they come up with a new definition that especially pleases them. (page 75)


On Promethean Theology (after Prometheus who attempted to steal fire from the gods)


“The Promethean instinct is as deep as man’s weakness.  That is to say, it is almost infinite.  It has its roots in the bottomless abyss of man’s own nothingness.  It is the despairing cry that rises out of the darkness of man’s metaphysical solitude – the inarticulate expression of a terror man will not admit to himself: his terror at having to be himself, at having to be a person.” (page 75)


One common expression of Promethean theology is the “save my soul” spirituality, which holds that the Christina life is an effort carried out against unbelievable odds.  Christian life is like the struggle of Sisyphus pushing his stone up the hill.  It is God who has made the hill steep.  It is God who sees to it that the stone is heavy.  It is God who makes sure that the stone never reaches the top of the hill.  The fires of God’s life merge with the fires of hell which God supposedly places like a flickering sphinx between himself and his creatures who dare to approach him.  Entrance into heaven is said to be gained by tricking the devil, “by getting into heaven a half hour before the devil knows you’re dead.”  In this system salvation is gained only by tricking God.  Our sinfulness places us on a greased pole going down into hell.  But, by a superhuman effort and a final barrage of highly efficacious prayers, we can manage to trick God into letting an unwanted sinner into his kingdom.” (page 76)