New Seeds of Contemplation Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
New Seeds of Comtemplation is one of Thomas Merton's most widely read and best loved books. Christians and non-Christians alike have joined in praising it as a notable successor in the meditative tradition of St. John of the Cross, the Cloud of Unknowing, and the medieval mystics, while others have compared Merton's reflections to those of Thoreau. New Seeds of Contemplation seeks to awaken the dormant inner depths of the spirit so long neglected by Western culture, to nurture a deeply contemplative and mystical dimension in our lives.
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|Listening Length||8 hours and 58 minutes|
|Narrator||Jonathan Montaldo, Sharon Cross|
|Whispersync for Voice||Ready|
|Audible.com Release Date||October 08, 2014|
|Best Sellers Rank|| #14,812 in Audible Books & Originals (See Top 100 in Audible Books & Originals) |
#24 in Eastern Philosophy (Audible Books & Originals)
#83 in Religious Philosophy (Books)
#101 in Spiritual Meditations (Books)
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A great resource to accompany this book is given to us by James Finley, a former monk at Gethsemane at the time Merton was there, and from whom he received frequent Spiritual Direction. In his talks that come to us in the series, Thomas Merton's Path to the Palace of Nowhere , Finley gives first-hand knowledge of the value of Merton's instruction as well as a comprehensive plan and purpose of using such a book like this and the scope of what it entails, like a journal of thoughts: forming a meditative exercise taken from that which is derived from reading and reflecting on Merton’s words. What he's saying is: take a year to reflect on Merton's thought. Journal it as you go. Do it again the next year or so. Compare the journals and examine your new understanding derived from another reading. Keep doing this. You can spend a life-time with it! You can continue to grow with it! I believe the substance of what he offers here is found also in his book, Merton's Palace of Nowhere . I am not sure. I have bought the book, but have not spent much time with it yet.
Similarly, I mention that in the Introduction of the book Humility Of Heart by Father Cajetan Mary da Bergamo, it talks about the advantage of using any great book for two or three years as a meditation book. The human mind can be so distracted or unstable at times and can need more time than we imagine to be able to grasp great truths and ideas and integrate them practically into our everyday lives. The suggestion that two or three years spent with the works of a great Master, digesting it fully but little by little, should not seem out of the question. And so, I apply the advice given there to this work of Merton, that "We never get a proper hold of a great spiritual doctrine until we have lived in it and been saturated by it. The soul must soak in the brine until it has become wholly impregnated with its qualities." It is a good teaching from which we can all learn. Merton has provided the brine. We must soak in it.
In the Spiritual Life, the goal is always God: God possessing us and us possessing God. This means there's a lot in our lives that must undergo scrutiny. This means that there are things that should or must be eliminated. In the process, there are things that must be gained. This has to include sanctification, the path the saints travelled. Merton tells us, "for me, to be a saint is to be myself." That is a long path for most of us. Therefore, sanctity is "finding out who I am and of discovering my true self." So, to reach the point where we seek the ultimate goal of life, means to have or find and enter a complex path which Merton calls "Integrity" and explains, "In order to become myself I must cease to be what I always thought I wanted to be, and in order to find myself I must go out of myself, and in order to live I have to die," not much different from what Jesus tells us in the gospel, "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life?" (Mt 16:25-26). All of this takes time! We must give it the time it deserves. Merton will teach us, slowly! He will give us the principles we need to live this out. The most significant gem that I have found in this book is under the heading of "Mental Prayer." It's worth making a copy of the few pages and carrying around with us. It's food and instruction that we can never tire of receiving. It's something that, even when we are sure what he is saying there, it is worth going back to many times throughout the year.
Maybe two or three years are not enough! Maybe there are things that each of us can find in this great work that we must spend a life with! That's what Finley suggests!
A couple of years ago I asked a very good friend of mine to recommend books that tackled the complex reality of meditation or contemplative prayer from a Catholic perspective. There are plenty of Eastern philosophy books on the topic, many of which I have read and whose teachings have helped me to grow in faith. It always seemed to me, however, that Catholicism did not particularly emphasize this aspect of spirituality. This prejudice on my part probably resulted from the fact that meditation as such is generally not promoted as a parish activity. The word “meditation” itself is problematic to some Catholics, as it is associated with Eastern religions. Many American Catholics believe practicing yoga constitutes a form of idolatry and thus a violation the first commandment… One of the things that attract me to Merton is his dialogue with Eastern philosophy and forms of prayer.
_New Seeds of Contemplation_ belongs to the Christian tradition that includes the anonymous _The Cloud of Unknowing_, St. Teresa of Ávila’s _The Interior Castle_ (also known as _The Mansions_), and St. John of the Cross’ _Dark Night of the Soul_ and _Ascent of Mount Carmel_. In another sense, as the author points out in the introductory note, Merton is following the footsteps of Pascal, Thomas à Kempis and Guigo, and the thoughts on contemplation that we find in this book--as the title indicates--are in themselves points of departure for our own meditations. _New Seeds of Contemplation_, then, did not come out of nowhere (no book does), but it is without a doubt the first book I would recommend to anyone (Catholic or otherwise) who is interested in developing a closer relationship with God.
I like to underline and/or take notes as I do my spiritual reading. In this aspect, few books have been as frustrating to me as _New Seeds of Contemplation_. I mean this is a positive sense: it seemed to me that almost every word was worthy of being underlined or written down in my journal. (G. K. Chesterton’s _Orthodoxy_ had the same effect on me.) There is no filler in this book, and it is a work to reread throughout one’s life and to consult often. I filled 13 pages of my notebook with notes as I read, and I am amazed at the variety of subjects Merton covers, always within the main topic of contemplative prayer. Meditation is a multifaceted reality, and Merton seems to consider every possible aspect of it.
Talking about meditation is in itself paradoxical, as the experience of God the contemplative desires must necessarily transcend words. No other author has been able to reduce the contemplative experience to words with the lucidity that Merton displays. One of the central ideas of his worldview is that we are divided beings: our inner and outer selves are in conflict with each other, and we must try to identify with our true self, which is the inner, transcendent one. This division, Merton clarifies, does not refer to body and soul. Catholicism does not teach that the soul is good and the body is evil; this notion was, as a matter of fact, declared a heresy centuries ago. The body has an inclination to evil as a result of original sin. Merton describes hell as “a perpetual alienation from our true self, which is in God.” The problem with us, to put it simplistically, is that we are not ourselves. Part of contemplation involves realizing our true selves so that we can be in God. We cannot define ourselves in this world because we are not of this world. Here’s an interesting experiment: try answering the question, “Who are you?” Most people will answer by stating their name, or their profession, or their relationship to someone else, or they’ll describe themselves in terms of race, color, nationality, creed, gender, etc. And this is, indeed, how other people define you: you are John, you are a doctor, you are my brother, you are a Caucasian, Christian male from England, etc. But, really, who *are* you?
I’m glad that Merton emphasizes constantly that the contemplative life does not consist in merely isolating oneself. It is not an escape, in other words. I am not a particularly sociable person. Going on a silent retreat is the easiest thing for me. I don’t miss my phone, because I rarely use it. I don’t miss talking, because outside of my family, students, and the few friends I have, I rarely talk to people. I don’t miss TV because I never watch it. I rarely listen to music these days, as I spend most of my free time reading or watching films. I enjoy spiritual reading immensely, so instead of giving up reading during a retreat, I try to “sanctify” this activity. Regarding films, because I watch too many of them, I welcome the opportunity to give my eyes a rest during a retreat. I sometimes wish I could retire from the “world” and dedicate myself to contemplation. Merton has cautioned me against this superficial approach to the contemplative life. After reading _New Seeds of Contemplation_, I have come to realize why I must develop a better relationship with my brothers and sisters. We spend most of our lives identifying ourselves with our false self, Merton says; separating ourselves from others, when true strength is in unity, not in isolation and individualism.
Another point Merton makes that I found to be of particular importance has to do with the emotional effect contemplative prayer may have on us. If I pray because praying makes me feel good, I am attached to prayer for the wrong reason. It is very easy to fall into this trap when it comes to meditation. Feeling good during prayer is a good sign, but it shouldn’t be an end in itself. “Not feeling anything” during prayer does not in itself indicate lack of progress, as St. John of the Cross discusses in _Dark Night of the Soul_. Prayer is not about me: it is about God.
_New Seeds of Contemplation_ is a difficult book to review; it must be experienced, read, and reread. If I weren’t such a recluse, I would do my best to start a Catholic book club, and we would spend at least four meetings discussing this great work, the masterpiece, if you ask me, about Catholic meditation. Our hearts are restless until we rest in God, and _New Seeds of Contemplation_ points the way. You’ll have to do the walking yourself, of course, but this book will help you, guide you, encourage you, and give you hope. It is my hope that _New Seeds of Contemplation_ will have on you the renewing, uplifting effect it has had on me.
I will continue my reading of Merton with _The Wisdom of the Desert_ or _Zen and the Birds of Appetite_.
Thanks for reading, and enjoy the book!
This book does not compare to his book “The Seven Story Mountain.” I felt The Seven Story Mountain was an inspiring work that was easy to read, and I just loved that book and it inspired me to read this book.
But, I found the content of this book to be convoluted and difficult to follow at times. On many occasions, Merton would go on and on about a particular topic, he felt strongly about, and that became very tiresome, but keep in mind that Thomas Merton was a young writer, when he wrote this book, so that might explain why so much of this book was long winded. I also felt Merton was a bit angry or disappointed with the church’s understanding or perceptions of a contemplative life, and he had an axe to grind.
I think Thomas Merton is a true scholar and has a lot of work that is stellar, so I would encourage people to look at some of his other books.
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“Do not look for rest in any pleasure, because you were not created for pleasure: you were created for spiritual joy. And if you do not know the difference between pleasure and spiritual joy you have not yet begun to live.”