In a little book called Contemplative Prayer, Thomas Merton asks, “What is the purpose of meditation in the sense of ‘the prayer of the heart’?” He says we seek the deepest ground of our identity in God. And we want to gain a direct existential grasp, a personal experience of the truths of life and faith – not just descriptions of mysteries, but rather experience that brings us into those mysteries. So, for instance, for one who is accustomed to daily contemplative prayer, it is much easier to break open the Word of Scripture into an experience – of say seeing the Transfigured Christ in a new way.
Prayer is a yearning for God’s presence, for understanding his word, for knowledge of his will. St. Augustine prays, “May I know You, may I know myself.”
At our best we want to lose ourselves in God’s love and rest in him.
We want to hear his word and respond with our whole being.
We want to know his loving will and to submit to it totally.
Prayer is such an intriguing subject since it opens out to the Infinite. At our recent Friends of Carmel meeting we edged up to the subject of the Dark Night. What it’s about I think is going out to meet God. Going out from self towards an infinite and brilliant unknown.
As John of the Cross sings, “One dark night fired by love’s urgent longings…I went out unseen, my house being now all stilled.” What is that like? Going out from self? This is a very tricky subject. I think Merton broached it masterfully in this quote from our chapel daily readings.
From: The New Man by Thomas Merton
Self-realization in the true religious sense is less an awareness of ourselves than an awareness of the God to whom we are drawn in the depths of our own being. We become real, and experience our actuality, not when we pause to reflect upon our own self as an isolated individual entity, but rather when, transcending ourselves and passing beyond reflection, we centre our whole soul upon the God Who is our life. That is to say we fully “realise” ourselves when we cease to be conscious of ourselves in separateness and know nothing but the one God Who is above all knowledge.
We fully realise ourselves when all our awareness is of another – of Him Who is utterly “Other” than all beings because He is infinitely above them. The image of God is brought to life in us when it breaks free from the shroud and the tomb in which our self-consciousness had kept it prisoner and loses itself in a total consciousness of Him Who is Holy. This is one of the main ways in which “he that would save his life will lose it.”