Thoughts from Canaan…

"The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God." – Genesis 17:8

Book Review – ‘New Seeds of Contemplation’ by Thomas Merton

“This is one of the chief contradictions that sin has brought into our souls: we have to do violence to ourselves to keep from laboring uselessly for what is bitter and without joy, and we have to compel ourselves to take what is easy and full of happiness as though it were against our interests, because for us the line of least resistance leads in the way of greatest hardship and sometimes for us to do what is, in itself, most easy, can be the hardest thing in the world.” – Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, Chapter 22

newseeds

  New Seeds of Contemplation, a meandering book written by the Catholic monk Thomas Merton, jumped out at me several months ago while I was browsing the ‘Prayer & Devotional’ section of my local library. I had never read anything by Merton before but his story has always piqued my interest and I’ve had The Seven Storey Mountain lying in a pile of ‘to-be-read’ books for the past couple of years (although I still haven’t gotten around to it).

I pulled New Seeds off of the shelf and flipped through the chapter titles, making note of several interesting ones such as ‘The Woman Clothed with the Sun’ and ‘The Moral Theology of the Devil.’ Since it was less than three-hundred pages I figured it would be a quick read and ended up checking it out. It hasn’t turned out to be the quick read I hoped for. I’ve had it for three months and it’s three days past due so I decided I better wrap it up.

As its name implies, this book is one that plants seeds of contemplation within the reader. As a result, it’s not a book that can be reviewed easily outside of the effect it has on the individual. It isn’t a doctrinal book that one might analyze (though there is doctrine in it). Neither is it devotional in the sense that a believer might read a chapter every night and feel better about his relationship with God. Instead, it is like a bag of seeds. As you read through it, some chapters will take root and engender thought, contemplation, and meditation. These seeds will cause you to dig deeper into the presence of God, seeking the Truth that transforms. Other seeds will be more akin to a husk, something that may have a ring of truth to it but not the substance.

Since I’m not Catholic, I found several chapters that I simply couldn’t enter into. The theological distance was too great. On the other hand, there were a number of chapters that set my mind busily whirling. Rather than give a brief fly-over of the things that interested me; I’d like to focus on the thought that began this review.

What an idea Merton shares with the reader in this tenty-second chapter, entitled ‘Life in Christ!’ God has set before us two ways that we can choose from (Deuteronomy 30:19, Matthew 7:13-14). The easy way is that of Life in Christ. The difficult way is the way of the world or the self. And yet, men struggle to keep from taking the way that leads to “greatest hardship.” Men continue in sin even though the consequences are everywhere evident. Why drink to excess? Why pervert our God-given sexuality? Why engage in mind and body-altering drugs? Why continue in bitterness, hatred, and strife? The end-results of sin are apparent! Death, disease, confusion, pain are all that await. And yet truly, they are the paths of ‘least resistance.’ Sin is always easier at the front-end. It’s only once the seed of sin has had time to germinate and bear fruit that we see its true results. Truly, the way of God is the only way that is in our best interests; nevertheless, it requires compulsion and intention and inward-motivation. Fortunately, that’s what books like New Seeds of Contemplation excel at. They remind us of the goal. They help to reorient our focus away from false beliefs and on to Christ. They’re like a good friend, “provok[ing us] unto love and to good works” (Hebrews 10:24).

Like The Imitation of Christ, New Seeds of Contemplation jumps around from thought to thought, never settling on any one theme. And yet, within its pages there lies much fodder for extended meditation. Whether you’re a Catholic or not, you’ll be able to find something “true…honest…just…pure…lovely…[or] of good report” to think on in these pages (Philippians 4:8). Keep the wheat and spit out the husks.

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2 comments on “Book Review – ‘New Seeds of Contemplation’ by Thomas Merton

  1. Midget01
    August 31, 2014

    to the person who wrote this article. I would behoove you to read that book sitting in the should read section of your room. I now have 29 books of Thomas Merton. I told a priest who taught a history course that I did not want to do a paper on this man, I did not want to know this man and I just plain out tried to refuse to learn about him. Since that class I have received several books from friends all over my area who heard that I was interested in this man. I ran into tables with old books on it in a court house of our town and found a book Thomas Merton’s Dark Path, then later I found Merton’s Palace of Nowhere. this man seems to have taken over my life. While I never wanted to read him and thought I could stay away from him; I thought he was much too heady for me. So I avoided reading him for several years and now I am being pulled back into him now that I have moved to a different area of the state and he still keeps finding a way to reach me. I now can read him and finally seem to get a better understanding of this wonderfully Spirit filled man. I am Catholic but that has nothing to do with it. I thought he was above my head back then and not that I have grown that much smarter but God allows his words to penetrate my heart in a much different way. So read and then later perhaps years later re read- there is much to be gained by reading what this man called Thomas Merton has written. If it brings you closer to God that is good; if it confuses you that is good that causes contemplation, if it causes you to question or inquire that is ok. Reading is never a waste of time, not living your life to the fullest is though and I think this is what Merton is trying to tell people. Thank you for you article on the man. He is a wonderful person and I have no idea why he continues to pursue me but he has finally gained my attention and I struggle to try to read all 29 books. This might take awhile because some of them didn’t seem like an easy read. I believe he has written about 63 books if I am not mistaken or over looked a few. He was a busy man trying to tell the world about God when the world was too busy trying to destroy itself and at times I wondered if it hasn’t set itself on that track to do so.

    Peace/Shalom/Salaam
    Midget # 1 Thomas Merton Fan.

    • CFenn
      September 24, 2014

      Thanks, I appreciate the thoughts. I’ll have to pull out that copy of The Seven Storey Mountain and work through it.

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