The Sign of Jonas54 by Thomas Merton

read by Bro. Mark

thesignofjonas54.mp3

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Contemplative Psalmody

“How lovely is Your dwelling place, Lord God of Hosts!”

“Oh God, be gracious and bless us…”

“Why are you cast down my soul; why groan within me?” 

After years of praying the Psalms of the Divine Office (excerpts above), one would think that one’s meditations on words such as these spoken by a Prophet or King David himself would have long come to an end.  And they probably would indeed, if one were to remain at the level of Psalmody as Public Proclamation. However, when praying the Office over time and from the more personal perspective of one’s own Contemplative journey, the stage of one’s former discursive reasoning does end, but it is not a bad thing at all. It often happens when one is invited deeper into the mystery. It is said that a person of prayer is then ready to enter the next realm of meaning which for some, such as St. Anthony of the desert, may strike right at their heart and cause them to sell all they have to give to the poor and follow Jesus quite literally. That stage is known as understanding Scripture at the Moral Level.  The same words one may have heard in the past a hundred times suddenly have an urgency about them that compels the person to heed them immediately. It happened to St. Francis of Assisi in that same way.  Wow, right?!  But, Scripture really comes alive when one perseveres in prayer unto the Allegorical Level (or Tropological).  A way of understanding that transcends the literal meaning altogether, while not negating it.  Then, the “dwelling place” of the Lord spoken of above is not the intended literal Temple being spoken about in the Psalm, but more the spiritual heart within the individual. It is not, however, an intellectual knowledge that makes that understanding available to the person simply by explanations such as I have provided.  It is rather an “experience” from within that one awakens to. And, out of that experience, the words become as if one’s own.  The fourth stage of this wondrous process of spiritual growth in the prayerful understanding of Scripture is known as the Unitive level (or Anagogical) of understanding.  When that same “dwelling place” of the Lord is revealed to one either from within or from On High as the Heavenly Jerusalem itself! When one has been blessed to understand in this way, the Scripture becomes one’s very own story, as its life and aliveness.  A truly Living Word which is at one and the same time a history of Salvation in Time and Space and a Timeless and ever-Present Realty that transcends Time by its very NOW-ness.

I have been on my own Monastic journey for over 30 years.  It never ceases to amaze me what treasures there are in the Scriptures.  New understandings, new awakenings, and ever-new invitations to further conversion and deeper levels of prayer.  And on those days when my pain brings down a veil of gloom upon my heart and I can see no further than my own mood, I know that I can recall from my spirit memory the deeper meaning of the words, (as above) “why are you cast down my soul….Hope in God; I will praise Him still!” And I will know that my Hope is well-founded.

So, now may I offer a humble prayer for us all that God in His Mercy continue to “be gracious and bless us”…Amen! 

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The Sign of Jonas53 by Thomas Merton

read by Bro. Mark

thesignofjonas53.mp3

Posted in Audio Books MP3's, Contemplation, Spirituality & Prayer, Thoughts in Solitude | Leave a comment

Suffering as Prayer

One must not think that a person who is suffering is not praying. He is offering up his sufferings to God, and many a time he is praying much more truly than one who goes away by himself and meditates his head off, and, if he has squeezed out a few tears, thinks that is prayer.
-St. Teresa of Avila

For people like us who live with physical and health challenges, saying prayers using the Church’s indulgenced Sacramentals – like the Rosary Beads – or The Psalter, isn’t always something we can do.  It may be a day of excessive pain or a night that passed without sleep that prevents it, however much we desired to.  And so, instead or in addition to these more formal methods of Prayer, we offer our very sufferings themselves to God as Prayer.  Apparently, this was a Practice known to be acceptable in the Church even back in St. Teresa’s time, as the Quote above shows.  But, just what is it that makes our suffering something that can help anyone?

Well, I can’t speak to that as a Theologian might, but in my opinion and from what I have observed, every Conscious Act offered to God for the sake of another’s well-being sends out a vibration of Love into the universe that carries with it an energy of pure spirit  Pure Spirit not because of our own purity, but because we have offered it to God, who then shows “acceptance”, if you will, by uniting that small offering of ours to His own Holy Spirit, purifying it of all that is less-than and unworthy of His own perfection.  If we make these offerings faithfully, daily, or even several times in the same day, how much Love would our Lord shower down upon us all?! 

Now I DID say, “every Conscious Act”. So what is a Conscious Act, then?  A Conscious Act is one done with Intention and Attention.  So many of our daily actions are done by habit or conditioning.  To make a truly Conscious Act, I try to focus however much of my attention my pain allows upon Jesus, knowing that all my desires are known to Him.  And then I will that this humble desire may be of use to relieve the sufferings of others, according to God’s Will, believing in Faith that such IS also God’s Will. Lastly, I let go and Trust in God to supply all the rest, so that this simple act may be brought to fruition in Him. 

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The Sign of Jonas52 by Thomas Merton

read by Bro. Mark

thesignofjonas52.mp3

Posted in Audio Books MP3's, Contemplation, Spirituality & Prayer, Thoughts in Solitude | Leave a comment

The Sign of Jonas51 by Thomas Merton

read by Bro. Mark

thesignofjonas51.mp3

Posted in Audio Books MP3's, Contemplation, Spirituality & Prayer, Thoughts in Solitude | Leave a comment

LENTEN PRACTICE – A Call To The Center


The MIND BELL is an App available from the Google Play Store or from Apple, if you have an iPhone. It’s a Free download and it works very well.  As a Lenten Practice, you can set it to Gong every hour on the Hour for 7 consecutive hours, to correspond with the Monastic Practice of Praying the Divine Office 7 times a day (Ps 119:164).  There is an additional setting to sound a second Bell at the end of 30 seconds.  So, when the first Gong sounds, one is signaled to stop whatever one is doing and Remember the Presence of God within. Then, one is to Meditate on that Presence for 30 seconds until the 2nd sound, the Bell, rings at which time you resume whatever you were doing.  I like to think of this Practice as A Call to the Center.  There are additional settings to either shorten or lengthen the period of time you will stop your activity to Meditate, also. 

Why is this such a worthwhile practice?  It is a training in Attention, for one thing.  An act of Obedience for another. As a Monastic Practice, a monk must be willing to stop immediately whatever he is doing when he hears the Bell that calls him to Prayer. It reminds him that his life IS Prayer, and his Service is to God. All other occupations must ever come second to that single-minded focus.  And so, it is also a Discipline which challenges one to put their own activities aside for the moment and follow the Lord’s more immediate Call. ( Of course, to do so, one needs to be in a situation and environment that makes it possible. I wouldn’t undertake this Practice while at Work or driving. )

This simple offering of one’s time and attention is easily practiced by people such as ourselves who have certain physical and health challenges that might prevent us from observing more strenuous Lenten Practices.  I know for me, personally, Fasting is no longer an option.  My health would be seriously jeopardized by such a Discipline.  So, this Practice of the Bell works well to remind me of what really matters during Lent.  I hope that you find something of value for yourselves, as well.  God’s Peace!

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The Sign of Jonas50 by Thomas Merton

read by Bro. Mark

thesignofjonas50.mp3

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A SIMPLE LENTEN PRACTICE

In The Rule of St. Benedict it is written of the Monks that all of their life is meant to be lived as one continual Lent. But, that during the actual Season of Lent, an additional Practice is to be taken on. St. Benedict recommends nothing too difficult. Maybe an extra Book that the monk should read, cover to cover, omitting nothing and not skipping over any chapters because of one’s personal inclinations. In other words, if you’re bored with it, too bad! I say that with a smile, having recognized myself more than once in that passage. Why would that seem so important to St. Benedict, anyway? Maybe he had his reasons for the monks of that 6th Century. But, does that still have relevance for us, today?

I say an emphatic, YES it does! Reading a Book according to this instruction makes of the Book an acceptable Lenten offering to God. And, its prayerful reading, an acceptable Spiritual Practice. To read in this particular way requires a spirit of attention. A focused and vigilant effort to remain with the words of one page at a time. Patience. An open heart to receive what the message behind the words has to offer. A slow and measured reading also takes longer. It requires a certain commitment of one’s time. Likewise, it insures one’s self-will is not to be fed by denying the monk the opportunity to read only the chapters he personally prefers.

When I first read the Rule of St. Benedict many years ago, this part of Rule would have gone right over my head. I would simply have skipped it and wouldn’t even have looked back. My head would have recorded it as “Read an Extra Book for Lent”. And I would have done so, without any understanding of how it could matter on any other than the superficial level I had relegated it to. But, Today?!

Thanks be to God, Today…. I Prayerfully select a Book. Place it on my Altar. Make my Spiritual intention. Then, offer it to God with maybe a lighted candle or some incense to represent my intention. And when Lent begins, I read the words of every page, mindfully…prayerfully. I stop every so often to rest in silence. And then I go on. After 40 days, if I have remained faithful to the instruction of St. Benedict, I may actually have been blessed to have received a glimpse into Benedictine Humility. God be Praised! AMEN

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The Sign of Jonas49 by Thomas Merton

read by Bro. Mark

thesignofjonas49.mp3

Posted in Audio Books MP3's, Contemplation, Spirituality & Prayer, Thoughts in Solitude | Leave a comment