Nouwen, Merton: Meditative Prayer

Henri Nouwen, Merton: Meditative Prayer

“Many voices ask for our attention. "Be sure to become successful, popular, and powerful." But underneath all these often very noisy voices is a still, small voice that says, "You are my Beloved, my favor rests on you." To hear that voice requires solitude, silence, and a strong determination to listen. That's what prayer is. It is listening to the voice that calls us "my Beloved."  Henri Nouwen, “January 13, The Still, Small Voice of Love,” Bread for the Journey. Henry Nouwen Society, Daily Meditation


I have tried to read Thomas Merton’s work in the past, but could not connect with it, so when I spied his very short treatise, Spiritual Direction and Meditation, I decided it was time to give him another try, especially when so many of the contemporary spiritual writers like Henri Nouwen keep quoting him. Merton’s book was put together in 1960 and therefore we must forgive his constant use of the masculine. He also writes to people with a Catholic religious background and Catholic clergy in particular as he addresses many issues that might be especially helpful to a young male novice.

The book, however, is filled with pearls in almost every sentence. Merton constantly reminds us that the ultimate end of meditation is communion with God directly in the present, the awakening of our inner, true self and positioning ourselves inwardly to the Holy Spirit, so that we will be able to respond to God’s Grace. We hope to see the mysteries of the life of Christ as a part of our own spiritual existence.

Merton outlines the simple essentials of meditative prayer:

1. We first must be sincere about praying.

 2. We are to attempt to focus on meditating.

3. We sincerely hope for a divine union with God.

 4. We then rest contently in God’s presence.

The precise way we make our meditation depends on our temperament and natural gifts. For the intellectual, the thinking person, the mind must ascend by reasoning to the threshold of intuition. All thinking processes must end in love.

Those with more feeling and intuitive minds may approach the truth almost immediately apprehending the wholeness as beauty rather than truth. Those with an intuitive temperament may more easily be able to use all their senses to place themselves into the life of Jesus and more easily connect spiritually to Christ.

Contemplative meditation, spiritual direction,  liturgical prayer, the Eucharist, all seek the same end, a deeper union with Christ.