Explain and evaluate Thomas Merton’s spiritual approach to the Christian life.

One of the most influential Catholic authors of the twentieth century, Thomas Merton, is also famous for proposing a very negotiable spiritual approach to the Christian life. He got converted to Catholic Church in his mid-twenties and published several books which deal with several of his spiritual reflections. “He attempted to bridge the gap between Eastern and Western spirituality and had an influence in the secular world due to his focus on the balance between the inner life and the outer life.

In meditation, we should not look for a “method” or a “system” but cultivate an “attitude” and “outlook”: faith, openness, attention, reverence, expectation, supplication, trust, joy. All these finally permeate our being with love in so far as our living faith tells us we are in the presence of God, that we live in Christ, that in the Spirit of God we “see” God our Father without “seeing.” We know him in “unknowing.” Faith is the bond that unites us to him in the Spirit who gives us light and love.” It may be remarked that according to Merton, natural gifts such as ingenuity or cleverness become great problems in the spiritual life as we look for “tricks” and “shortcuts.”

Merton considers that effort and exertion in the spiritual life are helpful only if we are being led by God. If we are, in fact, resisting God’s leading, all these efforts cannot produce any good result. According to him, meditation at times can be very difficult. When we have problems in prayer, we need to wait with patience, and this can lead to the discovery that meditation and prayer are very joyful experiences. He also suggests that humility and docile acceptance of great advice are very important in spiritual life.

He recognizes the role of the spiritual director in the spiritual journey. “The spiritual director is someone who is capable of guiding the beginner in the ways of prayer and detecting any sign of misguided zeal and wrong-headed effort. Such a one should be listened to and obeyed, especially when the director cautions against the use of certain methods and practices which he sees to be out of place or harmful in a particular case, or when he declines to accept certain “experiences” as progress.”

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