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Book review: “Dialogues with Silence: Prayers and Drawings” by Thomas Merton, edited by Jonathan Montaldo


Lessons from Thomas Merton in the pages of the 2001 collection of his writings, Dialogues with Silence: Prayers and Drawings, edited by Jonathan Montaldo:

Merton experiences prayer as something not isolated in a place or into words. Instead, he writes:

My God, I pray to You by breathing.

He recognizes that reaching out to God requires something beyond — above? deeper than? — human limitations:

I will travel to You, Lord, through a thousand blind alleys.
You want to bring me to You through stone walls.

Love is an act of will, or at least vulnerability. But it is also — maybe in its essence — being.

The trees indeed love You without knowing You. Without being aware of Your presence, the tiger lilies and cornflowers proclaim that they love You. The beautiful dark clouds ride slowly across the sky musing on You like children who do not know what they are dreaming of as they play.

God is Being, too, as Merton notes that as the clock ticks and the thermostat stops humming, “God is in this room. He is in my heart.” And Merton tries to open himself to God if he can first overcome “my sin of over-activity.” It is a sin that has grown out of a challenge from God in the form of celebrity, and Merton says to God, “You have got me kneeling behind that pillar with my mind making a noise like a bank. Is that contemplation?”


Merton prays for forgiveness.

Have mercy on my darkness, my weakness, my confusion. Have mercy on my infidelity, my cowardice, my turning about in circles, my wandering, my evasions.

Merton prays for help to let go.

Lord, give us liberty from all things that are in this world, from the preoccupations of earth and of time, that we may be called to cleanness where the saints are, the gold and silver saints before Your throne.

In the Bible, Job was told by God that there was no way a human like him could grasp the nature of God, and Merton recognizes this, hoping, nonetheless, that, with God’s help, he can cross the chasm.

Teach me to go to this country beyond words and beyond names.

And, again, he prays:

Let me be content with whatever darkness surrounds me.

And, again:

God, have mercy on me in the blindness in which I hope I am seeking you.

Merton is not alone. Each human being is groping blindly for God. Each needs the support of the human community, and Merton advises a friend to “pray for the salvation of all people, nuns, business men, Hitler, everybody.”

On the vigil of Pentecost, he prays:

Today, Father, this blue sky praises You. The delicate green and orange flowers of the tulip poplar praise You. The distant blue hills praise You together with the sweet smelling air that is full of brilliant light. The bickering flycatchers praises You with the lowing cattle and the quails that whistle over there. I, too, Father, praise You with these creatures, my brothers and sisters. You have made us all together, and You have placed me here this morning in the midst of them. And here I am.”

He prays:

Here, I am.

Patrick T. Reardon

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