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Theological Notebook: Merton on Contemplation

My friend Patrick Collins just drew my attention back to this one:

The only way to get rid of misconceptions about contemplation is to experience it. One who does not actually know, in his own life, the nature of this breakthrough and this awakening to a new level of reality cannot help being misled by most of the things that are said about it. For contemplation cannot be taught. It cannot even be clearly explained. It can only be hinted at, suggested, pointed to, symbolized. The more objectively and scientifically one tries to analyze it, the more he empties it of its real content, for this experience is beyond the reach of verbalization and of rationalization.

–Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, ch. 2.

Given what I've been thinking and writing about the mindset of the philosophy of secularism, this highlights the difficulty for the dialogue between the religious/spiritual (you can't really separate them) worldview and the secular one. Perhaps, as I wrote earlier, this is for us now most vividly illustrated in the clash between the secular West and Islam. Merton is either saying something self-evidently true and only knowable by the experience of it, or he's engaging in a deceptive false truism that explicitly precludes being argued against. If conversation and argument between these two opposing views is problematic, if not impossible, and if the "conversers" are willing to using violence to protect their worldview, then do we not have a dangerous situation, an almost inevitable tragedy?

I can't help but notice the parallels at the Democratic convention, which despite showcasing the laudable goal of "inclusivity," has a difficult time trying to communicate – even to those who are Democratic in a lot of their opinions, but who have wider ideas of human rights that would include the unborn in issues like abortion and the harvesting of the unborn for stem cells and such. It'll be the same at the Republican convention: even the people who genuinely are concerned about the polarization of American politics can't seem to help but demonize the other party.
Tags: interreligious, islam, mysticism/spirituality, political, quotations, secularism/modernity, theological notebook, thomas merton
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