Thomas Merton is the writer who first drew me into silence and in many ways rescued my spiritual life.
Here are a few of the many Merton quotes on silence that move me:
Entering the Silence: Becoming a Monk and Writer. The Journals of Thomas Merton. Volume 2:1941-1952. Jonathan Montaldo, ed. San Francisco: HarperCollins Publishers, 1996.
March 19, 1948 – God hidden within me. I find Him by hiding in the silence in which He is concealed. 187
February 13, 1949 – It seems to me that what I am made for is not speculation but silence and emptiness, to wait in darkness and receive the Word of God entirely in His Oneness and not broken up into all His shadows. 281
May 15, 1949 – I am confronted with the fact of my past prayer. Acts, thoughts, desires, words, became inadequate when I was a novice. Resting in God, sleeping, so to speak, in His silence, remaining in His darkness, have fed me and made me grow for seven years. 311
January 8, 1950 – Preaching God implies silence. If preaching is not born of silence, it is a waste of time. Writing and teaching must be fed by silence or they are a waste of time. / There are many declarations made only because we think other people are expecting us to make them. The silence of God should teach us when to speak and when not to speak. But we cannot bear the thought of that silence, lest it cost us the trust and respect of men. 396
The Ascent to Truth. NY: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1951.
The inspirations of the Holy Ghost are quiet, for God speaks in the silent depths of the spirit. His voice brings peace. It does not arouse excitement, but allays it because excitement belongs to uncertainty. 185, 186
The Sign of Jonas. NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers, 1953.
Almost all activity makes me ill, but as soon as I am alone and silent again I sink into deep peace, recollection, and happiness. 250
If preaching is not born of silence, it is a waste of time. 266
The silence of God should teach us when to speak and when not to speak. 267
there is greater comfort in the substance of silence than in the answer to a question. 361
Questions arrive, assume their actuality, and also disappear. In this hour I shall cease to ask them, and silence shall be my answer. 361
No Man Is An Island. NY: Harcourt Brace & Co., 1955.
If we strive to be happy by filling all the silences of life with sound, productive by turning all life’s leisure into work, and real by turning all our being into doing, we will only succeed in producing a hell on earth. 127
It is not seldom that our silence and our prayers do more to bring people to the knowledge of God than all our words about Him. 256
If you go into solitude with a silent tongue, the silence of mute beings will share with you their rest. / But if you go into solitude with a silent heart, the silence of creation will speak louder than the tongues of men or angels. 256
Silence is the mother of speech. 258
The Silent Life. NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1957.
The world of men has forgotten the joys of silence, the peace of solitude which is necessary, to some extent, for the fullness of human living. Not all men are called to be hermits, but all men need enough silence and solitude in their lives to enable the deep inner voice of their own true self to be heard at least occasionally. When that inner voice is not heard, when man cannot attain to the spiritual peace that comes from being perfectly at one with his own true self, his life is always miserable and exhausting. For he cannot go on happily for long unless he is in contact with the springs of spiritual life which are hidden in the depths of his own soul. If man is constantly exiled from his own home, locked out of his own spiritual solitude, he ceases to be a true person. He no longer lives as a man. He becomes a kind of automaton, living without joy because he has lost his spontaneity. He is no longer moved from within, but only from outside himself. 166, 167
Thoughts In Solitude. Boston: Shambala Publications, Inc., 1993. (originally published 1958)
Prayer is then not just a formula of words, or a series of desires springing up in the heart – it is the orientation of our whole body, mind and spirit to God in silence, attention, and adoration. All good meditative prayer is a conversion of our entire self to God. 44
living in a silence which so reconciles the contradictions within us that, although they remain within us, they cease to be a problem. 90
Contradictions have always existed in the soul of man. But it is only when we prefer analysis to silence that they become a constant and insoluble problem. 91
silence teaches us to know reality by respecting it where words have defiled it. 93
When we have really met and known the world in silence, words do not separate us from the world nor from other men, nor from God, nor from ourselves because we no longer trust entirely in language to contain reality. 93
Disputed Questions. NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovic, Publishers, 1953.
For language to have meaning, there must be intervals of silence somewhere, to divide word from word and utterance from utterance. 195
New Seeds of Contemplation. NY: New Directions, 1961.
If nothing that can be seen can either be God or represent Him to us as He is, then to find God we must pass beyond everything that can be seen and enter into darkness. Since nothing that can be heard is God, to find Him we must enter into silence. 131
Dancing in the Water of Life: Seeking Peace in the Hermitage. The Journals of Thomas Merton. Volume 5:1963-1965. Robert E. Daggy, ed. San Francisco: HarperCollins Publishers, 1997.
May 1965 – the silence of the forest is my bride and the sweet dark warmth of the whole world is my love, and out of the heart of that dark warmth comes the secret that is heard only in silence, but it is the root of all the secrets that are whispered by all the lovers in their beds all over the world. 240
Learning to Love: Exploring Solitude and Freedom. Volume 6:1966-1967. Christine M. Bochen, ed. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1997.
December 16, 1966 – From the silence of the valley I can learn that certain questions do not need answers of mine. 171
April 9, 1967 – Pessimism – from lack of silence (in my own life). 216
April 19, 1967 – The deep inner sustaining power of silence. 217
Contemplation in a World of Action. NY: Image Books, 1971.
The immature person, when forced to be silent, tends to experience his inauthenticity and has no escape from it. Communication with others, even about nothing, at least offers some diversion. 96, 97
The Monastic Journey. NY: Image Books, 1977.
God spoke His eternal word in silence, and He wishes us to receive His words in silence. If we are merely speculative students of Scripture, breaking the words of God up into scientific fragments and deafening our spirit with the noise of human argument – which is too often the noise of the ‘flesh’ with its spirit of factions and divisions – then we cannot hear the word who speaks to us silently in the words of God. 50
the mercy of God is not heard in words unless it is heard, both before and after the words are spoken, in silence. 200
Love and Living. NY: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1979.
Christianity is a religion of the Word. The Word is Love. But we sometimes forget that the Word emerges first of all from silence. When there is no silence, then the One Word which God speaks is not truly heard as Love. Then only ‘words’ are heard. ‘Words’ are not love, for they are many and Love is One. Where there are many words, we lose consciousness of the fact that there is really only One Word. The One Word which God speaks is Himself. Speaking, he manifests Himself as infinite Love. 18
If there is no silence beyond and within the many words of doctrine, there is no religion, only a religious ideology. For religion goes beyond words and actions, and attains to the ultimate truth only in silence and Love. Where this silence is lacking, where there are only the ‘many words’ and not the One Word, then there is much bustle and activity but no peace, no deep thought, no understanding, no inner quiet. 20
In silence we face and admit the gap between the depths of our being, which we consistently ignore, and the surface which is untrue to our own reality. We recognize the need to be at home with ourselves in order that we may go out to meet others, not just with a mask of affability, but with real commitment and authentic love. / If we are afraid of being alone, afraid of silence, it is perhaps because of our secret despair of inner reconciliation. If we have no hope of being at peace with ourselves in our own personal loneliness and silence, we will never be able to face ourselves at all: we will keep running and never stop. 41
silence makes us whole if we let it. Silence helps draw together the scattered and dissipated energies of a fragmented existence. 43
And one comment on Thomas Merton from Shannon, William. Thomas Merton’s Paradise Journey: Writings on Contemplation. Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger, 2000.
only silence can reach that dimension of reality that is too deep for words. 92