It would be absurd to suppose that because emotion sometimes interferes with reason, that it therefore has no place in the spiritual life. Christianity is not stoicism.

The Cross does not sanctify by destroying human feeling. Detachment is not insensibility. Too many ascetics fail to become great saints precisely because their rules and ascetic practices have merely deadened their humanity instead of setting it free to develop richly, in all its capacities, under the influence of grace. 13

The thing that first drew me to the writings of Thomas Merton was his deep humanity. He appears in his writing to have been unfailingly honest, genuine and authentic. He never seems to have pretended to be something other than what he knew himself to be. His writing presents him as a man of deep, sometimes conflicting, feeling. He never shied away from the emotional life.

Merton took passionate delight in the beauty of creation; he loved conversation and cherished silence. The witness of his journals bears testimony to the fact that he could be petulant, obsessive, and at times irritable. But he was also capable of profound compassion and deep insight. He experienced intense anger in the face of the injustice and violence he saw in so much of the world. But he was also able to enter into stillness and find that place within himself that is deeper than the call of thought or emotion.

This is the really compelling thing about Merton. While he was certainly no impassive stoic, he was also rarely the victim of his emotions. And, while he was a profound thinker, he never allowed himself to be defined or ultimately shaped by his intellectual abilities alone.

Merton’s goal was always to open to “the influence of grace.” He longed to live in tune with that steady stream of love that is deeper than emotion and more profound than any human thought. He sought to align himself always with the presence of God at the heart of his being.

What emotions keep me trapped on the surface of life?

What practices help me become more aware of the deep sustaining presence “of grace” at the heart of my being?