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Contemplative Prayer

4.22  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,876 Ratings  ·  72 Reviews
Thomas Merton's classic study of monastic prayer and contemplation brings a tradition of spirituality alive for the present day. But, as A M Allchin points out in his Introduction to this new edition, Contemplative Prayer also shows us the present day in a new perspective, because we see it in the light of a long and living tradition.
Paperback, 144 pages
Published May 23rd 2005 by Darton Longman and Todd (first published 1969)
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Community Reviews

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Every time I read this book I glean new information from it and am less intimidated by it. five or so more readings and I might even say I actually 'get' most of it. As I'm also reading other things by/about Merton right now, it's all of a piece, with plenty of overlapping coverage.


I am so glad that I just read Pope Bene
Nov 30, 2009 Jessica rated it liked it
This book was written for an audience that does not include me, so the fact that it did not speak to me is not surprising. Nonetheless, I found much to think about in the discussion of what contemplative living and meditation is, and even more specifically, what it isn't. The last few chapters of the book discuss the pitfalls of assuming certain superficial adjustments to beliefs and lifestyles constitutes entering the contemplative or religious life, when in fact what is entered is a life of em ...more
Nov 05, 2011 Steve rated it really liked it
Recommended to Steve by: Referenced in the Devotional Classics, edited by Richard Foster & James Bryan Smith
Shelves: ui-lib
Contemplation, prayer, meditation, silence, solitude, mindfulness. This is the area of my spiritual life that attracts me the most. What does it mean to practice these disciplines of the spiritual life? How are they the same? How are they different? A dear friend of mine who is pursuing the inner life asked me two weeks ago what prayer is and what the difference is between prayer and meditation. I had set this book on the shelf months ago. I picked it up this morning and started reading where I ...more
Jan 25, 2011 Cate rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Can't go wrong with Merton. The foreword by Thich Nhat Hahn just adds to the spiritual sweetness.
Michael Card
Jun 04, 2014 Michael Card rated it it was amazing
One of the most profoundly insightful books I've had the good fortune of reading in a long time. Highly recommended if your prayer life is in a slump, or if you're interested in learning more about the little mind games we play with ourselves in our attempts to lead a devout Christian life.
Oct 17, 2015 Jsavett1 rated it it was amazing
If you've never read Merton, this is NOT a good place to start. If you want to know about HIM, his life choices, and general philosophy, Seven Story Mountain might be a better choice.

But I read this book specifically to learn about his views on Christian mystical meditation and I loved it. He synthesizes sources from the most renowned Catholic mystic thinkers and does so brilliantly.

A word---I read almost everything Merton says when it comes to Christ metaphorically. So I think it's important to
Apr 02, 2016 Stephanie rated it really liked it
Shelves: church
such a little gem of a book. i glazed over at a few very monastic-specific concerns that were addressed in the middle about the contemplative life vs. liturgical duties, but am so glad i pushed through. as dr. rossi said, "he gets it." loved his concept of dread around our encounter with God- "dread divests us of the sense of possession, of "having" our being and our power to love, in order that we may simply be in perfect openness (turned inside out), a defenselessness that is utter simplicity ...more
Oct 21, 2015 Karen rated it liked it
I read this for a class on Thomas Merton. Because it was required reading, I did not have time to really think about what I was reading. I was not that thrilled with the book since there was a great deal on the history of contemplative prayer and the theology of this prayer form. I more would have appreciated the spiritual side of the prayer. Maybe not a method, but less of an educational nature. I don't know.

It also did not help that while I was reading this book, I met with a monk who really d
Nikkol Pauls
Honestly? I didn't understand most of it. The great majority of the book is about monks and why they do meditative prayer, and I found little of relevance to the layperson. There was no instruction, really, on how to do contemplative prayer, and even the why a non-monk would practice it was fuzzy for me, based on this book. Given the book's reviews claiming that Thomas Merton has brought the spiritual practice into the mainstream and made it valuable and accessible for all Christians, I can't he ...more
Benjamin Vineyard
Contemplative Prayer by Thomas Merton (a Book Review)

Merton provided words for what I was experiencing and what I wanted to nurture in the life of prayer. More than devotional stick-to-it-ive-ness, I felt and wanted to continue to feel drawn to simply be with God.

But, while my heart desired more than accountability or discipline, I've also known by experience that, for me, the sense of being aware of God's presence often occurs within the frame of my disciplined life. When I am making space, cl
Sep 02, 2014 James rated it it was amazing
I have found it true that there is no pure negation in my life. Merton writes, “If it [The Dark Night of the Soul] empties the mind and heart of the connatural satisfactions of knowledge and love on a simply human plane, it does so in order to fill them with a higher and purer light which is ‘darkness’ to sense and reason. The darkening is therefore at the same time an enlightenment. God darkens the mind only in order to give a more perfect light. The reason that the light of faith is darkness t ...more
Jun 04, 2014 Liz rated it liked it
Short but dense read. Merton discusses historical perspectives (heavily from St. John of the Cross) on contemplative prayer and our current society's need to revive the discipline.

I found this okay but not great. Merton can be verbose and hard to follow at times, not unlike St. John of the Cross, strangely enough. He's a modern mystic, and some of that mysticism shows up stylistically in his writing (at times, I felt I didn't quite see where he was going or that he didn't quite finish a thought)
May 01, 2014 Stan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For what it is - this is a good book.

"What is it?", you may be asking.

It is a book about monastic, contemplative prayer. And, it is very insightful, if that is what you're after. It is well written and well researched.

It is not a general book about the kind of prayer must of us will practice. That said, there is some insight to be gleaned, if you're willing to invest the time to read it carefully.

Any book that deals with the mystical side of Christianity faces a huge challenge - describing a mys
Monte Lee
Nov 23, 2012 Monte Lee rated it it was amazing
“What is written about prayer in these pages is written primarily for monks. However . . . a practical non-academic study of monastic prayer should be of interest to all Christians, since every Christian is bound to be in some sense a man of prayer. (13)

The following is from the concluding chapter (pp 114, 116, 117):
“When religion becomes a mere artificial façade to justify a social or economic system—
When religion hands over its rites and language completely to the political propagandist,
And wh
нєνєℓ  ¢ανα
Aug 04, 2013 нєνєℓ ¢ανα rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Alison Bähmuller
This is a real classic text for praying by the Trappist monk and influentian writer Thomas Merton. He was perhaps the greatest popularizer of interspirituality. As you can guess, it helps as a valuable guidance and as a beacon for prayer and meditation and also for taking the necessary steps in focusing on God's presence in our very lives.

In the first place, Merton exhibits together a wealth of meditative and mystical influences from John of the Cross to Eastern desert monasticism to create a sp
Tara Tetzlaff
Jan 04, 2016 Tara Tetzlaff rated it it was amazing
"Without this contemplative orientation we are building churches not to praise him but to establish more firmly the social structures, values and benefits that we presently enjoy."
Beyond it's threshing out of the purpose and means of contemplative life, Merton's classic work on the contemplative life is pecked with gems like the above quotation that call us to reevaluate the act of prayer and the purpose of the church as a whole.
Dad Bowers
Apr 27, 2016 Dad Bowers rated it liked it
Shelves: studies, devotional
Written by a modern Catholic mystic, I finally understand somewhat the 20th century concept of mysticism, tho I don't agree. Merton misses much of the gospel in all his compassion and writing and reasoning and prayer and philosophy. I argued with him most of the way thru! I feel he leans a bit toward Eastern religious philosophy, too, sadly. He is useful to read for study, but be careful in accepting all he says.
Alex Stroshine
Aug 25, 2014 Alex Stroshine rated it really liked it
Shelves: christian-living
Thomas Merton's "Contemplative Prayer" reminds me of Henri Nouwen's (superior!) "The Way of the Heart." Merton states from the outset that his main audience are those desiring the contemplative life, specifically those in a religious or monastic vocation but that he believes Christians as a whole may find some insights from his book because prayer is so central to Christian devotion. This is largely true (Merton does discuss internal monastic matters, such as the differences of monastic orders, ...more
Rachael Metzger
Jan 12, 2015 Rachael Metzger rated it it was amazing
Read this at the perfect time. Silence and sitting with the realities of yourself without exaggeration so God can be the truth that you depend on. Love Merton's use of creativity and ownership in our desire to not see God as we would think he is but however he would present himself unpredictably and in his manner not our own.
Aug 18, 2015 Daniel rated it it was amazing
Shelves: christian, prayer
I just finished reading this book and I am going to read it again right away, this time slowly and meditatively. This book is full of riches that will transform our devotional life if we allow what is being said to soak in. Christianity desperately needs people who will be contemplative instead of reactionary.
Dec 27, 2013 Jeremy rated it it was ok
Shelves: christian-life
I gave this two stars instead of one as an acknowledgement that Merton's spiritual journey is obviously too rich for me to comprehend. That said, I found this book to be esoteric, overly abstract, and generally unhelpful. I felt like, rather than talking about prayer, he was mostly talking about talking about prayer. I will let a brief excerpt speak for the rest of my review:

"One has begun to know the meaning of contemplation when he intuitively and spontaneously seeks the dark and unknown path
Aug 08, 2012 Ryan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For me, very little, almost nothing, can be said about any of Merton's writings. It seems inappropriate for some reason, as if I am being presumptuous or overly cheeky. I will say that, for me, Merton ranks among the top writers/texts in my spiritual library, along with Khalil Gibran, the Tao Te Ching, and the Desert Fathers. (The Bible, too, particularly parts of the OT, but I feel like that is unnecessarily pious to say. Like saying "whats your favorite book" "The Bible" blech) Apart from thes ...more
Jim Lavis
Apr 21, 2016 Jim Lavis rated it it was amazing
Thomas Merton is truly a Sage, in my mind, who's questioned the status-quo and broaden the Christian prospective of their own beliefs. This is a short simple read that will introduce you to this great man.
Jul 13, 2015 Nicole rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I would say 3 and a half stars. There is some wonderful things in here. In the beginning it just draws you in. But at one point halfway or a little bit more than half I got lost it could be because he started discussing aspects of prayer that are above me or if I was just distracted by the craziness that's been the past month. But overall, for a book written for monks with a hope that others would be able to read it. I believe it works. However, truly the best time to read this is when you can b ...more
Daniel Wilson
A part of me acknowledges that although I understand the words on the pages of this book, it will take me quite a few years to truly practice what Merton has written about prayer.
Apr 06, 2016 Leonardo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
No me resultó ni muy revelador, ni muy interesante. Insiste bastante en la cuestión de la discusión entre orar y/o hacer (ora et labora, Marta y María). En lo que respecta al proceso de oración hace mucha referencia a la cuestión de la "noche oscura". Creo que la unión de estos dos temas centrales está en la cuestión de orar la realidad, y vivir en oración. No "esquivar" la cruz. Animarse a atravesar el dolor, el miedo, la falta de fe y esperanza, la muerte. Por momentos me pareció ambiguo o poc ...more
Dec 03, 2011 Scott rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Finally completed this. For a small book, it sure took me a while. I would read a few chapters here and there throughout the fall.

There are some good quotes and nice thoughts on prayer and contemplation. I've even used a few in my teaching at church this autumn.

But overall I didn't enjoy the book or find much that was inspiring or engaging about it. It is mostly written about the monastic life of contemplation and, frankly, I wasn't interested. Clearly I am a child of the reformation, as the way
Thomas  Lancaster
Dec 31, 2015 Thomas Lancaster rated it liked it
Shelves: 2015
I loved Seven Story Mountain (his autobiography) but this one was more difficult to follow. Some very good points and ideas within the book though.
K Flewelling
I really like Franciscan monks. I really like Thomas Merton. I really liked this book. It was pretty academic, and sometimes I got a little lost in the Saints and Fathers of the past that he references like I know all about them, but overall, he leaves the reader with a lot to ponder about the nature of contemplation and prayer. I especially appreciate his understanding of dread, of non-being (or emptiness), and how this spaces allows us to confront the true mysteries of Love and Life. Definitel ...more
David Joseph
May 22, 2015 David Joseph rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: mystic types
I know that there are other guys like me who sometimes feel like they need to do something but just cant't figure out what.

Sometimes I can dodge out for a quick smoke, or turn on the X-Box. I'll even reorganize the fridge on the off chance that a last beer might have slipped beneath a bag of old vegetables.

When none of those things seem quite adequate to "relieve the condition", well, there's this.

Word of advice:

Sit there long enough to ensure that you're overcome the desire to do something w
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On Contemplative Prayer 1 9 Mar 27, 2013 02:52PM  
  • The Cloud of Unknowing and The Book of Privy Counseling
  • The Seven Mountains of Thomas Merton
  • The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross
  • The Sacrament of the Present Moment
  • Open Mind, Open Heart: The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel
  • Prayer
  • The Spiritual Exercises
  • Revelations of Divine Love
  • The Philokalia, Volume 1: The Complete Text
  • The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life
  • The Way of Perfection
  • The Fathers
  • Poustinia: Encountering God in Silence, Solitude and Prayer (Madonna House Classics Vol.1)
  • When the Well Runs Dry: Prayer Beyond the Beginnings
  • Centering Prayer: Renewing an Ancient Christian Prayer Form
  • Markings
  • Seeking God: The Way of St. Benedict
  • Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer
Thomas Merton was one of the most influential Catholic authors of the 20th century. A Trappist monk of the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani, in the American state of Kentucky, Merton was an acclaimed Catholic spiritual writer, poet, author and social activist. Merton wrote over 60 books, scores of essays and reviews, and is the ongoing subject of many biographies. Merton was also a proponent of int ...more
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“The only trouble is that in the spiritual life there are no tricks and no shortcuts. Those who imagine that they can discover spiritual gimmicks and put them to work for themselves usually ignore God's will and his grace.” 5 likes
“Syrian monk, Isaac of Niniveh: Many are avidly seeking but they alone find who remain in continual silence. … Every man who delights in a multitude of words, even though he says admirable things, is empty within. If you love truth, be a lover of silence. Silence like the sunlight will illuminate you in God and will deliver you from the phantoms of ignorance. Silence will unite you to God himself. … More than all things love silence: it brings you a fruit that tongue cannot describe. In the beginning we have to force ourselves to be silent. But then there is born something that draws us to silence. May God give you an experience of this “something” that is born of silence. If only you practice this, untold light will dawn on you in consequence … after a while a certain sweetness is born in the heart of this exercise and the body is drawn almost by force to remain in silence.” 5 likes
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