Spiritual Direction and Meditation by Thomas Merton
Author Profile -Thomas Merton (1915-1968) was an American writer and Trappist monk at Our Lady of Gethsemani Abbey in Trappist, Kentucky. His writings include such classics as The Seven Storey Mountain, which remains in print after more than fifty years and is considered a top 100 book of the 20th century.
Merton is the author of more than seventy books that include poetry, personal journals, collections of letters, social criticism and writings on peace, social justice and ecumenicism.
Overview – Give a brief overview of the book or article, including its theme, perspective, and approach.
Merton explains the ancient yet future practice of spiritual direction. He deals with the following aspects of spiritual direction: meaning and purpose of is direction necessary, how to profit by direction, and special problems.
His approach assumes a Roman Catholic audience yet I found many insights to translate very well to a Protestant context. He states that the purpose of spiritual direction “is to penetrate beneath the surface of a man’s life, to get behind the façade of conventional gestures and attitudes which he presents to the world, and to bring out his inner spiritual freedom, his inmost truth, which is what call the likeness of Christ in his soul” (page 16).
Critique – Offer a brief critique of the book or article, including elements of strength and weakness.
Merton does a wonderful job of explaining plainly what spiritual direction is. After he defines direction, he creates a need and desire for spiritual direction by explaining the benefits and boundaries.
The one major strength of the work is he took a potentially difficult concept and explained it clearly so it can be understood and even practiced. As a Protestant reader, there were confusing Catholic references that included: penance, praying to Mary, being “another Christ”, religious, confessor, and compunction.
As a Protestant reader, there were confusing Catholic references that included: penance, praying to Mary, being “another Christ”, religious, confessor, and compunction.
Application – Offer some specific application to your own life and ministry – demonstrating the value and relevance of the material in this book or article.
I read this work while on a three-day prayer retreat at the Trappist monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, GA. I was ten months into a new role at Intown Community Church as “Discipleship and Spiritual Direction Pastor”.
I have known and practiced discipleship for more than twenty-five years but was not sure what spiritual direction was. Merton’s presentation gave me more clarity on what direction is and expanded my motivation to practice well the skills he presented.
Best Quotation – Be sure to include the page number where the quotation can be found.
“A true director can never get over the awe he feels in the presence of a person, an immortal soul, loved by Christ, washed in His most precious blood, and nourished by the sacrament of His love.” (page 34)