Highlights #6: The Sign of Jonas by Thomas Merton

The Sign of Jonas by Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) was born in France and came to live in the United States at the age of 24. He received several awards recognizing his contribution to religious study and contemplation, including the Pax Medal in 1963, and remained a devoted spiritualist and a tireless advocate for social justice until his death in 1968. The Sign of Jonas was originally published in 1953.

Book Description:

Begun five years after he entered the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani, The Sign of Jonas is an extraordinary view of Merton’s life in a Trappist monastery, and it serves also as a spiritual log recording the deep meaning and increasing sureness he felt in his vocation: the growth of a mind that finds in its contracted physical world new intellectual and spiritual dimensions.

Here are some of the passages I highlighted:

Just because a cross is a cross, does it follow that it is the cross God intends for you? 46

The simplest and most effective way to sanctity is to disappear into the background of ordinary everyday routine. 35

As soon as you stop traveling you will have arrived. 28

You cannot begin to do anything unless you have some idea what you are trying to do. 15

By making a vow of Stability the monk renounces the vain hope of wandering off to find the “perfect monastery.” But for me, the vow of stability has been the belly of the whale. 10

I had to find out that in the plans of Divine providence there is no such thing as a defeat and that every step is, or ought to be, a step forward into the wilderness… 126

The smallest thing, touched by charity, is immediately transfigured and becomes sublime. 182

In order to have everything, desire to have nothing. 191

I am glad of my deep moral poverty which is always before me, these days, but which does not obsess or upset me, because it is all lost in His mercy.

The truth is, I am far from being the monk or the cleric that I ought to be. My life is a great mess and tangle of half conscious subterfuges to evade grace and  duty. I have done all things badly, I have thrown away great opportunities. My infidelity to Christ, instead of making me sick with despair, drives me to throw myself all the more blindly into the arms of His mercy. 193

We quite often decide on good things which are not good enough because they’re only our own idea. When God sees fit, he lets us know that he ignores them in favor of what is obviously much better. 196

Keeping a journal has taught me that there is not so much new in your life as you sometimes think. When you reread your journal you find out that your latest discoveries are something you already found out five years ago. Still, it is true that one penetrates deeper and deeper into the same ideas in the same experiences. 204

I am consoled to realize how often Jesus was abrupt in his words and movements. He never bothered to be diplomatic. Yet he was never impatient or impulsive. 219

I am all mixed up with illusions and attachments. 234

If I were more absorbed in the presence of God, I would be a better writer and would write much less. 239

What a relief to be indifferent to things, after having been pushed around by a crowd of different intoxication’s, some of which seem to be intensely holy and some of which do not even bother to wear a disguise. 241

It is not complicated, to lead a spiritual life. But it is difficult. We are blind, and subject to a thousand illusions. We must expect to the making mistakes almost all the time. We must be content to fail repeatedly. 242

The thing to do when you’ve made a mistake is not to give up doing what you are doing and start something altogether new, but to start over again with the thing you began badly and try, for the love of God, to do it well. 242

There is nothing to live for but God, and I’m still full of the orchestras that drown his voice. 242

If preaching is not born of silence and solitude, it is a waste of time. 266

I think the chief reason why we have so little joy is that we take ourselves too seriously. 273

God gives himself to those who give themselves to him. The way does not matter much, as long as it is the way he has chosen for us. 286

The Pharisees accused the woman in adultery and when Jesus bent down to write with his finger in the dust, perhaps he meant to show them by this mystery, that the judgments of men are words written in the dust, and that only God’s judgments are true and just. 290, 291

So to listen to God means, first of all, to recognize our helplessness, our stupidity, our blindness and our ignorance. How can we ever hear him if we think of ourselves as experts in religion? 295

Those who love God should attempt to preserve or create an atmosphere in which he can be found. 311

The things I thought were so important–because of the effort I put into them–have turned out to be of small value. And the things I never thought about, the things I was never able either to measure or to expect, were the things that mattered. 353