Thomas Merton on Darkness and Prayer

During these long winter nights, when evening falls so early and the sun doesn’t rise until the morning has long been with us, the theme of darkness and the evocative senses it suggests seem noticeably present. I have heard it said that the celebration of Christmas falling just a few days after the Winter Solstice — the longest period of darkness on the calendar year — is no accident. Following the celebration of the Light of Christ’s entrance in our world and history the light begins to rise and our days increase. Once we were in darkness, but now we live in the light.

Nevertheless, the struggles of the darkness, the unknown, the silence of our lives come to the fore oftentimes in ways we do not anticipate. Merton’s prayer reflects this dimension of our spiritual lives, a timely meditation for the long, cold nights of winter as the darkness increases right before the new dawn that is the birth of Christ. As the Advent response from the Liturgy of the Hours foretells each morning of this season, “Your light will come, Jerusalem. The Lord will dawn on you in radiant beauty.”

As we await the dawn, may the darkness of our lives vanish in the light of God with us, Emmanuel.

From Dialogues with Silence

God, my God, God Whom I meet in darkness, with You it is always the same thing! Always the same question that nobody knows how to answer!

I have prayed to You in the daytime with thoughts and reasons, and in the nighttime You have confronted me, scattering thought and reason. I have come to You in the morning light and with desire, and You have descended upon me with great gentleness, with most forbearing silence in this inexplicable night, dispersing light, defeating all desire. I have explained to You a hundred times my motives for entering the monastery, and You have listened and said nothing, and I have turned away and wept with shame.

Is it true that my motives have meant nothing? Is it true that all my desires were an illusion?

While I am asking questions that You do not answer, You ask me a question that is so simple that I cannot answer it. I do not even understand the question.

An earlier version of this post appeared on DatingGod.org on December 9, 2011.

Photo: Stock
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