"Spiritual Direction" and "Meditation" have become spiritual buzz words these days. So many books teach the novice how to go about sitting, breathing, visualizing, etc. Merton cuts through the chase and offers a helpful guide to the Christian who really wants to grow through the cultivation of the inner life. But why shouldn't he? Merton's books were teaching generations truths about the contemplative life before the buzz words started to buzz. This short, easy to read book is a joy to recommend.
This slender but powerful volume is divided into two fifty-page essays. The first discusses spiritual direction and is aimed mainly at the religious; the second covers the practice of meditation and speaks more to the lay reader.
Merton's commentary on direction is incisive as always. He has a nasty habit of confronting me with my human weaknesses just when I think I've made a little spiritual progress. My spirituality must not be compartmentalized, it must encompass my every thought and action: holiness is not simply a matter of going to church every Sunday, it's how I brush my teeth. Further, my spiritual life must not become enslaved to form; it is all about substance. If the essence of my being is committed to the Holy Spirit, if love for God infuses my every thought and action, I will discern my vocation and conduct my life in harmony with His will. Certainly, a lay person may need guidance in this discernment, but for a religious, whose vocation is spiritual "perfection", it is imperative. Without proper guidance, and a lot of it, proper formation is impossible and the result is often a lost soul. Merton explains what a spiritual director should be, and perhaps more important, what he should not be. Very few of us can discern God's will in solitude-most of us need to talk things out, even if, as Merton points out, it is only a matter of hearing confirmation of what we already know in our heart.
Merton's commentary on meditation includes everything from explaining the true goal of meditation (union with God) to teaching the basics (e.g., it's best to meditate when seated). His primer is must reading for anyone interested in meditation, or anyone wishing to improve his/her prayer life in general.