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Choosing to Love the World

Choosing to Love the World: On Contemplation
by Thomas Merton, edited by Jonathan Montaldo
Boulder, CO: Sounds True, 2008
191 pages
Reviewed by Lilian Whitney

Spiritual direction is contemplative action, and renowned spiritual writer, monk, and social activist Thomas Merton is an excellent guide for everyone who serves as a spiritual director or guide. Choosing to Love the World: On Contemplation is a first-rate new book of Merton’s extensive writings, edited by Jonathan Montaldo of the Merton Institute for Contemplative Living.

Seven sections form a structure for more than 150 separate thoughts and meditations selected from Merton’s most inspirational books and letters. Each chapter is titled provocatively, leading the reader on a reflective journey. Beginning with “The Inner Ground of Love” the reader moves to “Living in Wisdom” followed by “Contemplative Listening.” “Dialoguing with Silence” leads to “The Inner Experience of Love” and “A Monastic Life of Prayer and Protest.” The conclusion is “Epilogue: The Door to Clear Light.” The source and reference for each page of text is included at the end of the book. This is exceedingly helpful. Many times I wanted to read more than the single page meditation and can thus go to the original source, expanding the content and context.

Why is yet another compilation of Merton’s writings relevant today? Because the world is still hungry. People seek love and freedom. We all need experienced guides. Merton remains relevant and is a good companion for spiritual directors and guides, and the men and women we companion.

Merton describes how the contemplative life leads to life mission and self-knowledge. For instance:

The mission of the contemplative in this world of massive conflict and collective unreason is to seek the true way of unity and peace, without succumbing to the illusion of withdrawing into a realm of abstraction from which unpleasant realities are simply excluded by the force of will. (67)

Merton also confronts a reality I know only too well:

It is not that we go out into the world with a capacity to love others greatly. This too we know in ourselves, that our capacity to love is limited. And it has to be completed with the capacity to be loved, to accept love from others, to want to be loved by others…. (163)

Choosing to Love the World: On Contemplation illuminates perennial wisdom that heals and transforms. When I offer spiritual direction, and meet with a spiritual directee who is genuine, prayerful, and who seeks meaningful work and engaged action I am privileged to companion the human desire for God. This desire is never isolated, and is always a choice to love on behalf of transformation and healing of the world. Merton is a guide for me, and thus touches those that I encounter.

Lilian Whitney is a spiritual guide, Usui Reiki II practitioner, and lives in South Laguna, California, USA. She is particularly interested in world cultures and ocean horizons.

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