We must not take a purely quietistic view of contemplative prayer. It is not mere negation. Nor can a person become a contemplative merely by “blacking out” sensible realities and remaining alone with himself in darkness. First of all, one who does this of set purpose, as a conclusion to practical reasoning on the subject and without an interior vocation, simply enters into an artificial darkness of his own making. He is not alone with God, but alone with himself. He is not in the presence of the Transcendent One, but of an idol: his own complacent identity. He becomes immersed and lost in himself, in a state of inert, primitive and infantile narcissism. His life is “nothing”. . . . It is purely the nothingness of a finite being left to himself and absorbed in his own triviality.  

     The trouble with quietism is . . . it makes a cult out of “sitting still”, as if this in itself had a magic power to solve all problems and bring man into contact with God. But in actual fact it is simply an evasion. It is a lack of honesty and seriousness, a trifling with grace and a flight from God. 

     The contemplative way is, in fact, not a way. Christ alone is the way, and he is invisible. The “desert” of contemplation is simply a metaphor to explain the state of emptiness which we experience when we have left all ways, forgotten ourselves and taken the invisible Christ as our way. 

Reference: Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer, 68-71. 

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