Customer Reviews: New Seeds of Contemplation
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on December 26, 2002
Thomas Merton wrote "Seeds of Contemplation" when he was a young, relatively inexperienced contemplative. "New Seeds" is his reworking of that text, written after twelve years of intense spiritual effort.
Among other things, "New Seeds" is a great companion piece to St. John's "Dark Night of the Soul." I struggled mightily with that book, due to the complexity of thought and of the writing itself. Merton goes through these same stages of spiritual awareness and development in language I found far easier to understand.
But "New Seeds" is not merely a reworking of "Dark Night". I can't judge the value of his insights as they would apply to a true contemplative, but I suspect he offers much. For a worldly person who seeks spiritual growth, there is no question of this book's value.
Merton's major theme is humility. Only through humility can we discover faith. Only through humility can we rid ourselves of the distractions that separate us from God. Materialism, pride, sensuality, and the like are so well accepted in our society that we seldom see on how deeply they disrupt our souls. Merton's uncompromising reflections are a cold slap in the face.
"New Seeds" is also a moving defense of mysticism. God cannot be found through reason alone. He cannot be understood by reading or thinking. In fact, He cannot be understood at all. The emptying that we must do, the shedding of our selfish skins, can only begin when we decide to relinquish our selves to His will. Again, in a materialistic society, such ideas seem absurd; Merton conveys them with a power that makes any other idea seem absurd, even to the most rational reader.
Finally...even though Merton cautions us against excessive emotion as a false measure of interior progress, he writes at times with majesty that cannot help but inspire: "As a magnifying glass concentrates the rays of the sun into a little burning ray of heat that can set fire to a dry leaf or a piece of paper, so the mystery of Christ in the Gospel concentrates the rays of God's light and fire to a point that sets fire to the spirit of man...Through the glass of His Incarntation He concentrates the rays of His Divine Truth and Love upon us so that we feel the burn, and all mystical experience is communicated to men through the Man Christ."
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on March 30, 2001
"In order to become myself I must cease to be what I always thought I wanted to be, and in order to find myself I must go out of myself, and in order to live I have to die." (Chapter 7)
As the world moves into a new century, these earnest, seeking, searching, truthful words of Thomas Merton still have the power to make folks examine themselves.
"New Seeds of Contemplation" is one heck of a book. I have yet to encounter a better book on the subject of confronting our false selves--our impostors. Each chapter is absolutely loaded with food for thought; and more than thought...contemplative prayer:
"I wonder if the are twenty men alive in the world now who see things as they really are. That would mean that there were twenty men who were free, who were not dominated or even influenced by any attachment to any created thing or to their own selves or to any gift of God, even to the highest, the most supernaturally pure of His graces. I don't believe there are twenty such men alive in the world. But there must be one or two. They are the ones who are holding everything together and keeping the universe from falling apart." (Chapter 28)
The world (and eternity for that matter) will only be changed as people like those described in the passage above increasingly take their focus off the visible and seek instead the invisible, yet more real, kingdom.
"So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." (John 8:36)
"New Seeds of Contemplation" Is humbling to read. I've spent some time with it now (books like this demand more time than others). It will change those who are willing to interact with the author's Creator while prayerfully reading it. I wholeheartedly recommend it to everyone.
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on February 29, 2004
I have a weakness for books pertaining to monastic life, regardless of whether or not that's a Christian or Buddhist source. I have always been drawn to this lifestyle. This book is a revised version of his initial text titled, "Seeds of Contemplation," which might be one of his most read out of everything he has written. Some of the best literature on the nature of self is to be found in the opening chapters of this work. In here we find stunning passages on contemplative spirituality unlike any we have ever seen in the wide variety of Christian bodies of work. There are actually 5 versions of "Seeds", but "New Seeds of Contemplation" is the only one I have read.
I am not Catholic, and I don't claim to understand everything Fr. Merton writes about in these texts. But there is certainly a common denominator here in connection to the contemplative practices of us Zen practitioners and Christian contemplatives like Merton. What I do know of this book is that it attempts to release the sleeping being within us all while waking us up from our spiritually inactive state, fostering an innate and almost numinous experience in all of our spiritual lives. In this work Merton expresses, "Every moment and every event of every man's life on earth plants something in his soul. For just as the wind carries thousands of winged seeds, so each moment brings with it germs of spiritual vitality that come to rest imperceptibly in the minds and wills of men. Most of these unnumbered seeds perish and are lost, because men are not prepared to receive them: for such seeds as these cannot spring up anywhere except in the good soil of freedom, spontaneity and love."
Wasn't that a wonderful passage? Come take a journey with Father Merton. If you were under the impression he is dead, just read this book and you will see he is as alive as ever! That's the great marvel of writings like these. The authors cannot die, for their work has the unique gift of touching our lives in ways no fictional works could ever even attempt to do. Enjoy!
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on July 4, 2001
I came to Thomas Merton's writings through reading Richard Foster's "Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home"(which I HIGHLY recommend). Since I am interested in contemplation and centering prayer, this is my choice of Merton's best book. Each "Mertonite" will have his or her own personal favorite, but this is mine. I especially liked the chapter titled: "Pray for Your Own Discovery", which I have higlighted extensively. Merton is very quotable; almost any sentence is worthy of admiration. I like what he says about our "mindfulness" of God: "What good does it do to say a few formal prayers to Him and then turn away and give all my mind and all my will to created things, desiring only ends that fall far short of Him?" If your new to Merton, this book is a wonderful place to begin your lifetime appreciation for the writngs of a true contemplative and a genuine human being. His books will be with you for the rest of your journey - to be read and reread as you continue along life's paths.
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on August 30, 1999
This is a great book, in my opinion, but it does require that the reader be at least somewhat familiar with the contemplative experience in order to fully appreciate its insights. In other words, I do not believe that "New Seeds of Contemplation" is particularly appropriate as an introductory treatise on contemplation. Merton is extremely adept at depicting and expounding on those contemplative experiences that one too often is unable to find the correct words with which to describe. But without any experience of contemplation prior to reading this book, those persons who are just starting to explore a contemplative life may well find its lanugage fleeting and difficult to comprehend. On a personal note, I myself found "New Seeds of Contemplation" a difficult read on my first try. I revisited the book after spending some time at a Cistercian monastery, and it spoke to me in the heart in ways few books have ever spoken. As one of our fellow reviewers has stated, "New Seeds of Contemplation" may require the reader to be at a certain point in life. This does not make the reader "inadquate" for not enjoying the book, nor is the book's value in any way diminished. It is just the way it is.
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on February 28, 2007
In 'New Seeds of Contemplation' Thomas Merton, in the terse style of the monastic tradition, describes the fruits and hardships of the life totally dedicated to contemplation and prayer. Despite being a master of the word, Merton never decorates his words with flowery qualifications or ornate rhetoric, but instead writes in a very precise, pointed and clear manner, often with a bluntness which seems to prick the reader to the very core.

The path to God, in Merton's eyes, can take place in an instant, or over many years of struggle. The struggle is never really to unite with God himself, since God loves all of us dearly and wants the most intimate union with each and every one of us, but rather in letting go of every aspect of our selfishness and egoism which makes us turn from God and to our own power and resources, the part which happily says I can do it all on my own, I don't need you, to God. This in Merton's view is the fruit of original sin, the rule of the 'false self' of the ego over our 'true self', which is our own image, made in the image of God himself.

At times Merton sounds like a Zen monk, saying there is no path and no goal, and at other times we are already there but don't know it. I don't think though Merton unconciously injects Eastern spirituality, rather, his insights are much like those of John of Cross, Ruusbroec, Evagrius or Meister Eckhart, who like Merton emphasize the need to self-empty into a deep poverty of sense and spirit before the soul is ready for the awesome and majestic prescence of the Holy, Living God who is the object of all prayful Christian life. In losing our life we find it; and in so doing we find a peace which surpasses understanding. This is the mustard seed from which the spiritual life grows, and it has few better modern exponents than Merton.
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on November 30, 1999
Thomas Merton wrote so many books (over 60)that it is very intimidating and confusing for beginners to know where to start. Start here with writing that is clear, beautiful, inspiring and representative of Merton's most mature reflections. I have read it several times and always have my journal near by to jot down inspriations that come to me like fleeting dream images.
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on November 12, 1998
New Seeds of Contemplation is a book ON contemplation. It is a wonderful book, and shows Merton at the height of his "powers" (his relationship with God). It breathes the peace and slowness of the contemplative life, and discusses spiritual problems, thorny issues, questions that come up, and issues of justice and procedure. Merton is a master at tackling questions probably everyone has wondered about, but not known the answer to, skilled as he was in both prayer AND spiritual direction. It is also a beautiful book, with the monk's simplicity of perspective on being and doing, similar to Brother Lawrence's "Practicing the Presence of God". "Work done under pressure cannot be dedicated to God, because God does not will such work." "If you have to live in a city and work among machines and noise, be glad that you at least have a spark of peace in your soul and know solitude is the source of peace and joy - many people do not even know that anymore." (I am paraphrasing). He was a contemporary monk in a modern world faced with the modern world's problems, but commenting on these from a place apart - his monastery, so his voice was at once very necessary, and irreplaceable. Highly recommended.
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VINE VOICEon November 15, 2005
"New Seeds of Contemplation" by Thomas Merton is a book that stands the test of time. Throughout the course of his writing, Merton tries to expound upon the idea of contemplation and how it can best be achieved. He offers examples from both the Bible and from his own life - a unique perspective considering his insular life in a Trappist monastery.

Merton writes with an earnest heart, offering examples and insights into the life of contemplation. He offers readers a chance to see his faith in progress - to learn how he thinks, prays, struggles. He admonishes readers to not be complaisant in their meditations; time and again he stresses how mediation isn't just reading inspiring words, one must think and meditate on these words, even if that means we set the book aside before continuing. And that is exactly how "New Seeds of Contemplation" ought to be read; it isn't a straightforward chapter book, but an examination of what it means to live in Christ in the world of today.

Merton makes a fascinating observation about the false self that everyone has that keeps them from honestly seeking God and his will for their lives. Merton challenges his readers to step outside of our trivial concerns and let God lead us in the dance that he choreographs for each of us. "New Seeds of Contemplation" is truly an inspiring read on how to strengthen one's faith.
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on April 3, 2004
This is a wonderful piece of literature by Fr. Thomas Merton. It reveals his most profound passion and love for God. I highly recommend this book to all who seek to understand the truth about themselves in relation to God and the Universe. This is one of those books that one can read and re-read over and over again in his/her life time. A treasure in my collection of spiritual reading library.
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