Bridges to Contemplative Living with Thomas Merton is a small group faith-sharing process designed to help participants enter into a process of personal spiritual transformation leading to a more just and peaceful world.
This process uses the writing of Thomas Merton and other spiritual guides to help participants enter into a holistic process of growth which will lead them to spiritual transformation and a life of deeper contemplation. However, the thoughts of these spiritual guides are just a starting point; the process depends upon the life experience and spiritual awareness of the participants as the foundation for spiritual growth and transformation.
Principles of Bridges to Contemplative Living
This process of spiritual transformation is based on five key principles of Merton's thought:
• Our everyday life is our spiritual life.
• It is every person's primary vocation to be fully human, aware of who
we are, and how we relate to other persons.
• Our spiritual formation cannot take place in isolation from the rest of
• Spiritual formation is grounded in the experience of relationships and
• Personal growth and transformation is the foundation for social and
Content of Bridges to Contemplative Living
The Bridges process contains eight sections or "courses:"
• Entering the School of Your Experience
• Becoming Who You Already Are
• Living Your Deepest Desires
• Discovering the Hidden Ground of Love
• Traveling Your Road to Joy
• Writing Yourself into the Book of Life
• Adjusting Your Life's Vision
• Seeing That Paradise Begins Now
Each course or section contains eight reflections. The Catholic parishes usually offer each course or section over a four-week period during which participants consider two reflections each week.
Each reflection in the Bridges process provides an opportunity for prayer, reading, personal reflection and small group dialogue, all of which leads participants progressively into deeper spiritual transformation and contemplative living.
This process is not designed as a study of contemplative living or the contemplative tradition. It is designed to actually help participants become more contemplative in their daily lives.
The Bridges format uses contemplative dialogue, a process which uses various themes to help participants reflect on their own experiences and the experience of others. Contemplative dialogue is focused on listening, reflecting and integrating what ones hears and discovers. It is not out-come oriented. It avoids judgment and evaluation. It is meant to be non-threatening, safe, and affirming.
Who Should Participate in Bridges?
Bridges to Contemplative Living is designed for adults of any age who seek to live more meaningful lives through deepening and integrating the relationships that make up everyday life experience. The themes and content are universal, and theBridges format assumes that participants will come from a wide variety of personal and spiritual backgrounds with a wide variety of experiences, viewpoints, and beliefs. Bridges is easily accessible to people of any faith background.
• • •
What is Contemplative Living?
Contemplative living is a way of listening and responding to our everyday experience. It deepens the awareness of our connectedness and communion with others, becomes a positive force of change in our lives, and provides meaningful direction to our spiritual journey.
Fr. Donald Goergen OP writes: "'Contemplative' describes a way of living, a way of loving, a way of being, a way of seeing. Contemplation is not something we do at a particular time of the day. Contemplation is rather living here and now the day in which we find ourselves. Contemplation has to do with the everyday. It is not a question of withdrawing from the world but rather a way of being in the world. One can retreat from the world and still not attain contemplative presence. One can be headed in the wrong direction even in the desert. One can be hurrying to accomplish something even in a monastery. There can be a rush toward enlightenment. Contemplation doesn't have so much to do with 'doing' as it does with 'letting it be done unto me' (Luke 1:38). It means attentiveness to a different sense of time and timing" ("Becoming Contemplative," Priests and People, June 2002).
Living contemplatively begins with ourselves but leads us in the end to embrace deeply not only our truest self, but God, neighbor, and all of creation. By reflecting on our everyday everyday experiences, we seek the depths of our inner truth. By exploring our beliefs, illusions, attitudes and assumptions, we find our true self and discover how we relate to the larger community.
The goal of contemplative living is not merely personal fulfillment, but a way of living that contributes to the creation of a global society that incorporates God's design for justice as peace. Contemplative living directs our minds and hearts to the truly important issues of human existence, making us less likely to be captivated by the superficial distractions that so easily occupy our time.
Ultimately, contemplative living leads us to a sense of well-being, profound gratitude, and a clearer understanding of our purpose in life.
• • •
About Thomas Merton
Thomas Merton was born in France in 1915. He was educated in France, England and the United States and was baptized in the Catholic Church in 1938. In 1941 he entered the Cistercian Order as a monk of the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, where he wrote his autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, which was published in 1948. He served as Master of Scholastics and Novices at Gethsemani and wrote numerous books and articles on the spiritual life, inter-religious understanding, peace and social justice. In 1968 he journeyed to Thailand to attend a conference of contemplatives, where he was accidentally electrocuted and died at the age of 53.
For over sixty years, Merton's thought and writing have guided spiritual seekers around the world. His writing offers important insights into four essential relationships -- with oneself, with God, with other people, and with all of creation. While the Christian tradition is the foundation of Merton's thought, he is open and inclusive in his examination of other religious traditions and often draws from their contributions to enhance the spiritual growth of individuals and communities.
Merton is distinguished among modern spiritual writers by the depth and substance of his thinking. He was a scholar who distilled the best thinking of outstanding theologians, philosophers and poets, from both the West and East. His popularity suggests that he speaks to the minds and hearts of people searching for answers to life's important questions. His writing takes people into deep places within themselves and offers insight into the paradoxes of life.
Merton wrestles with how to be contemplative in a world of action, but offers no quick fix or "ten easy steps" to a successful spiritual life. In The Hidden Ground of Love, published in 1985, he wrote:
"When I first became a monk, yes, I was sure of 'answers.' But as
I grow old in the monastic life and advance further in solitude, I
become aware that I have only begun to seek the questions. And
what are the questions? Can we make sense out of our existence?
Can we honestly give our lives meaning merely by adopting a certain
set of explanations which pretend to tell us why the world began and
where it will end, why there is evil and what is necessary for a good
life? My brothers and sisters, perhaps in my solitude I have become,
as it were, an explorer for you, a searcher in realms which you are
are not able to visit...."
Some of the information on this webpage was reprinted or adapted from Bridges to Contemplative Living with Thomas Merton, edited by Jonathan Montaldo and Robert G. Toth. Copyright Ave Maria Press.