Posted August 26, 2003
Book: Merton’s Palace of Nowhere
Author: James Finley
Ave Maria Press, Notre Dame, IN, pp.157
Excerpt from Jacket:
This one door is the door of the Palace of Nowhere. It is the door of God. It is our very self, our true self called by God to perfect union with himself. And it is through this door we secretly enter in, responding to the saving call to “Come with me to the Palace of Nowhere where all the many things are one.”
Spiritual identity is the quest to know who we are, to find meaning, to overcome that sense of “Is that all there is?”
At the heart of this quest are found Thomas Merton’s illuminating insights leading from an awareness of the false and illusory self to a realization of the true self.
For twenty-five years, Merton’s Palace of Nowhere has been the standard for exploring, reflecting on, and understanding this rich vein of Merton’s thought. Dog eared, tattered, underlined copies are found on the bookshelves of spiritual searchers everywhere.
Excerpt from Book:
An unborn baby that could think and have its way might choose not to be born. The violent wrenching from its dark, warm world into a horizon beyond its fingertips might seem like a transformation too great to bear. Yet, mercifully, there is no choice given. The child finds itself, screaming in protest, flung by the heels into an unfamiliar world.
The spiritual life is a kind of birth. In fact, Jesus proclaimed that unless we are born again we will never enter into that life that knows no death. But every birth is a kind of dying. Every new stage of growth calls for a letting go of what went before it. And this letting go hurts. The cross is the source of life yet it pierces us and drains us of the only life we know.
The Father, Jesus said, prunes every fruit tree clean to increase its yield. Prayer unveils our heart, allowing it to be cut by God’s delicate touch. There is no growth in prayer without some degree of exposure to this purification process out of which the true self emerges in its unexpected splendor.
The journey into prayer is a journey directed toward a fundamental” . . .return to the heart, finding one’s deepest center, awakening the profound depths of our being in the presence of God who is the source of our being and our life.”
In prayer we sit alone and empty. As we sit, though nothing happens, there is a subtle parting of a curtain. As lightly as a falling blossom lands upon the water, we touch down upon the kingdom of the heart. We enter into the domain of the spirit that stands within, yet beyond all that is observable and logical. We sit in a solitary exposure to the force of time not softened by distractions, to the enveloping silence not broken by chatter. Above all, we sit with a growing, unfolding desire, a waiting that is vast. Even the one who waits with patient urgency does not know or even try to know what it is that must appear.
Desire, prompted by God’s grace, brings us to the emptiness that proves to be the nuptial chamber of silent prayer. As Merton expresses it,
All the paradoxes about the contemplative way are reduced to this one: being without desire means being led by a desire so great that it is incomprehensible. It is too huge to be completely felt. It is a blind desire, which seems like a desire for “nothing” only because nothing can content it. And because it is able to rest in no-thing, then it rests, relatively speaking, in emptiness.
Table of Contents:
From the Author 25 Years Later
Forward to the 25th anniversary edition by Patrick Hart, OCSO
Forward by Henry Nouwen
Introduction: Upon Learning to See
One: The foundation of the false self
Two: The true self in the world
Three: The true self in religious searching
Four: The realization of the true self
Five: The insight