I offer to you this Lent some readings from “Merton’s Palace of Nowhere” by James Finley.
Dr. Finley is a teacher at the Living School of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque. The Center is led by Fr. Richard Rohr, who is also a Living School teacher. I attended the Living School in 2015-2017 and it has had a profound effect on my spiritual life.
As a young man, Finley was a monk in the Trappist monastery Our Lady of Gesthemani in Kentucky. Thomas Merton was his novice master, and is famous for his work in contemplative spirituality as a modern Christian mystic. “Merton’s Palace of Nowhere” is Finley’s way of sharing with us some of what he learned from Merton about contemplative union with God.
Contemplative prayer, as Merton and Finley taught, is not a public prayer like we say together in worship on Sunday. Neither is it a prayer of petition where we ask God for what we or others need. It is a different kind of prayer, a prayer of listening rather than speaking, a prayer where we are silent and our thoughts are distractions to be acknowledged and then put aside.
Finley says (p. 17): In prayer we sit and we are lost before we begin. Prayer appears before us as a kind of palace with no doors. The palace is nowhere and the path leading to it has no sign saying “enter here.” We find ourselves in a solitary silence that skirts the edge of the abyss that is at once our own nothingness and the plenitude of God.
Contemplative Practice – Breath Prayer:
Find a quiet place where you can sit comfortably. Relax and close your eyes. Relax your muscles and release all the tensions of the day; just breathe. Feel yourself connected to the earth through the floor.
Become aware of your breathing in – and your breathing out. As you breathe in, thank God for it: “Thank you for life”. As you breathe out, thank God for it: “Receive my living”.
Breathe in, breathe out: “Thank you for life”, “Receive my living”.
Continue for a few minutes or as long as you want.