Joe Linker turns to Thomas Merton to discern the meaning of prayer:
For Merton, prayer seems to be a kind of poetry, but only after acknowledging a marketplace uselessness of both … The modern world presents problems for the poet and the prayer: “Can contemplation still find a place in the world of technology and conflict which is ours?” Peace, and wholeness, Merton argues, are not “the most salient characteristics of modern society.” No kidding. Yet, “What is keeping us back from living lives of prayer? Perhaps we really don’t want to pray. This is the thing we have to face.” But, if we do want to consider prayer, or contemplation, or poetry, how do we go about it? “If you want a life of prayer, the way to get it is by praying,” Merton says.
Merton’s practical advice:
“The real purpose of meditation is this,” Merton says: “To teach a man how to work himself free of created things and temporal concerns, in which he finds only confusion and sorrow.” Still, we might find ourselves bored with all of this, with the idea we are going to spend any time away from our busy schedules on something as trivial as prayer or poetry. We want to feel productive. We want to help others. We’ll go to church, appear to be part of some community, put some bills in the basket, sprinkle some holy water on our face, just in case there really is something to all the hocus-pocus. For the bored or busy, Merton seems to advise to not only get it while we can but where we can: “Learn how to meditate on paper. Drawing and writing are forms of meditation. Learn how to contemplate works of art. Learn how to pray in the streets or in the country. Know how to meditate not only when you have a book in your hand but when you are waiting for a bus or riding in a train.” One can pray “with few words or none…half-hopeless.” There are poems like this, or there should be.