Run to the Mountains: The Journals of Thomas Merton, Volume One 1939-1941 by Thomas Merton, Patrick Hart O.C.S.O., editor
($15.00, paper; 490 pages, Harper San Francisco ISBN 0-06-065475-9)
Entering the Silence: The
Journals of Thomas Merton, Volume Two 1941-1952 by Thomas Merton, Jonathan Montaldo,
($27.50, hardcover; 501 pages, Harper San Francisco ISBN 0-06-065476-7)
A Search for Solitude: The Journals of Thomas Merton, Volume Three
1952-1960 by Thomas Merton, Lawrence S. Cunningham, editor ($27.50, hardcover; 406
pages, Harper San Francisco ISBN 0-06-065478-3)
TOWARD THE WORLD: The Pivotal Years Journals of Thomas Merton, Volume 4 by Thomas
Merton, edited by Victor A. Kramer (Editor)
($30.00, hardcover, 384 pages; Harper San Francisco; 0060654805)
DANCING THE WATER OF LIFE: Seeking Peace in the Hermitage, The Journals of Thomas Merton, Volume Five: 1963-1965 by Thomas Merton, edited by Robert E. Daggy ($30.00, hardcover, paperback 363 pages, notes, index; Harper San Francisco; 0-06-065482-1)
LEARNING TO LOVE: Exploring Solitude and Freedom, Journals of Thomas Merton, Volume 6 by Thomas Merton, edited by Christine M. Bochen ($30.00, hardcover, 384 pages, Harper San Francisco; ISBN: 0060654848)
THE OTHER SIDE
OF THE MOUNTAIN: The End of the Journey
(Journals of Thomas Merton, Vol 7 1967-1968) by Thomas Merton, edited by Patrick Hart ($30.00, hardcover, 384 pages, Harper San Francisco; ISBN: 0060654864) PAPERBACK
Now that the series is concluded we find that his journals as edited offer one of the most intimate portraits of an American religious life, a life that reveals the emerging values of liberal religion sensitive to tradition and science. In many ways Merton was the forerunner of religious development for all of the late 20th century. A major achievement, a life to learn from and admire.
Last night I had a curious dream about Kanchenjunga. I was looking at the
mountain and it was pure white, absolutely pure, especially the peaks that lie to the
west. And I saw the pure beauty of their shape and outline, all in white. And I heard a
voice saying-or got the clear idea of: 'There is another side to the mountain.'. . . This
morning my quarrel with the mountain is ended . . . why get mad at a mountain? It is
beautiful, chastely white in the morning sun-and right in view of the bungalow
window."There is another side of Kanchenjunga and of every mountain-the side that has
never been photographed and turned into postcards. That is the only side worth seeing.
(November 19, 1968).
The seventh and final volume of Thomas Merton's journals finds him
exploring new territory, both spiritual and geographic, in the last great
journey prior to his untimely death. Traveling in the United States and the
Far East, Merton enjoys a new freedom that brings with it a rich mix of
solitude, spirited friendship, and interaction with monks of other traditions.
In his last days in the United States, Merton continues to follow the
tumultuous events closing the 1960s, including the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy. Meanwhile, with the blessing of his new abbot, Merton travels to monasteries in New Mexico and among the redwoods of Northern California, keeping his journal all the while. In these travels, as well as on a later trip to Alaska, he gains a better understanding of his eremitical yearnings and begins to see a way to reconcile his conflicting desires for solitude and fellowship.
When Merton wins approval to participate in a meeting of monastic
superiors of the Far East in Bangkok, Thailand, his life enters its most
thrilling period. Arriving in Calcutta, Merton is heartbroken by the poverty
of the many beggars; in New Delhi and Dharamsala, he makes contact with local Buddhists, including the Dalai Lama. Recognizing each other as
kindred spirits, Merton and the Dalai Lama speak from the heart like old
In Bangkok at the beginning of December 1968, awaiting the beginning of
the conference, Merton pens a letter home: "I think of you all on this Feast
Day and with Christmas approaching I feel homesick for Gethsemani."
Tragically, Christmas Day finds Merton back home after all. Electrocuted
accidentally in his Bangkok room, Merton is returned to his beloved abbey
to be laid to rest in a grave overlooking the woods so familiar to him from
his twenty-seven years of monastic life at Gethsemani.
Thirty years after his`death, the contributions of Thomas Merton remain as
vital as ever. Completing the published Journals of Thomas Merton, The
Other Side of the Mountain conveys the intense spiritual exploration and
powerful lessons that filled his short life.
About the Author
Thomas Merton (1915-1968) was a Trappist monk, who died accidentally in Bangkok in 1968.
About Volume 6:
The questing mind and penetrating insights, so fully engaged in his time and place, also continue to speak to generations still unborn upon themes not soon muted by historical fashion or mystical whim. Thomas Merton persists as one of the greatest voices for the Ecumenical movement that American Catholics have produced this century.
After 25 years the last major piece of Merton's literary achievement, his diaries are to be published in seven volumes. Because of a stipulation in the Trappist monk's will, we have had to wait awhile for this uncensored Merton. He is, in any case, no less intriguing, than the person first introduced to us in the autobiographical The Seven Storey Mountain (1948). In these journals, we have a less polished perhaps, but more human and troubled, Merton that we admire and respect. In the first volume we are treated to the eminently precocious graduate student obsessed with writing as a mirror to his soul. We agonize with him as his pieces out his future vocation as a writer and as a contemplative, gradually changing from an agnostic to a devout Roman Catholic. After teaching English for a while and working in a Harlem settlement house, Merton decided to become a monk, choosing the Trappist order for its discipline of silence and solitude.
In many ways the first volume is very exciting giving us an inside view of the gradual
emergence of a vocational call. It opens up important themes about the meaning of the
contemplative path that will recur throughout the future volumes.
One wonders how Merton would have fared if he had lived through the 60s and 70s of church history. The second volume of his Journals offers an exciting foray into the religious life as well as the beginnings of Merton's own celebrity with the publication of The Seven Storey Mountain. His confident powers as a writer are well developed to reflect the emerging depths of religious vocation and a stunning reinvention of contemplative prayer. The writing offers less of the indirection and torment found in the first volume. Instead there is a fuller range of questing and buoyant sense of the spiritual life. As always Merton is ever curious to the many challenges of his day. The tension between his contemplative life and his writing life come into full blown stress and creative compromise.
In volume three Merton has emerged as a writer of international stature who must struggle to keep true to his monastic vocation. During the years illuminated by this new volume (1952-1960), Merton sought to reconcile his celebrity with his desire for a life of hermetic silence and contemplation. Already at the Abbey of Gethsemani for over a decade, Merton was beginning to grow impatient with the limitations and shortcomings of conventional monastic life.
Here he narrates his search for a more faithful experience of the divine and of community that led him to delve into Zen, existentialism, and the exciting developments that led to liberation theology in Latin American Christianity and literature. These many interests informed his own Catholic spirituality and views of the great intellectual debates of the day. At the same time there is a growing simplicity and directness in his prose.
The restless, compelling, reflections on what it means to be a monk in his own time gives this third journal its most lasting value, paying homage to monasticism and instructing all show value the contemplative life.
DANCING THE WATER OF LIFE: Seeking Peace in the Hermitage, The Journals of Thomas Merton, Volume Five: 1963-1965 by Thomas Merton, edited by Robert E. Daggy ($30.00, hardcover, paperback 363 pages, notes, index; Harper San Francisco; 0-06-065482-1)
The fifth volume of the Journals of Thomas Merton documents the most turbulent period of the sixties and concludes with Merton's momentous move to his own hermitage.
The sixties were a time of restlessness, inner turmoil, and exuberance for Merton during which he closely followed the careening development of political and social activismMartin Luther King, Jr., and the March on Selma, the Catholic Worker Movement, the Vietnam War, and the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Volume 5 chronicles the approach of Merton's fiftieth`birthday and marks his move to Mount Olivet, his hermitage at the Abbey of Gethsemani, where he was finally able to fully embrace the joys and challenges of solitary life: "In the hermitage, one must pray or go to seed. The pretense of prayer will not suffice. Just sitting will not suffice.... Solitude puts you with your back to the wall (or your face to it!), and this is`good" (October 13, 1964).
DR. ROBERT E. DAGGY is director of the Thomas Merton Studies Center at Bellarmine College. He lives in Louisville, KY
The sixth volume of Thomas Mertons acclaimed journals is the most revealing and unpredictable yet as the cloistered Merton falls in love with a beautiful young nurse. Revealed here in its entirety for the first time, Mertons passion spills across the pages as he struggles to reconcile this unexpected love with his monastic vows.
Spanning from 1966 to 1967, LEARNING TO LOVE finds Merton in his most active period. Troubled by events at home and abroad, he expresses anger at wars in Vietnam and the Middle East and outrage at racism and injustice in American society. At his intellectual peak, he reads widely and voraciously, carries on an active global correspondence, receives such high-profile friends as Joan Baez, Jacques Maritain, and Thich Nhat Han, and writes insightful essays on topics from Zen Buddhism and Vatican 11 to the works of Albert Camusall the while penning poignant love poems for M., furtively calling her from the monastery, and arranging to meet with her, all the while searching his soul for the answers to this crisis of the heart that has "made a mess out of everything."
Inevitably, the affair is discovered and Merton is forced to acknowledge the consequences of his situation. Bewildered and desperate, he reassesses his need for love and his commitment to celibacy and the monastic vocation and discovers, painfully, that the only possible solitude is "the solitude of the frail, mortal, limited, distressed, rebellious human person, made of his loves and fears, facing his own true present." Revealing Merton to he "very human" in his chronicles of the ecstasy and torment of being in love, Learning to Love comes full circle as he recommits himself completely and more deeply to his vocation the very "root fact of my existence "with a new and deeper understanding of the nature of both worldly and spiritual love.
When all the journals are published, it is likely that they will take their place with the famous journals of Henry David Thoreau, G. M. Hopkins, Edmund Wilson, and perhaps he seen as an American version of St. Augustines Confessions.
THOMAS MERTON (1915-1968) was a Trappist monk, writer, and peace activist. His spiritual classics include New Seeds of Contemplation, The Sign of Jonah, Raids on the Unspeakable, and the autobiographical Seven Storey Mountain. He was born in France and educated in Europe and the U.S. He received his M.A. from Columbia University where he taught English in 1939. He entered the Cistercian Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky following his conversion to Catholicism and was ordained as Father M. Louis in 1949. In 1963 he received an honorary LLD degree from the University of Kentucky and was presented with the PAX Medal for his outstanding contributions to the cause of world peace. During the 1960s, he was increasingly drawn into a dialog between Eastern and Western religions and domestic issues of war and racism.
CHRISTINE M. BOCHEN is professor of religious studies at Nazareth College at Rochester. A founding member of the International Thomas Merton Society, she edited the fourth volume of Mertons letters, The Courage for Truth.
Thomas Merton was one of the most significant American spiritual writers of the twentieth century. His autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, published shortly after the Second World War, inspired an entire generation to reconsider the materialist preoccupations of consumer society. Twenty years later, his essays on nonviolence, contemplation, and Zen provided the most telling orthodox religious response to the New Lefts radical critique of postindustrial society. This inventive approach to Thomas Merton situates him in American intellectual history as an 'apostle' and 'prophet' . His prophetic gifts were many, but in articulating whatever issues faced Americans, his voice remained faithful to his traditional religious convictions. His strengths, as Robert Inchausti brings out so well, lie in the fact that he could be free enough to be a critic of both Right and Left. The author writes with a deep sense of Merton's own contemplative spirit, and is definitely simpatico. This study serves as an admirable introduction to Merton's place in American culture as well as a brief introduction to reading of Merton himself.
In THOMAS MERTON'S AMERICAN PROPHECY, Inchausti provides a succinct summary and original interpretation of Merton's contribution to American thought. More than just a critical biography, this study lifts Merton out of the isolation of his monastic subculture and brings him back into dialogue with contemporary secular thinkers. In the process, it reopens one of the roads not taken at that fateful, cultural crossroads called "The Sixties."
Inchausti presents Merton not as the spokesperson for any particular group, cause, or idea, but rather as the quintessential American outsider who defined himself in opposition to the world, then discovered a way back into dialogue with that world and compassion for it. As a result, Merton was the harbinger of a still yet to be realized eschatological counterculture: the unacknowledged precursor, alternative, and heir to Norman O. Brown's defense of mystery in the life of the mind.
To find anything original in Merton's writing, one has to look to his essays written in the late fifties and early sixties. But even there he was not particularly innovative as a theorist. The linking of religion to social activism in a "muscular" Christianity had already been advocated by Walter Rauschenbush, Dorothy Day, and any number of African American clergymen from Mordecai Johnson to Vernon Johns. As for his dialogue with Buddhism, Allan Watts and Gary Snyder had been on their journeys to the East for years. And Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Henry Miller, and Norman O. Brown all embraced various forms of "mysticism" as antidotes to postindustrial ennui.
No, what made Merton remarkable and continues to recommend him as a writer and spiritual master to this day has less to do with his originality, he was after all an Orthodox Catholic virtually his entire adult life, than it does with his telling psychological interpretations and his sincere attempt to practice what he preached. Thomas Merton was no mere theorist of the sacred but a God intoxicated man, a practicing contemplative, who spent his life within a physically demanding and spiritually rigorous religious order. His passionate embrace of silence, poverty, and chastity earned him the right to report back to the secular world what he had seen from the far side of worldly ambition. His poetry, journals, letters, and essays move unflinchingly further and further behind the facade of every popular illusion and facile self-justification.
In one of his last talks, Merton remarked: "In speaking for monks, I am really speaking for a very strange kind of person, a marginal person, because the monk in the modern world is no longer an established person with an established place in society. The marginal man accepts the basic irrelevance of the human condition, an irrelevance which is manifested above all by the fact of death. The marginal person, the monk, the displaced person, the prisoner, all these people live in the presence of death, which calls into question the meaning of life. As a monk, in other words, Merton looked directly into the face of death in himself, trying to find something deeper than death, because, as he put it: "There is something deeper than death, and the office of the monk or the marginal person or the poet is to go beyond death even in this life, to go beyond the dichotomy of life and death and to be, therefore, a witness to life."' This is the calling of the Apostle.
But to go beyond the dichotomy of life and death you must step outside the phantasmagoria of history, and to do this you need to acquire some standard for the transvaluation of worldly values. Merton found that standard in what Jesus had called "the Kingdom of God." But he knew that it was not enough simply to postulate this realm as a "regulative concept." He had to live a life in accord with its principles. Faith in our time demanded a brave recognition of the absurdity of the human condition.
But unlike other dissidents, Merton believed that "transgressive" or "counter-hegemonial" cultural practices did not offer a significant enough challenge to a world dominated by an amoral, instrumentalist mentality. The idol of material progress could only be called into question by exposing the entire set of economic, social, and psychological arrangements as pandering to self-interest. Merton came to the conclusion, at a very early age, that if he was ever going to live a life in service to man or to God, he would have to "give up everything." And what was original about him, was that he did just that. As a result, his writings effortlessly exposed the flawed "anthropology" at the heart of the materialist world views dominating both the Eastern and Western Blocs.
1. Early Life
3. The Monastic Turn
4. The Seven Storey Mountain
5. New Seeds of Contemplation
6. Merton as Educator
7. Toward a Politics of Being
8. Second Calling
9. Prometheus Reconsidered
10. The Third Position of Integrity
11. The Mystic as Public Intellectual
12. Zen as Negative Dialectics
13. Journey to the East
14. Postmodern Merton?
Merton's Daily Schedule (circa 1941)
Merton's Daily Schedule in His Hermitage (1966)
A Merton Dictionary
Works Cited in the Merton Dictionary
THE SPRINGS OF CONTEMPLATION: A Retreat at the Abbey of Gethsemani by Thomas Merton, edited by Jane Marie Richardson, foreword by Kathleen Norris ($9.95, paper, 207 pages, Ave Marie Press, 0-87793-598-X)
Thomas Merton, gave these talks to "a little gathering of contemplative sisters (prioresses, really) to help integrate the incredibly swift changes in the contemplative world and in the post-Vatican II Church. Merton saw the need of especially assisting contemplative who were often cut off by inflexible regulationsfor example, in travel and readingfrom any detailed knowledge or analysis of important movements taking place in the Church and world. Merton knew that, as a widely recognized leader in prayer and contemplative life, he had contemplatives confidence. He saw that he could serve as mentor or catalyst in a needed development. Also, Richardson knew that he had tried in other ways, such as by letters and visits to authorities, to accomplish this humanizing goal, and had not succeeded. In various ways, especially through correspondence, Merton had come to know and value many of these contemplative prioresses and to understand what was happening in their lives. Now he would be able to meet them in person and conduct a dialogue with them face-to-face. This historic volume records what he said and what was important to these women at this time.
This is what it boils down to. Either Christ is risen or he isnt .If he isnt, as Saint Paul says, were just a bunch of fools, the most to be pitied. On the other hand, we know were not that crazy because we know from experience that when we commit ourselves to this faith, our life changes. Something happens to us which cannot be accounted for otherwise. Some people might say that its a question of making yourself feel good. I dont know. But something does happen. This is the truth. This is where life is. This is central for us.|/font>
Contemplative life for us is a life centered on the Resurrection. Our contemplative life, as life for any other Christian, is Christ risen and living in us. There is no theological ground for any kind of contemplation except that its the gift of Christ and his Spirit to us. Our life is the sharing of Christs Spirit. Nothing else, unless you take * as something natural or psychological. Theologically, its about the Resurrection and Godd " storageproviderpropertyhandler.cppo 2 StorageProviderPropertyHandler::InitializeWithPath Ő›Óˇ „Ō’©X 4 L" Āęľ"LKRNĀ¨ňAŗō™rŪ Y " storageproviderpropertyhandler.cpp6 + StorageProviderPropertyHandler::WaitOnEventŐ›Óˇ ůŌ’©X 4 ļlĺ¬ŤBą≤}K>>á4ŕ % core.cpp@ handleCoreMessageŐ›Óˇ ůŌ’©X 4 ļlĺ¬ŤBą≤}K>>á4}°-` G core.cpp[ getItemProperties Unknown 0.0.0.0 Ő›Óˇ ůŌ’©X 4 ļlĺ¬ŤBą≤}K>>á4Ŕ † core.cppc getItemProperties s %MountPoint%\Music\Various Artists\Trad Mad! The Pye Trad-Jazz Anthology- 1956-1963 Disc 2\03 New Orleans Stomp.mp3Ő›Óˇ ůŌ’©X 4 ļlĺ¬ŤBą≤}K>>á4s ú drive.cppŃ getFolderByRelativePathFromDBf Music\Various Artists\Trad Mad! The Pye Trad-Jazz Anthology- 1956-1963 Disc 2\03 New Orleans Stomp.mp3Ő›Óˇ ůŌ’©X 4 ļlĺ¬ŤBą≤}K>>á4ō ® core.cpp◊ populateItemPropertiesForPaths %MountPoint%\Music\Various Artists\Trad Mad! The Pye Trad-Jazz Anthology- 1956-1963 Disc 2\03 New Orleans Stomp.mp3Ő›Óˇ ůŌ’©X 4 Āęľ"LKRNĀ¨ňAŗō™rŤ ? syncengineclient.cpp£ SyncEngine::OnGetItemPropertiesŐ›Óˇ ůŌ’©X 4 8 Āęľ"LKRNĀ¨ňAŗō™rš 8 apiloop.cpp ! ApiLoop::GetItemPropertiesHandlerŐ›Óˇ ůŌ’©X 4 8 Āęľ"LKRNĀ¨ňAŗō™rÝ h " storageproviderpropertyhandler.cpp’ 6 StorageProviderPropertyHandler::EndGetItemPropertiesEx ÄŐ›Óˇ ůŌ’©X 4 8 Āęľ"LKRNĀ¨ňAŗō™rˇ h " storageproviderpropertyhandler.cppC 6 StorageProviderPropertyHandler::EndGetItemPropertiesEx ÄŐ›Óˇ ůŌ’©X 4 8 Āęľ"LKRNĀ¨ňAŗō™rų d " storageproviderpropertyhandler.cppF 6 StorageProviderPropertyHandler::EndGetItemPropertiesExŐ›Óˇ ůŌ’©X 4 8 Āęľ"LKRNĀ¨ňAŗō™rý h " storageproviderpropertyhandler.cppI 6 StorageProviderPropertyHandler::EndGetItemPropertiesEx ÄŐ›Óˇ ůŌ’©X 4 L" Āęľ"LKRNĀ¨ňAŗō™rÓ ] " storageproviderpropertyhandler.cppD + StorageProvideugher. Its no longer simple. Under the old system, the superior would say, "Maybe Im wrong, but Im doing my best." The subject would say, "Maybe the superiors wrong, but Im exempt."
You do not judge authority, but you stop and think. Maybe if the authority is mistaken, I have to do something about it. At least, I have to discuss it. This brings up the question of the continuity of the past and the present. We cannot assume anymore that everything is a packet handed down from generation to generation. What I said earlier about making reality applies here: the reality of tradition is also something that we make. We dont just receive. The tradition of the contemplative life in America is being affected, for better or for worse, by what we are thinking and saying and doing here and now.
Maybe we are messing up contemplative life. I dont know. I hope what we are doing will be for the good. We are not dealing only with our own experience and mutual presence. The experience of people who have gone before us in our monasteries, their particular sufferings and frustrations, are all involved here. And the future is involved. The most intimate experiences of people whom we have known a little or perhaps a lot are also involved.
Will all this accumulated experience bear fruit? We can no longer say that it will, if we just reproduce what others did, if we just feel what they felt. Its going to bear fruit only if we are different from what they were. We owe it to them to be different in certain things and not to be different in grow it to make our own bread. You had to cut it and shock it and then the rain would come and youd spread out the wheat to dry, then more rain, and the wheat was full of mildew. Then you made bread out of this. So we were eating bad bread for a year. One of the last years of Dom Frederic we had a very bad wheat crop. The bread was no good, the potatoes were no good, so we ate macaroni for a year. We had to buy the macaroni. But the whole thing was artificial. We do have to be realistic about the work.
In our monastery, some settle for a minimum of cleaning; others practically clean away the paint.
Sure, that can be an obsession. See, Im preparing you for the hermitage tomorrow! Im certainly not obsessed with cleaning. A certain amount of cleanliness is okay, but sometimes, once you start cleaning a place, theres just no end.
Dont you think Americans tend to be this way?
Sure, get disinfectant all over the place. Why dont you bring some up tomorrow?
I thought the floor looked pretty good last year.
I never look up at the ceiling, my eyes are always cast down in humble recollection. Listen, as long as the snakes arent actually in the living room, I think were okay. Thats the one standard I have. As long as they stay in the woodshed and the outhouse, Im content. Its when they come down the chimney that I begin to squirm. Only one thing ever woke me up at night, a flying squirrel. He was running around and I got up and found him, way back in the fireplace. I had a hard time getting him out.
Did it really fly?
It glides. It has a sort of membrane from one leg to the other, and it can take off from a branch or something and glide Well, do we have any other questions about karma?
What about the question "Does it make any difference y youre a Catholic or not f theres so much good spirituality in all these other traditions?" We have a sister of Japanese descent, a convert from Buddhism. She had an operation and all the doctors flocked to her to question her minutely about this. Why did she enter the Church, since she already had all this spirituality?
People are rethinking what the Church is. Not that the doctrine of the Church is being changed. But what the body of Christ means. Insofar as theology is concerned, we know that the kingdom has come in Christ. This is the last age, and Christ is God with us. God has appeared in Christ, and the mystical body of Christ is the final manifestation of God on earth. And all are called to union with God in Christ.
If the Buddhist is really united with God, he is united with God in Christ, but he doesnt know it. It seems to me, from what I know of Buddhist converts, that their conversion consists in the realization that Christ is the real fulfillment to which Buddhism has been tending. There are innumerable converts from Buddhism to Christianity, most of them along these lines. When they realize that Christ is the fulfillment, they realize it in depth.
There was a beautiful article in the magazine of our order about a Trappistine nun in Belgium who was a Vietnamese Buddhist. She tells about her uncle, a Buddhist monk, about his sanctity and humility, and how serious he was about prayer and meditation. She also tells about herself, about how much the Church means to her, that it is something much more than Buddhism, and how important it was to her to discover it. I would not say that Buddhism is a natural religion, but rather a cosmic religion, whose basic reality is the metaphysical but impersonal ground of the cosmos.
Something that has to be explored in the relations between Catholicism and Buddhism is the fact that theres room for a personal understanding of what they call the "void." The ultimate for them is the void, emptiness. But its not a negative emptiness, its a positive emptiness which is fullness. There is a real place for a personal understanding of this.
BREAD IN THE WILDERNESS by Thomas Merton ($12.95, paper, 146 pages, notes, New Directions, 0-8112-1348-X)
Perhaps the most significant and influential collection of religious poems ever written, the Psalms sum up the theology of the Old testament and serve as daily nourishment for those whose vocation is the life of prayer. In the course of each week a monk chants through the entire Psalter, and it becomes the material for his meditations and for his own personal prayer. BREAD IN THE WILDERNESS is Thomas Merton's study of the Psalms, a collection of personal notes, offering inspiration not only to readers who view the Psalms as spiritual bread but to those who regard them solely as literature.
"There is one Mystery in the Kingdom of heaven, which is the light of that Kingdom, replacing the sun, moon and stars. It is the light also of the Psalter and of the Church on earth, though it shine in darkness. Its light is wine. It was of this wine that Jesus said: 'I shall not drink the fruit of this vine again until I drink it with you now in the Kingdom of my father.' He had just chanted the Psalm of the Hallel with His Apostles. He knew His Blood would flow like silence through our Psalter."
THOMAS MERTON AND JAMES LAUGHLIN: Selected Letters, edited by David D. Cooper ($35.00, cloth, 398 pages, bibliography, index; Norton, 0-393-04069-0)
Thomas Merton must have seemed an unlikely candidate for best-selling author. Cloistered in a remote Kentucky monastery, Merton struggled as a young man to reconcile his intrinsic desire to write with his chosen life as a Trappist monk. Ironically, the very society Merton had rejected upon entering the monastery embraced his work, bringing him publishing success only dreamed of by more eager authors. Still he hesitated, wary of the impact such public commerce could have on his spiritual goals. Fortunately, Merton had an ally in the distant literary circles of New York City.
James Laughlin encountered Merton's work early, when it was still firmly rooted in religious theme and form. Although he had created the New Directions Publishing Corporation as a means of participating in the fledgling modernist literary movement, Laughlin recognized in Merton's poetry a profound voice that even the strictest self-censorship could not hide. He encouraged the young monk to follow his poetic instincts and was richly rewarded. Merton developed into one of Laughlin's most daring authors, revealing in poems and essays a tremendous world view encompassing issues of race, politics, war, and the spiritual decay of modern society.
Nearly thirty years of lively correspondence documents this remarkable literary and personal relationship. The different perspectives of Merton and Laughlin produce a fascinating portrait of the times, and their letters open an important window into the life and mind of Thomas Merton.
David D. Cooper is an assistant professor in the Department of American Thought and Language at Michigan State University. He is also the author of Thomas Merton's Art Of Denial: The Evolution of a Radical Humanist ($40.00, hardcover, University of Georgia Press, 1989).
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