The Seven Storey Mountain.Thirty years after his death, how does one gauge Thomas Merton's continuing appeal? On October 4, 1998, his autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, achieved the status of a modern classic, still in print on its fiftieth anniversary and available in a handful of translations. Dozens of his other books reappear in new printings. Most recently, HarperSanFrancisco published seven volumes of Merton's complete journals, the bulk of them previously restricted material. Only a decade ago, five volumes of his correspondence provided a strikingly honest and revealing supplement both to the Merton canon and to his public persona. Scores of his conferences for the novices at the Abbey of Gethsemani The Abbey of Gethsemani is located at 3642 Monks Road in Trappist, Kentucky. It was founded in 1848 by monks from the Abbey of Melleray in Western France. Forty-four Trappist monks escaped overcrowding and political unrest in their home country to a farm that was purchased from the are available on audio tapes.
Thomas Merton's audience does not compete with the multiple millions who read M. Scott Peck's spiritual best-sellers. Nor do Merton book sales rival the phenomenal appeal of Kathleen Norris's books and their monastic ethos. Even Henri Nouwen's popular and highly personal writings occupy a successful niche of spirituality quite distinct from Merton's - although Nouwen's The Genesee Diary was a Merton look-alike. Anthony de Mello's voice, still attractive to a wide readership after his death, differs markedly from that of the Kentucky Trappist (Cistercian) monk. But Merton has been around for a long time. What explains his unique appeal and staying-power? Perhaps he personifies, as no one else in the second half of the twentieth century, the integrity of being rooted in religious tradition while restlessly seeking dialog. Merton's appeal grows, I think, from a Catholic genius for embracing the truth no matter where he found it.
In an early review of Merton's poetry, Robert Lowell Noun 1. Robert Lowell - United States poet (1917-1977)
Lowell, Robert Traill Spence Lowell Jr. puzzled over the fact that "the poet would appear to be more phenomenal than the poetry."(1) This mystique of Merton-the-cloistered-monk lingers. Yet it proves ironic because few late twentieth-century monks did more to redefine the monastic vocation or to banish the romantic paradigm of the hooded recluse leaving the world in contempt and scorn. It was a caricature to which the young Merton had contributed but one that he conscientiously (and bluntly) came to reject.
I have myself become a sort of stereotype of the world-denying contemplative - the man who spurned spurn
v. spurned, spurn·ing, spurns
1. To reject disdainfully or contemptuously; scorn. See Synonyms at refuse1.
2. To kick at or tread on disdainfully.
v. New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of , spat on Chicago, and tromped on Louisville, heading for the woods with Thoreau in one pocket, John of the Cross in another, and holding the Bible open at the Apocalypse. This personal stereotype is probably my own fault, and it is something I have tried to demolish on occasion.(2)
Forty years ago Merton recorded a visionary insight at the bustling downtown Louisville Downtown Louisville is the largest central business district in the state of Kentucky and the urban hub of the Louisville, Kentucky Metropolitan Area. Its boundaries are the Ohio River to the north, Hancock Street to the east, York and Jacob Streets to the south, and 9th Street to corner of Fourth and Walnut Streets. It gauged the distance he had traveled since his entrance into the monastery and reoriented his readers to appreciate his writings and his life during the final decade. Merton observed how the context had changed. "[W]earing a special costume and following a quaint observance," he argued, might now mean "I am dedicating my life to an illusion." It was virtually the eve of the election of Pope John XXIII See also: 15th-century Antipope John XXIII.
Pope John XXIII (Latin: Ioannes PP. XXIII; Italian: Giovanni XXIII), born Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli , and Merton himself was prescient pre·scient
1. Of or relating to prescience.
2. Possessing prescience.
[French, from Old French, from Latin praesci about the impulse for renewal in the Catholic tradition:
In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people. . .even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness. . . . The whole illusion of a separate holy existence is a dream. . . . Not that I question the reality of my vocation, or of my monastic life: but the conception of "separation from the world" that we have in the monastery too easily presents itself as a complete illusion. . . .(3)
In 1965, as Merton began living full-time in the hermitage at Gethsemani, he wrote more freely about his deepening contemplative life. He had changed his voice, insisting that "I speak not as the author of The Seven Storey Mountain, which seemingly a lot of people have read, but as the author of more recent essays and poems which," he lamented, "apparently very few people have read." He claimed that it was unfair to caricature him as a "petulant pet·u·lant
1. Unreasonably irritable or ill-tempered; peevish.
2. Contemptuous in speech or behavior.
[Latin petul , modern [St.] Jerome" hiding out in his cave and never getting over "the fact that he could give up beer."
"I drink beer whenever I can get my hands on any," Merton confessed. "I love beer, and by that very fact, the world." But even in the hermitage, Merton struggled with other people's infatuation with his hermit hermit [Gr.,=desert], one who lives in solitude, especially from ascetic motives. Hermits are known in many cultures. Permanent solitude was common in ancient Christian asceticism; St. Anthony of Egypt and St. Simeon Stylites were noted hermits. identity.
In an age where there is much talk about "being yourself" I reserve to myself the right to forget about being myself, since in any case there is very little chance of my being anybody else. Rather, it seems to me that when one is too intent on "being himself" he runs the risk of impersonating a shadow. . . . I am accused of living in the woods like Thoreau instead of living in the desert like St. John the Baptist John the Baptist
prophet who baptized crowds and preached Christ’s coming. [N.T.: Matthew 3:1–13]
See : Baptism
John the Baptist
head presented as gift to Salome. [N.T.: Mark 6:25–28]
See : Decapitation . All I can answer is that I am not living "like anybody." Or "unlike anybody." We all live somehow or other, and that's that. It is a compelling necessity for me to be free to embrace the necessity of my own nature.(4)
Merton's monastic vocation unfolded in ways that manifested a deeper, more assured and authentic monastic sensibility. That mature sensibility prompted him to embrace the hermit life and finally to seek kindred spirits Kindred Spirits may refer to:
A juridical act is one that conforms to the laws and the rules of court. A juridical day is one on which the courts are in session.
JURIDICAL. contemplatives who lived a devout regimen in the monastery but reduced the charism char·ism
Charisma. to purely external observances. His writing too would mature and change in subtle and sometimes dramatic ways.
If ever a line of Merton's writing captured the appeal of his spirituality, it would be a sentence in his "Introduction" to the anthology, A Thomas Merton Noun 1. Thomas Merton - United States religious and writer (1915-1968)
Merton Reader: "Those who continue to struggle are at peace."(5) The genius and enduring attraction of Thomas Merton's dynamic faith radiate ra·di·ate
1. To spread out in all directions from a center.
2. To emit or be emitted as radiation.
ra from that paradoxical conviction. Merton's readers found a spiritual writer who was neither reticent about his own experience of the multiple layers of personal struggle, nor superficial in sharing the arduous task of integrating his life around the transcendent mystery of the Christ and salvation. Perhaps it is his honest and, at times, perplexing per·plex
tr.v. per·plexed, per·plex·ing, per·plex·es
1. To confuse or trouble with uncertainty or doubt. See Synonyms at puzzle.
2. To make confusedly intricate; complicate. struggle that brings him closer to us.
Early in The Seven Storey Mountain Merton writes metaphorically about the common experience of his circle of Columbia University Columbia University, mainly in New York City; founded 1754 as King's College by grant of King George II; first college in New York City, fifth oldest in the United States; one of the eight Ivy League institutions. graduate students in the late 1930s, the years immediately preceding America's entry into World War II:
In those days one of the things we had most in common, although perhaps we did not talk about it so much, was the abyss that walked around in front of our feet everywhere we went. . . . I had my imaginary abyss, which broadened immeasurably and became ten times dizzier when I had a hangover.(6)
There is an archetypal ar·che·type
1. An original model or type after which other similar things are patterned; a prototype: "'Frankenstein' . . . 'Dracula' . . . 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde' . . . quality in this metaphor of chaos. Echoes of the opening of Genesis reverberated in his primal fear: ". . . [T]he earth was a formless form·less
1. Having no definite form; shapeless. See Synonyms at shapeless.
2. Lacking order.
3. Having no material existence. wasteland and darkness covered the abyss. . . ." For over two decades Thomas Merton the spiritual writer succeeded in coaxing readers to cultivate the interior life as a bridge to traverse this abyss. Augustine's recognition that "God is more intimate to me than I am to myself" finds a contemporary analogue in this Cistercian monk's reminder: The most significant voyage of discovery is "to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves."(7)
One posthumously published "book" chronicles Merton's continuous effort to articulate and understand his experience as a contemplative. Whether he speaks of the illusions that seduce us, or the disguises and masks we wear, or the temptation to live as a superficial false self, Merton always counterpoints the obstacles of our ego with the possibility of experiencing our "true self": "[W]hen a person appears to know his own name, it is still no guarantee that he is aware of the name as representing a real person. On the contrary, it may be the name of a fictitious character occupied in very active self-impersonation in the world of business, of politics, of scholarship or of religion."(8)
In 1967, the year before his accidental electrocution electrocution
Method of execution in which the condemned person is subjected to a heavy charge of electric current. The prisoner is shackled into a wired chair, and electrodes are fastened to the head and one leg so that the current will flow through the body. in Thailand, Merton ventured something unprecedented. In an interview with Thomas McDonnell Thomas McDonnell (c1831-1899) was a 19th century New Zealand public servant, military leader and writer. Biography
Childhood and Early Life
Born to an early British merchant, speculator and, briefly, Additional British Resident Thomas McDonnell, Snr. , he offered a uniquely candid retrospective on his own work. When asked about beginning with The Seven Storey Mountain, he conceded that it was a fair way to initiate the interview but suggested that they move on immediately because his autobiography had been too "black and white." Merton explained: "I was dealing in a crude theology that I had learned as a novice: a clean-cut division between the natural and supernatural, God and the world, sacred and secular, with boundary lines that were supposed to be quite evident."(9) He confessed that the world was not as simple as it had once appeared in The Seven Storey Mountain.
Whenever Thomas Merton narrated and reflected on the turmoil and failures of his own ordinary, everyday experience (albeit in the habitat of the monastery), he had few peers in naming the same abyss that threatened to swallow the generations of post-World War II America. The depth of his desire for the God more intimate to us than we are to ourselves awakened his Catholic (and other ecumenically adventurous) readers who were stranded on the shoals of the pre-Vatican II devotional literature and caught in the inertia of lethargic liturgy. Flannery O'Connor Noun 1. Flannery O'Connor - United States writer (1925-1964)
Mary Flannery O'Connor, O'Connor , a contemporary of Merton whom he lionized as a modern-day Sophocles,(10) described this epoch and the predicament: "The American [Catholics] seem just to be producing pamphlets for the back of the Church (to be avoided at all costs) and installing heating systems."(11)
Readers still discover in Merton more than a vicarious vicarious /vi·car·i·ous/ (vi-kar´e-us)
1. acting in the place of another or of something else.
2. occurring at an abnormal site.
1. experience of stereotypical holiness. His struggles against illusion and self-impersonation - symbolized by the abyss - are a paradigm for their own modern struggles. It is not unfair to say that Thomas Merton's achievement was made possible by the spiritual vacuum in America following World War II. Sin, tragedy, and terror had confronted the world (on a scale previously unimaginable) in the Holocaust and Hiroshima. Neo-Orthodox theologians revised the systems of Reformation Christian thought with new existential formulations in order to reclaim a foothold. In American Catholic circles, Thomas Merton the "convert"monk blazed a new trail. He had immersed himself in the roots of the tradition of St. Bernard St. Bernard
a very large (110-200 lb) dog with massive, broad head, medium-sized ears lying close to the head, and a long tail. There are two varieties, the most familiar (rough) has a long, thick coat, while the smooth variety has a shorter coat, lying close to the body. of Clairvaux, in patristic literature patristic literature, Christian writings of the first few centuries. They are chiefly in Greek and Latin; there is analogous writing in Syriac and in Armenian. The first period of patristic literature (1st–2d cent.) includes the works of St. Clement I, St. , and in the biblical texts. As a result he retrieved and popularized the monastic therapy as a way to restore what Bernard calls our "lost likeness" to God. With his gifts as a poet and narrator NARRATOR. A pleader who draws narrs serviens narrator, a sergeant at law. Fleta, 1. 2, c. 37. Obsolete. he penetrated the American illusion of peace and prosperity and continues to touch America's deeper woundedness of spirit and psyche. As he said in concluding Part One of his autobiography: "The wounds within me were, I suppose, enough. . . . [T]he very anguish and helplessness of my position was something to which I rapidly succumbed. And it was my defeat that was to be the occasion of my rescue."(12)
In retrospect it becomes easier to track the restlessness that cautiously peeked from behind the pages of his early books. It initially played out in his first published journal, The Sign of Jonas,(13) where he quarreled with himself about the compatibility of monastic life and a writer's work. But there was more than met the eye in the metaphor of Jonah, the reluctant prophet who came to discover (and to proclaim) the unimaginable and universal mercy of God. It was because America imagined itself Christian that Merton discovered how he, like Jonah, had an obligation to help others in his adopted homeland experience this same mercy, and not to exclude anyone.(14)
The orbit of Merton's restlessness proved to be ever wider. In 1958 he began a correspondence with Boris Pasternak Noun 1. Boris Pasternak - Russian writer whose best known novel was banned by Soviet authorities but translated and published abroad (1890-1960)
Boris Leonidovich Pasternak, Pasternak that unwittingly placed the Russian writer in some political jeopardy. He initiated correspondence with the Polish literary critic Noun 1. literary critic - a critic of literature
critic - a person who is professionally engaged in the analysis and interpretation of works of art and poet Czeslaw Milosz early in 1960 and with the Zen scholar and master Daisetz Suzuki in 1959. His reading returned to imaginative literature, to the fiction and poetry of his university studies and his abandoned doctoral dissertation on Gerard Manley Hopkins Noun 1. Gerard Manley Hopkins - English poet (1844-1889)
Hopkins . A novice at Gethsemani in the late 1950s, Ernesto Cardenal Ernesto Cardenal Martínez (born January 20, 1925) is a Nicaraguan Catholic priest and was one of the most famous liberation theologians of the Nicaraguan Sandinista Regime, which he later renounced. He is also famous as a poet, and he still writes. , became his conduit to the works of a new generation of Latin American and South American literary artists. Merton read - literally immersed himself in - the fiction of Albert Camus Noun 1. Albert Camus - French writer who portrayed the human condition as isolated in an absurd world (1913-1960)
Camus , William Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, James Baldwin Noun 1. James Baldwin - United States author who was an outspoken critic of racism (1924-1987)
Baldwin, James Arthur Baldwin , Walker Percy Noun 1. Walker Percy - United States writer whose novels explored human alienation (1916-1990)
Percy , and others. He introduced his novices to the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke Noun 1. Rainer Maria Rilke - German poet (born in Austria) whose imagery and mystic lyricism influenced 20th-century German literature (1875-1926)
Rilke , T. S. Eliot, W. H. Auden, William Blake, John Milton, Edwin Muir Edwin Muir (15 May 1887 - 3 January, 1959) was a Scottish poet, novelist and translator born on a farm in Deerness on the Orkney Islands in the remote northeast of Scotland. , and Shakespeare. At one point he concluded that the literary artists were especially gifted to awaken us to the spiritual threat of our being satisfied with a makeshift identity. He credits them as being most aware of the spiritual crisis, but adds that they are ironically "for that very reason the closest to despair."(15) His sensitivity to the existential predicament echoed the metaphor of the "abyss that walked around in front of our feet everywhere we went."
Merton recognized this quandary because his own life continually flirted with despair. His journals regularly voiced desperation as an element of his temperament; in the wake of such outbursts, he invariably in·var·i·a·ble
Not changing or subject to change; constant.
in·vari·a·bil reminded himself of the grace to be found in the equilibrium and roots of his monastic identity, especially in his vocation to be a hermit. When his readers came upon his definition of this great sin in New Seeds of Contemplation, they found themselves holding a mirror to their own distorted and grotesque visage. "Despair is the absolute extreme of self-love," he emphasized. "Despair is the ultimate development of a pride so great and so stiff-necked that it selects the absolute misery of damnation rather than accept happiness from the hands of God This article or section may be confusing or unclear for some readers.
Please or discuss this issue on the talk page. and thereby acknowledge that [God] is above us."(16)
At this juncture another dialogue partner came in contact with the restless Merton and encouraged him in the struggle with the status quo [Latin, The existing state of things at any given date.] Status quo ante bellum means the state of things before the war. The status quo to be preserved by a preliminary injunction is the last actual, peaceable, uncontested status which preceded the pending controversy. of the Catholic Church. Abraham Joshua Heschel Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (January 11, 1907, Warsaw, then Russian Empire – December 23, 1972) was considered by many to be one of the most significant Jewish theologians of the 20th century. and Merton first exchanged letters in late 1960. Already in Merton's first letter (December 17, 1960), we find a keen solidarity in confronting the illusions that menace religion: "There are many voices heard today asserting one should 'have religion' or 'believe,' but all they mean is that one should associate himself, 'sign up' with some religious group. Stand up and be counted. As if religion were somehow primarily a matter of gregariousness. Alas, we have too much gregarious stress of the wrong kind . . . . The gregariousness even of some believers is a huddling together against God rather than adoration of His true transcendent holiness."(17)
The contemplative monk could not follow the fraudulent path of gregariousness. Heschel's mention of his forthcoming book on the prophets reminded Merton that he had recently taught the Book of Amos Noun 1. Book of Amos - an Old Testament book telling Amos's prophecies
Old Testament - the collection of books comprising the sacred scripture of the Hebrews and recording their history as the chosen people; the first half of the Christian Bible to his novices. In a 1963 letter Merton also noted how the prophets revealed "the challenging questions"; although during Advent Isaiah was being read daily, the divine promises "which are so infinitely serious, . . . are so lightly taken."(18) Heschel's definition of prophecy provides a hermeneutic her·me·neu·tic also her·me·neu·ti·cal
[Greek herm for their friendship, and also, I suggest, for understanding the crux of Merton's appeal to his readers. This Jew descended from Hasidic roots described prophecy as "an exegesis exegesis
Scholarly interpretation of religious texts, using linguistic, historical, and other methods. In Judaism and Christianity, it has been used extensively in the study of the Bible. Textual criticism tries to establish the accuracy of biblical texts. of existence from a divine perspective." He insisted on a subtle corrective congenial to Merton: prophecy was "an understanding of an understanding rather than an understanding of knowledge."(19)
When Heschel visited with Merton at the Abbey of Gethsemani on July 13, 1964, their conversation went on until late in the night, described by Merton as "an amazing and fruitful evening."(20) One can only conjecture about the content of their conversation. A subsequent letter from Merton to Cardinal Bea (and copied to Heschel) about the Second Vatican Council's discussions and draft statement on the church's relationship to the Jews hints that they spent considerable time lamenting the reactionary Catholic resistance, but cultivating a more constructive grounds for their own relationship. A passage from Heschel's volume, Israel: An Echo of Eternity, perhaps best connects their contemplative kinship: "Well-adjusted people think that faith is an answer to all human problems. In truth, however, faith is a challenge to all human persons. To have faith is to be in labor."(21)
In an uncanny way, Merton's "Introduction" to selections from his journals in the early 1960s, entitled Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander by·stand·er
A person who is present at an event without participating in it.
a person present but not involved; onlooker; spectator
Noun 1. , had insisted that "a man is better known by his questions than by his answers. To make known one's question is to come out in the open oneself."(22) Faith and dialogue for Merton meant more a sharing of questions and the honest exploration of our human situation than delivering answers. This interrogative voice was more important to him than what he called "the ready-made, wholesale answers" offered by the seemingly most progressive voices.(23) Thus Merton's voice was in perfect harmony with Heschel's insistence that faith was not an easy answer but a challenge to narrow-mindedness.
Merton's alert response to Catholic-Jewish dialogue has been eclipsed by commentators who find more exotic his study and conversation with Buddhism, and to a lesser degree, with Islam and Hinduism. He phrased this theological initiative carefully in his November 4, 1964, journals: "I am more and more convinced that Romans 9-11 (the chapters on the election of Israel) are the key to everything today. This is the point where we have to look, and press and search and listen to the word."(24) This struggle with his identity rooted in Judaism and his restless seeking for a reconciliation between the traditions has proved to be an enduring paradigm.
His interrogative voice also explains why Merton's forte was the essay. His books came into being as collections of loosely arranged essays and not as systematic or sustained studies of a topic. The very genre of the essay lent itself to Merton's restlessness. At the risk of oversimplifying, I would venture to say that one pair of essays is emblematic of Merton's appeal. "The Unbelief of Believers" and "Apologies to an Unbeliever," from his 1968 collection Faith and Violence, offer an ironic and compelling rereading of our era. There he alertly pointed out how we no longer faced the seductions of nineteenth-century atheism atheism (ā`thē-ĭz'əm), denial of the existence of God or gods and of any supernatural existence, to be distinguished from agnosticism, which holds that the existence cannot be proved. but today were tempted by a secular indifference to God's presence. In retrospect, one reads Merton's diagnosis in parallel with the cautions raised by a generation of American theologians who warned that the belief in success, prosperity, individualism, the Puritan ethic, nationalism, and blind capitalism was nothing more than "civil religion." The abyss still threatened to swallow us, and the hermit-monk reached out from where he had found a foothold. Through these twin essays Merton joined Martin Marty in respecting those who courageously resisted and struggled with their loneliness, dread, and risk.(25)
"Apologies to an Unbeliever" gauges Merton's ability to reach out from the center of his Catholic tradition and engage in dialogue with other restless Catholics, Christians, and people of other faiths or no formal faith. He had begun to use the term "post-Christian" to characterize our world. (It could be enlarged to read "post-religious" in his later writings.) So he admitted that the title of this essay was intended to "scandalize" some Christians. He confessed embarrassment for the inadequate, impertinent IMPERTINENT, practice, pleading. What does not appertain, or belong to; id est, qui ad rem non pertinet.
2. Evidence of facts which do not belong to the matter in question, is impertinent and inadmissible. falsifications of religion that had been inflicted upon people. He was grateful that the conscientious ones had refused its arrogance. There is a not a patronizing syllable in this Merton essay. He even corrected the label "unbeliever" and suggests that "non-believer" would be a more honest and accurate description of contemporaries who neither accepted nor rejected religious belief. He recognized their frailty and perplexity perplexity - The geometric mean of the number of words which may follow any given word for a certain lexicon and grammar. and distanced himself from what he called a kind of "religious vaudeville" that trivialized religion. He embraced Karl Rahner's diaspora model for the survival of Christianity in a secular, non-believing world.
Merton's Catholic optimism chose to identify the contemplative potential in the non-believers: "One must first be able to listen to the inscrutable ground of his own being, and who am I to say that your reservations about religious commitment do not protect, in you, this kind of listening."(26) What recommends this essay is the nature of the dialogue it represents, its "compassionate respect" for the restlessness of those who share a "common predicament," echoing Heschel's reminder: "To have faith is to be in labor." Merton put it in lyric prose-poetry:
My own peculiar task in my Church and in my world has been that of the solitary explorer who . . . is bound to search the existential depths of faith in its silences, its ambiguities, and in the certainties which lie deeper than the bottom of anxiety. In these depths there are no easy answers, no pat solutions to anything. It is a kind of submarine life in which faith sometimes mysteriously takes on the aspect of doubt when, in fact, one has to doubt and reject conventional and superstitious surrogates that have taken the place of faith. On this level, the divisions between Believer and Unbeliever cease to be so crystal clear. It is not that some are all right and others are all wrong: all are bound to seek in honest perplexity. Everybody is an Unbeliever more or less! Only when this fact is fully experienced, accepted, and lived with, does one become fit to hear the simple message of the Gospel - or of any other religious teaching.(27)
The metaphor of the abyss reappeared when Merton pointed to the weakness of our Christian language. With a contemplative's eye he saw how easily faith could be separated from the rest of life; he complained that "the job of bridging this abyss has been left to ethics" - with unsatisfactory results when our morality remains negatively stated and superficial.(28) For that very reason, Merton's recovery of the Christian contemplative grounds for a religious ethic attracted perhaps his largest readership during the middle and late 1960s. When he addressed racism in America through his penetrating essay entitled "Letters to a White Liberal," he reminded readers how self-righteous political stances could mask the false self we refused to acknowledge. Merton insisted that the liberation of blacks in the United States United States, officially United States of America, republic (2005 est. pop. 295,734,000), 3,539,227 sq mi (9,166,598 sq km), North America. The United States is the world's third largest country in population and the fourth largest country in area. - economically, socially, and politically - offered a kairos Kairos (καιρός) is an ancient Greek word meaning the "right or opportune moment". The ancient Greeks had two words for time, chronos and kairos. moment for both the oppressors and the oppressed op·press
tr.v. op·pressed, op·press·ing, op·press·es
1. To keep down by severe and unjust use of force or authority: a people who were oppressed by tyranny.
2. .(29) In the same vein, his prolific writings on war and peacemaking Peacemaking
See also Antimilitarism.
Coriolanus’s witty friend; reasons with rioting mob. [Br. Lit.: Coriolanus]
percipiently urges peace with Greeks. [Gk. Lit. (30) galvanized gal·va·nize
tr.v. gal·va·nized, gal·va·niz·ing, gal·va·niz·es
1. To stimulate or shock with an electric current.
2. a generation of selective conscientious objectors and political activists who opposed America's invasion of Southeast Asia Southeast Asia, region of Asia (1990 est. pop. 442,500,000), c.1,740,000 sq mi (4,506,600 sq km), bounded roughly by the Indian subcontinent on the west, China on the north, and the Pacific Ocean on the east. . He shared their impatience with a moral system that had abdicated responsibility for renewing the Christian tradition Christian traditions are traditions of practice or belief associated with Christianity.
The term has several connected meanings. In terms of belief, traditions are generally stories or history that are or were widely accepted without being part of Christian doctrine. vis-a-vis the destructive capability of modern warfare Modern warfare involves the widespread use of highly advanced technology. As a term, it is normally taken as referring to conflicts involving one or more first world powers, within the modern electronic era. . From the hermitage his contemplative voice refused to become an accomplice: "Because we live in a womb of collective illusion, our freedom remains abortive abortive /abor·tive/ (ah-bor´tiv)
1. incompletely developed.
2. abortifacient (1).
3. cutting short the course of a disease.
1. . Our capacities for joy, peace, and truth are never liberated. They can never be used. We are prisoners of a process. . . and real deceptions ending in futility."(31)
When Merton reached beyond the roots of his own Christian tradition, his overtures to those outside the Judaeo-Christian culture again offered a new paradigm New Paradigm
In the investing world, a totally new way of doing things that has a huge effect on business.
The word "paradigm" is defined as a pattern or model, and it has been used in science to refer to a theoretical framework. for dialogue. The conversation within religious pluralism, half of which he described as a listening process, deserved a contemplative grounding as its initiative. When he wrote to his Muslim friend Abdul Aziz, a Sufi Master, he again appealed to the existential threat of the abyss and their mutual rejection of all that it symbolized:
[God] alone is Real, and we have our reality only as a gift from Him at every moment. And at every moment it is our joy to be realized by Him over an abyss of nothingness noth·ing·ness
1. The condition or quality of being nothing; nonexistence.
2. Empty space; a void.
3. Lack of consequence; insignificance.
4. Something inconsequential or insignificant. : but the world has turned to the abyss and away from Him Who Is. That is why we live in dreadful times, and we must be brothers in prayer and worship no matter what may be the doctrinal differences that separate our minds.(32)
In the final analysis it is Merton's ability to help his Christian readers bridge the abyss between their Christian faith life and the rest of their life that characterizes his remarkable appeal even thirty years after his death. He insisted that the problem did not lie so much with the Bible or our theology as it did within ourselves. He advised us not to discard all the symbols of biblical revelation or the traditional terminology of our faith "in order to substitute them for a pseudo-scientific jargon that would be valid at best for the next ten years." Perhaps this also explains why Merton's shelf-life will extend into the third millennium. "What is required of Christians," he reminded, "is that they develop a completely modern and contemporary consciousness in which their experience as [persons] in our century is integrated with their experience as children of God redeemed by Christ."(33)
Thomas Merton brought his rootedness in the Catholic contemplative tradition to bear upon his own restlessness and that of generations of American readers. His unfailing ability to point to the nature of the real struggle captured their imagination: "What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves? This is the most important of all voyages of discovery. . . ."(34) In one of his posthumously published essays entitled "The Identity Crisis," Merton returned to this metaphor, reminding us that our identity is more than having a name or a face. "Identity in this deep sense is something that one must create for [oneself] by choices that are significant and that require courageous commitment in the face of anguish and risk," he reassured. For that reason he never shied away from the importance of having a belief one stands by, a certain definite way of responding to life, and loving God and neighbor.(35) From his own rooted yet restless story, Thomas Merton still encourages readers to discover their own freedom and intimacy with God.
1. Robert Lowell, "The Verses of Thomas Merton," Commonweal com·mon·weal
1. The public good or welfare.
2. Archaic A commonwealth or republic.
Noun 1. 42 (1945): 240.
2. "Is the World a Problem?" Thomas Merton, Spiritual Master, ed. Lawrence S. Cunningham (New York: Paulist, 1994) 376.
3. Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (New York: Doubleday, 1965), 156-57.
4. "Day of a Stranger," Thomas Merton, Spiritual Master, 215.
5. "First and Last Thoughts," A Thomas Merton Reader, ed. Thomas E McDonnell (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1974), 18.
6. The Seven Storey Mountain (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1945), 181.
7. The Wisdom of the Desert (New York, New Directions).
8. "The Inner Experience," Thomas Merton, Spiritual Master, 295-96. Because Merton's will prohibited the publication of this text as a book, it was first published in serial form in Cistercian Studies 18 and 19, nos. 1-4.
9. Thomas P. McDonnell, "An Interview with Thomas Merton," Motive 27 (1967): 32-41.
10. "Flannery O'Connor: A Prose Elegy elegy, in Greek and Roman poetry, a poem written in elegiac verse (i.e., couplets consisting of a hexameter line followed by a pentameter line). The form dates back to 7th cent. B.C. in Greece and poets such as Archilochus, Mimnermus, and Tytraeus. ," Raids on the Unspeakable (New York: New Directions, 1965), 42.
11. Flannery O'Connor, Collected Works (New York: Library of America The Library of America (LoA) is a nonprofit publisher of classic American literature. Overview and history
Founded in 1979 with seed money from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Ford Foundation, the LoA has published more than 150 volumes by a wide range , 1988), 1038. This excerpt is from a letter to Cecil Dawkins, July 16, 1957.
12. The Seven Storey Mountain, 165.
13. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1953.
14. See my Ace of Freedoms: Thomas Merton's Christ ((Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press The University of Notre Dame Press is a university press that is part of the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, United States. External link
15. "Symbolism: Communication or Communion?" Love and Living (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Publishing company in New York City noted for its literary excellence. It was founded in 1945 by John Farrar and Roger Straus as Farrar, Straus & Co. , 1979), 79.
16. New Seeds of Contemplation (New York: New Directions, 1961), 180.
17. The Hidden Ground of Love (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1985), 430-31.
18. Ibid., 431. The letter is dated January 26, 1963.
19. Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Prophets (New York: Harper & Row, 1962), xviii.
20. The Hidden Ground of Love, 430.
21. Abraham Joshua Heschel, Israel: An Echo of God (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1969), 224.
22. Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (New York: Doubleday, 1966), 5.
24. Dancing in the Water of Life, 162.
25. Faith and Violence (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1968) 199204.
26. Ibid., 206-9.
27. Ibid., 211-13.
28. Ibid., 278-79.
29. See my "Merton's 'Letter to a White Liberal' Revisited," in Your Heart Is My Hermitage, ed. Danny Sullivan and Iam Thompson (London: The Thomas Merton Society of Great Britain and Ireland Thomas Merton Society of Great Britain and Ireland is an association for the study of the life and work of Thomas Merton. It was founded on December 12, 1993.
The Society publishes a journal, The Merton Journal. It also organises conferences and retreats. , 1996), 155-63.
30. Thomas Merton, Passion for Peace, ed. William H. Shannon (New York: Crossroad, 1995).
31. "Rain and the Rhinoceros rhinoceros, massive hoofed mammal of Africa, India, and SE Asia, characterized by a snout with one or two horns. The rhinoceros family, along with the horse and tapir families, forms the order of odd-toed hoofed mammals. ," Raids on the Unspeakable, 66.
32. The Hidden Ground of Love, 49. The letter is dated May 13, 1961.
33. Faith and Violence, 278-79.
34. The Wisdom of the Desert, 11.
35. Contemplation in a World of Action (New York: Doubleday, 1973), 78.
GEORGE A. KILCOURSE, JR., is Professor of Theology at Bellarmine College, Louisville, and author of Ace of Freedoms: Thomas Merton's Christ (University of Notre Dame Press).