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Silent Lamp: The Thomas Merton Story.

Silent Lamp: The Thomas Merton Story. By William H. Shannon. New York: Crossroad, 1992. Pp. xvi + 304. $22.95.

Shannon is general editor of the Merton letters and authored several studies of Merton before writing this "reflective biography." Here he explores Merton's sensibilities at key moments in his life, interpersing eight helpful "chronologies" which situate Merton in the religious, political and cultural events of his time. Merton's travel accounts become settings for S. to develop Merton's claim that "our real journeys in life are interior."

Merton told abundantly of losing himself, yet few people took such care to recount the details of their moods and daily doings. Readers are still drawn to Merton's appealing mix of contemplative peace and "romantic restlessness." S. is master of this material and situates Merton's dilemmas, decisions, and foibles among the times, people, and places familiar to Merton readers. Though sympathetic with Merton, S. also appreciates the trials of Merton's abbott ("Dom James continued to show his concern for his moody monk"). S.'s reflective method is highly successful in considering Merton's difficult steps in coming out publicly for pacificism in the face of much Catholic opposition in 1961 and 1962. Occasionally S.'s reflections read as his own personal musings. S. is often critical of the pre-Vatican II Church, but one might ask if the Merton of 1938 to 1948 was not a perfect match for the Church as it was?

Those familiar with Merton biographies written by Furlong, Mott, Rice, and Griffin will find an abundance of new details, but otherwise little new material. What is new is the sustained effort to understand the complexities of the man. For many years S. has studied the texts of Merton and now he has visitied the places where Merton lived; he appreciates his subject and has given focus to Merton's unsettled spirit. Those who knew Merton well have already expressed enthusiasm for the present work; those who want to know him better can only be grateful to S. for this study which helps them make his acquaintance.

Thomas M. King, S.J.

Georgetown University
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Author:King, Thomas M.
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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