Posted August 28, 2003
Book: The Vision of Thomas Merton
Edited by: Patrick F. O’Connell
Ave Maria Press, Notre Dame, IN, 253 pages
Excerpt from Jacket:
Thomas Merton’s vision of life and faith was broad and all-encompassing. It ranged from the Hebrew prophets to the peace movement, from the Desert Fathers and Mothers to contemporary Buddhism, and from literature to science; and it found expression in diverse forms — in poetry, prose, journals, letters, and photography. [This book contains some excellent black and white photos by Merton]
The Vison of Thomas Merton reflects his diverse interests and talents. Written by the editors of the recently published volumes of Merton’s journals and letters, these articles offer new insights into the complex and fascinating life of this great spiritual leader.
This collection of essays by distinguished Merton scholars was compiled in honor of the late Robert Daggy, longtime director of the Thomas Merton Center in Louisville, Kentucky. It includes articles on Merton’s view of faith, his monastic commitment, his relationship with his father Owen,his interest in quantum physics, and role of nature in his spirituality, his poetry, and his dialogue with the East.
Merton’s words have meant so much to so many people, and all of his readers — whether scholars or simple Merton lovers — will find much in this wonderful collection to enrich their awareness of Merton and to deepen their own spiritual lives.
Excerpt from Book:
Singing “Viva Voce” in a Fraternity of Burns
“Sometimes I want to turn away and be a tram and hang around on the roads without anything, like Humble George or Benedict Joseph Labre” (ES, 209)
After having read and written so much, after having taught and directed the spiritual journeys of so many others, and after having experienced the incommunicable spiritual insights that must have accompanied his abundant reading, writing, and teaching, and yet, through it all, to have voiced himself as continually insecure, to have questioned everything as if he always needed to start over, as if he never knew his life’s next move, even relishing his insecurity and finding a happy solace in his ignorance, is a mysterious, though ponderable, reality that informs all of Merton’s autobiographical writing.
In his review of Volume 4 of Merton’s journals, Turning toward the World, Earnest Daniel Carrere, a monk of Gethsemani, observes: “It is almost scandalous that an adult of forty-six years was such a problem to himself, but his is to neglect the foundational hermeneutic of kenosis. The very contortions of Merton’s drama indicate a healthy spirit robustly facing the challenges of incarnation.”
Merton’s kenotic dilemma, how to live wisely when one is enfleshed imperfectly in an imperfect world in an imperfect time, is an important lens through which to conduct a fruitful, though necessarily complex, examination of this life and his writing. Carrere correctly senses that an apparent Merton character flaw, an inability to become comfortable with himself or to next contentedly in the approved ideologies of his time, is also, in fact, a genuine religious experience of homelessness for being in the presence of the Divine Person in whom all creation is personable and comfortable.
To be human and alive is to search. The grace of upon Merton’s instincts accentuated his compulsive restlessness and transformed his natural, inner transiency into an authentically religious search for the Divine Person in whom all ideologies and experiences originate but who is yet more than any human ideology or experience. His spiritual poverty, finding himself continually exiled from his past ideologies and experiences so as to hear the Voice and voices that spoke to his heart in the present moment, was the positive experience hidden below Merton’s appearing never to have “gotten his act together.” Journeying through an experience of such relinquishment demands hard and necessarily imperfect practice because to undergo such an impoverishment — for the best of motives — is unnatural to the human need for security and anti-cultural to the human need for group approval.
Merton had a natural, perhaps even a pathological willingness to explore self-exile as an inner experience rather than a geographical experience, of monastic peregrinatio: an interior journeying without knowing here he would firmly land. If elements of pathology in his personality account for Merton’s often voiced desire to be “without status,” to be a “no one” to know where he was going.” grace built upon the pathological and transfigured Merton into a sign for his generation.
Excerpt from poems of Thomas Merton:
“Although we know no hills, no country rivers,
Here in the jungles of our waterpipes and iron ladders,
Our thoughts are quieter than rivers,
Our lives are simpler than the trees,
Our prayers deeper than the sea.” (Il. 5-9)
“They say the sky is made of glass,
They say the smiling moon’s a bride
They say they love the orchards and apple trees,
The trees, their innocent sisters, dressed in blossoms,
Still wearing, in the blurring dusk,
White dresses from that morning’s first communion.” (Il. 10-15)
Table of Contents:
Patrick Hart, OCSO, Foreword
Patrick F. O’Connell: Introduction
Thomasine (Tommie) O’Callaghan: Remembering Bob Daggy
Robert E. Daggy: Thomas Merton and the search for Owen Merton
Christine M. Bochen: With the eye of the heart: Thomas Merton on faith
Lawrence S. Cunningham: Interiorizing Monasticism
Victor A. Kramer: “Crisis and Mystery”: The changing quality of Thomas Merton’s later journals
Jonathan Montaldo: Loving winter when the plant says nothing: Thomas Merton’s spirituality n his private journals
Thomas Del Prete: On mind, matter, and knowing: Thomas Merton and quantum physics
Monica Weiss, SSJ: Dancing with the raven: Thomas Merton’s evolving view of nature
Patrick F. O’Connell: Sacrament and sacramentality in Thomas Merton’s thirty poems
Bonnie Thursto: Wrestling with Angels: some mature poems of Thomas Merton
Erlinda G. Paguio: Thomas Merton and Ananda Coomaraswamy
William H. Shannon: Thomas Merton in dialogue with eastern religions
Robert E. Daggy: A Bibliography