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Posted April 14, 2008

Book: Thomas Merton: Master of Attention
Author: Robert Waldron
Paulist Press. New York. 2008. Pp. 101

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

When The Seven Storey Mountain was first published, Merton was hailed as a new, contemporary spiritual voice and became one of the most popular and successful writers and commentators on modern religion and spirituality. But although Merton wrote over forty book on the importance of reflection and prayer in our inner lives, until now we have known very little about Merton’s own way of prayer. The distinguished Merton scholar Robert Waldron’s new book is the first to fully explore the inner life of perhaps the best-known writer on prayer of the twentieth century.

Robert Waldron skillfully explores the connections between the development of Merton’s life of prayer and Simone Weil’s emphasis on attention and grace in a way that opens the subject to all who seek to practice contemplation. In this inspiring book we are gently but wisely led through increasing insight to a deepening of our own prayer life.

An Excerpt from the Book:

The Camera and the Contemplative Eye

We cannot ignore Merton’s other pursuit of visual art during his hermitage years; photography. His interest in photography is emblematic of his life as a contemplative, for to become a contemplative one must develop the spiritual eye of attention, and what in modern life symbolizes more fully and exactly what the life of a contemplative life entails than the camera. The camera zeroes in on the object chosen by the eye to be seen, not a cursory but a deep seeing, as if one is attempting to see into the life of things, like monks with eyes fixed upon religious ritual or Scripture, hoping for a divine glimpse. Merton diligently worked on his photography, fully appreciating it as art, and he felt blessed to have as his mentor John Howard Griffin, a master photographer.

This change of heart about photography is an interesting development in Merton’s artistic growth. He once wrote, “In any case, nothing resembles reality less than the photograph. But photography, like calligraphy, is a new reality (Pound’s ‘Make it new’.) Later, he qualified his earlier statement:

Nothing resembles substance less than its shadow. To convey the meaning of something substantial you have to use not a shadow but a sign, not the imitation but the image. The image is a new and different reality, and of course it does not convey an impression of some object, but the mind of the subject and that is something else again.

Table of Contents:



The Connoisseur of Beauty

The Close Reader of Logos

The Merton, Weil and Milosz Connection

Alone with the alone

The Abstract Calligraphist

The Camera and the Contemplative Eye

Love and Do What You Will