Thomas Merton


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Is anyone else here familiar with the writings of Thomas Merton? I have been reading from his various books/journals/letters for some time and have developed a great admiration for him. I must admit to finding his letters the most valuable................especially "The Hidden Ground of Love" (although the "Road to Joy" is also a revelation)
Oh yes, Merton is one of my favorite writers, and an erudite one at that. Some of his books I have had to read quite carefully lest I missed a crucial point. His Zen and the Birds of Appetite is one such book. It seems he was quite fond of Eastern thought, and had great respect for such other greats like D.T. Suzuki, and Thich Nhat Hanh. As a teacher, writer, and follower of Christ, I have not enjoyed reading anyone as much since Meister Eckhart.

Thanks for your response.............I to have "Zen and the Birds of Appetite", and would also recommend a read of the essay "Mystics and Zen Masters" from the book of the same name........perhaps you have already read this?

I recently tried to obtain a copy of "The Road to Joy" (Letters to Old and New Friends)...............after six weeks the bookseller returned my money as it was "unavailable". I eventually obtained a copy via Amazon as a used item via a USA bookseller. So sad that a book offering so much should become, in effect, "out of print".........

Just to indulge myself, a couple of excepts for the various letters, to give the flavour of Merton to the uninitiated!

From a letter written in 1964 to a fellow monk, Father Peterson, when this monk was visiting Rome......

"I see clearer than ever that I am not a monk, still less a Cistercian monk........with this unpleasant clarity I expect to try to live for a few more years, hoping that I will not go nuts........This, I think, is about the best I can hope for. It sums up the total of my expectations for the immediate future. If on top of this the Lord sees fit in His mercy to admit me to a non-monastic corner of heaven, among the beatniks and pacifists and other maniacs, I will be exceedingly grateful. Doubtless there will bea few pseudo-hermits among them and we will all sit around and look at each other and wonder how we made it. Up above will be the monks, with a clearer view of their own status and a more profound capacity to appreciate the meaning of status and the value of having one." (From "The School of Charity", Letters on Religious Renewal and Spiritual Direction)

And in a letter to D T Suzuki...................."I want to speak for this Western world which has been and is so utterly wrong. This world which has in past centuries broken in upon you and brought you our own confusion, our own alienation, our own decrepitude, our lack of culture, our lack of faith.........If I wept until the end of the world, I could not signify enough of what this tragedy means. If only we had thought of coming to you to LEARN something................If only we had thought of coming to you and loving you for what you are in yourselves, instead of trying to make you over into our own image and likeness. For to me it is clearly evident that you and I have in common and share most intimately precisely that which, in the eyes of conventional Westerners, would seem to separate us............."

Well, "if only".....................perhaps it is not to late?
There are a few people whose books get special billing in my library..Merton is one of them. I have read the two books on Zen, as well as his reworking of the Chuang-Tzu stories.

New Seeds of Contemplation has a sentence about every other page that just makes me put the book down and ponder.

FWIW Thomas Merton and Karl Barth died on the very same day, Dec 10, 1968.

Glad to know that there are others out there..............I was not aware of the - sad - coincidence with Karl Barth. Another coincidence, I just re-borrowed the Chuang-Tzu book again from my local library.......the introduction to this, written by Merton himself, is really good, where he contrasts what could be called the formalism of Confucious with the spontaneity of the true spiritual life (and how such "spontaneity" has great depths!)

Anyway, I will not indulge myself with any more quotes...........just to say the the letters contained in the "Hidden Ground of Love" are a true goldmine..........(and I found the book by some sort of miracle in a local second-hand bookshop, priced £4........)

I read and enjoyed Zen and the Birds of Appetite, made me want to read more Merton. Then I read Seven Story Mountain, which was interesting at first but too long. Kind of frustrating after a while reading about his angst over whether he had a vocation or not. I think I was also put off by his very intolerant views toward other religions and denominations. I gather that he must have grown out of that narrow view with time, as he wrote S.S.M. while as a new novitiate. I think I will look for more of his letters. Any particular recommendations?

Edit: oh--reviewing the thread I see several recommendations given. Yet, if anyone can give their highest recommendation I'd still like to know which one.

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Thanks for your response..............he certainly did seem to "grow out of" some of the views and attitudes expressed in "The Seven Storey Mountain".In many of his letters he demonstrates a certain embarrassment concerning the book!.................and also a degree of pity on under-graduates doomed to study it on various courses! He certainly became a human being whose own faith was a rock on which to stand, a base from which to investigate and embrace the whole world...........rather than a fortress to be defended at all costs. This comes out far more clearly in his Journals and Letters.........which I believe were far less heavily censored (if at all) than his books.

I would definitely recommend "The Hidden Ground of Love" (Letters on Religious Experience and Social Concerns)..........though there are four other volumes of letters on other subjects. The journals (seven volumes, although there is a selection from them all in "The Intimate Merton") are well worth a look- even if some of the more intellectual content goes right over my head! There is also a Thomas Merton Reader, and Merton's preface to this is worth a read in order to understand the man a little bit better............also his introduction to his own little book on Chuang-Tzu (a book which Merton always referred to as one of his favorites).............

Anyway, all well worth a is always difficult to recommend books to others.........we are all unique individuals........
Tariki said:
Anyway, I will not indulge myself with any more quotes...
Oh, don't see it as self-indulgence. I, for one, would enjoy reading more Merton quotes. He is someone that I am familiar with, but not from reading his works; I only know his name and the names of some of his books. I have a general knowledge that he was a Catholic monk with an affinity for so-called "Eastern" thought. Perhaps I will look into him deeper someday soon, as I have been reading quite a lot of books on Zen lately.

Thanks for posting. :)
This is my favorite Merton quote, for it speaks volumes:

The true contemplative is not less interested than others in normal life, not less concerned with what goes on in the world, but more interested, more concerned. The fact that he or she is a contemplative makes them capable of a greater interest and a deeper concern. The contemplative has the inestimable gift of appreciating at their real worth values that are permanent, authentically deep, human, truly spiritual and even divine. Their mission is to be a complete and whole person, with an instinctive and generous need to further the same wholeness in others, and in all humanity.

Thomas Merton

Thanks for your encouragement to "indulge".........

"True communication on the deepest level is more than a simple sharing of ideas, conceptual knowledge, or formulated truth.The kind of communication that is necessary at this level must also be 'communion'................It is wordless, it is beyond words, and it is beyond speech, and it is beyond concept. Not that we discover a new unity. We discover an older unity. My dear brothers and sisters, we are already one. But we imagine we are not. And what we have to recover is our original unity. What we have to be is what we are"

(From a speech given in Calcutta, 1968)

"But it certainly is a wonderful thing to wake up suddenly in the solitude of the woods and look up at the sky and see the utter nonsense of EVERYTHING, including all the solemn stuff given out by professional asses about the spiritual life: and simply burst out laughing, and laugh and laugh, with the sky and the trees because God is not in words, and not in systems.........and not in 'contemplation' with a big C, or in asceticism or in anything like that...........Certainly not in books. I can go on writing them, for all that, but one might as well make paper airplanes out of the whole lot"

(From a letter written in 1958)

And speaking of God's grace......and a letter to D T Suzuki in 1959......

"The realization, the finding of ourselves in Christ and therefore in paradise, has a special character from the fact that this is all a free gift from God. With us, this stress is on freedom. God's freedom, the indeterminateness of salvation, is the thing that corresponds to Zen in Chritianity. The breakthrough that comes with the realization of what the finger of a koan is pointing to is like the breakthrough of the realization that a sacrament, for instance, is a finger pointing to the completely spontaneous Gift of Himself to us on the part of God - beyond and above images, outside of every idea, every law, every right and wrong, everything high and low, everything spiritual or material. Whether we are good or bad, wise or foolish, there is always this sudden irruption, this breakthrough of God's freedom into our life, turning the whole thing upside down so that it comes out, contrary to all expectation, right side up. This is grace, this is salvation, this is Christianity. And, so far as I can see, it is also very much like Zen..................."

Well, enough for now.
I hope this does not interrupt anyone, but I am a loss and need some help. I am trying to find where the following quote from Thomas Merton was taken "Time is given us not to keep the faith we once had but to acquire the faith we need now." Does anyone know?