By Thomas Merton, edited by Kathleen Deignan, 224 pages, Sorin Books Hardcover.
“Let this be my only consolation—that, wherever I am,/ You my Lord are loved and praised.” Thomas Merton's love and devotion to the Lord was central to his theology and spiritual teachings, and continues to touch countless readers.
Merton plays an important role in contemporary Catholic evangelization, even though he died in 1968. His writings, through their poetic and spiritual qualities, attract the New Age and Protestant crowds. His skill as a writer and spiritual thinker allowed him to have great theological insights that remained faithful to the Catholic tradition. Catholics too beetry: “Now, in the middle of the limpid evening/ The moon speaks clearly to the hill./ The wheatfields make their simple music,/ Praise the quiet sky.”
He spoke theologically through these writings on nature: “Up with the revolution of tulips. Tulips are not important, they are essential. Yes, sing. Love and Peace, silence, movto the fullest when he joined the Cistercians in Kentucky at the age of 26.
He is valuable as a prophet who opposed individualism, materialism, and the cheapening of culture. His following words fully reflect Vatican II's prophetic engagement with the world: “Christian holiness can no longer be considered a matter purely of individual and isolated acts of virtue. It must also be seen as part of a great collaborative effort for spiritual and cultural renewal in society, to produce conditions in which all can work and enjoy the just fruits of their labor in peace.”
He didn't become a monk in order to escape from the world, but to enter into it more deeply. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, a Cistercian of the twelfth century, did the same, and corresponded with anybody who was anybody. Merton took up this tradition of the monk-of-the-world, though with less correspondence and more poetry.
Merton's fans love his intimacy with nature, which shines throughout his poetry: “Now, in the middle of the limpid evening/ The moon speaks clearly to the hill./ The wheatfields make their simple music,/ Praise the quiet sky.”
He spoke theologically through these writings on nature: “Up with the revolution of tulips. Tulips are not important, they are essential. Yes, sing. Love and Peace, silence, movement of planets.” As these words reflect, Merton could also be witty. At least in his published writings, especially his poetry, he didn't take himself too seriously.
Merton seemed at times to be more accepting of nature and her ways than of humans. His frustration at the direction of American pulp culture was only one dimension of his difficult, even judgmental way of viewing humans. “Man/ Crowding all around/ Why are you/ So cold, so proud/ Why is your tongue so mean/ Why is your hand/ So quick to harm/ Why are you like a rattlesnake/ So quick to strike?” We are all judgmental like Merton here, but it's reassuring to see that a great monk and spiritual seeker also suffered from this affliction.