New Blogs and Merton

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There are a couple of new blogs that have caught my attention recently. One, The Lowly Pilgrim, I have already done a brief post about. The other Catholicism, holiness, and spirituality is a new blog that also shows promise. The thing that caught my attention, even caught me by surprise, with both of these blogs is that they each prominently feature references to Thomas Merton. You might be asking why I find this surprising.

As I previously posted, Merton played a big role in my conversion. While I was in RCIA I read many of his books, especially The Seven Story Mountain, and continued such reading for a year or two after coming into the Church. Merton was one of the few Catholic authors I was familiar with; since I wanted to learn all I could about being Catholic he was the guy I turned to. However, as I came to better understand Church teaching, I became increasingly uncomfortable with Merton. The problem, of course, was his later writing dealing with Eastern spirituality. This fascination of his seemed impossible to me to reconcile with the idea that he was, after all, a Catholic priest. He seemed, toward the end of his life, to have been cut loose from his spiritual moorings. It also thought that, as a guy trying to be an orthodox Catholic, I should no longer bother with Fr. Louis Merton.

I had pretty much adhered to this resolution until just in the last couple of months when, browsing through my bookshelves, I came up my Merton books and I happened to pick up The Ascent to Truth. As I began to read the book I found that it was really a very good book and I also received an added bonus: I began for the first time, to gain some slight insight into the works of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross.

Then, low and behold, I stumbled across two blogs in the same week that unashamedly feature, as I said, references to Thomas Merton. Could I possibly have been wrong about Merton? Maybe yes, maybe no.

The problem is, I'm not sure I understand Merton very well. What drove his enthusiasm with Zen and other Eastern spirituality? Was he somehow just caught up in the spirit of the '60s and being of an artistic bent couldn't help it? Did he ever renounce his Catholic faith (perhaps a better way to put it is, did he, in effect, abandon it?} In any case, what in the world got into him? Merton is a huge enigma to me, how can a man be a Catholic priest, a Trappist, and at the same time, seem to be so into the culture of his time? Did he really go wrong? I have not found a satisfactory biography of Merton and have never read much criticism about him that would provide an explanation. Perhaps some of you have greater insight into him than I do, any thoughts would be appreciated.

Re reading The Ascent to Truth, I am reminded that, a one time early in his life, Merton was surely a faithful Catholic. I was also reminded reading this book, what a really good writer he was, and there can be no doubt about that.

So, with the, I'm sure, unintended encouragement of my two new fellow bloggers I first am going to go back and re read The Ascent to Truth right through and then, perhaps read a few other of his books. This may be one time when I have been wrong to avoid an author.

P.S. A further note on Phillip Yancy. I do not recommend that any Catholic read any of his books. I believe that my initial impression of the trouble with his work was somewhat mistaken. I was under the impression that the difficulty is that his writing reflects a highly deficient understanding of the meaning of the Church. After reading the first few pages of Soul Survivor my wife pointed out that he seems to harbor some bitterness toward something that happened in his early church experience; this has also turned him into a bit of a PC type Christian -- the worse part is that the bitterness is what shows through in his writing.

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This note started out as a response in the comment box to this post by Mr. Moffat. I must preface everything by expressing my disagreement with the codicil to the post in which he rejects the good that Yancey has... Read More

5 Comments

My brother in Christ,


You post wonderfully about Merton. One suggestion that I would make is to read his letters and his journals, edited by Lawrence Cunningham. One finds a Merton who was struggling between his desire to be a writer, of some success, and his call to God. One might find it shocking to note that he thought the Trappists were off the mark, though he lived at Gethsemani from acceptance until his death. What I now see is a very human man, with a great mind, capable of helping others, but very hard on himself.

I look at Merton now much differently than years ago. There is much to be learned from his writings, but to place him on a pedestal is a mistake many make in the search for a more contemplative life. Yet, as you mention, his writing introduced you to John of the Cross and Teresa. This is a blessing in itself.

As for Orthodoxy, it is not impossible to live as an orthodox and read Merton, but it is a mistake some make to place him in the role of a prophet.

God Bless you and Father Merton.

I have to admit that I am a novice on Merton. It seems to me that there are similarities between contemplative prayer and Zen/Buddhist meditation. In Merton's day, contemplative prayer and its practitioners were probably pretty sparse, so it seems natural that he would have an affinity to people who practiced Zen meditation. I am also convinced that Christian contemplatives can learn from their Zen counterparts, and vice versa. A sort of contemplative ecumenism.

Interesting thoughts on Merton. I've long been fascinated by his journey.

You might find this interesting if you haven't already seen it:

http://www.touchstonemag.com/docs/issues/13.8docs/13-8pg28.html

TSO

Thanks for the reference, I have not seen it and will check it out right away. Always interested to learn something about Merton.

All

Thanks for your comments and I appreciate your insights.

Pax et bonum

You are so kind to reference me on your blog, Being newborn to St Blogs, I anticipate enjoyment from 7 habitus as well. Keep in touch.

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This page contains a single entry by Ron Moffat published on October 1, 2003 7:53 PM.

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