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12/07/2015

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Wonderful summation of Merton, your thoughts on him, and a nice appraisal and example of his works. In completing my MTS over several years he was often mentioned but I never did get assigned to read him. So he is more of an abstract figure that I look up to simply because many of my teachers did. I find that I have four of his books on my shelf in my office: 7 Storey Mtn; New Seeds of Contemplation; Way of Chuang Tzu; Mystics and Zen Masters - all unread. Would Seven Storey Mountain be a good starting point?

I'd start with No Man is an Island and New Seeds of Contemplation.

No Man has a wonderful section about that difference between psychological and moral conscience and the role they play in prayer. He said that a focus on our psychological conscience (feelings and thoughts) ends with our self. We need to focus on God instead. He also talked about the distinction between right intention and simple intention. He said these things much better than I have, but the quotes were too long for an already overlong post.

This was really good; a well-judged overview.

Merton was quite important to me at the time when I was first discovering the Catholic monastic tradition. I read The Seven Storey Mountain at around the same time that I first read Augustine's Confessions, and both had a strong affect on me. As a graduate student I haunted discount bookstores and gradually pieced together all seven volumes of his published journals; I read the first four or five, relishing them, but eventually petered out.

I haven't read him as frequently in the past six or eight years, and I'm not sure why. I dipped into some of his less well-known books, like Seasons of Celebration and Bread in the Wilderness, and I didn't find them all that rewarding.

The one piece that I do go back and re-read every so often is "The Fire Watch", which I first got to know from one of his journals, but which was published in The Sign of Jonas. I think it's one of the best things he wrote.

"I think it's one of the best things he wrote." Maritain thought it was the best piece of spiritual writing in the 20th century.

I think that Merton did so much good with his early writings and did so little bad with later, imprecise use of Buddhism that it's ungenerous to hold it against him. He was an imaginative person and intellectually open to new ideas. He was not a first class scholar but he was a very moving American writer.

I have benefited from Merton's writings since my mid-twenties (and am now 61). Thoughts in Solitude is one of my favorites, but I'm also going to go and look up "The Fire Watch" that Craig referred to.

I've visited Gethsemani Abbey twice, once I made a retreat there. Beautiful experience. I've recently discovered recordings available of Thomas Merton's lectures to the novices at Gethsemani Abbey in his role as novice master. I have thoroughly enjoyed each series that I have heard. It is especially engaging on those tapes to hear the responses of the young monks -- they clearly loved the man and found his lectures quite enlivening.

I wouldn't make this a sales pitch, so I won't give a web address, but if anyone is interested, going to Now You Know Media would be well worth your while.

"it's ungenerous to hold it against him." I quite agree. I hope what I said didn't sound too critical of him for his Buddhist writings. I'm just not that interested in the subject.

I simply would not be the Catholic I am today without Merton.

The only Merton I've read is Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, a long time ago, and I don't remember having a real strong impression of it either positive or negative. That, and one or two brief later works on prayer, also a long time ago and not leaving much of an impression. I've always heard that Seven Storey Mountain is the if-you-only-read-one book, and even own a copy, but have never gotten to it.

I read SSM long ago when I first started reading spiritual books, but I don't really remember much except the part about his abcess tooth, which scared the heck out of me since I hard a horrid one at the time.

I have read a good bit of Seeds of Contemplation and like it very much. Once when I was the secretary at the Catholic Student Center at the University of Memphis, I was reading it and I had stopped to think about something in the text. I was resting my face on my hand in my typical John Henry Newman style. when one of the students came in and said, "That's a great idea! I think everyone should have to walk around with a book next to his face with a title that describes what he's thinking about."

AMDG

I read Fire Watch several years ago at Craig's recommendation and liked it very much.

Charles, I have heard some of those tapes too, and they are wonderful. I heard them at a time when I had heard a lot of negative stuff about Merton's later life and had been tempted to write him off, but when I heard those they changed my mind. BTW, you should go ahead and post the link.

AMDG

Right, I have no objection at all to people posting links to sites that sell stuff that would be of interest to people reading the blog. Here's the Merton page at Now You Know Media. Looks really interesting.

"That's a great idea! I think everyone should have to walk around with a book next to his face with a title that describes what he's thinking about."

Heh! Could be quite fascinating. Or scary!

"I think that Merton did so much good with his early writings and did so little bad with later, imprecise use of Buddhism that it's ungenerous to hold it against him. He was an imaginative person and intellectually open to new ideas. He was not a first class scholar but he was a very moving American writer."

Thanks, Grumpy. I had never been very interested because of the later writings, so this was good to read.

Here's a link, as requested to see Thomas Merton lectures available at Now You Know Media: https://www.nowyouknowmedia.com/thomas-merton.html

I admit that I've lazily supposed that Merton was probably on his way out of the Church in his late years, and that may have had an unnoticed effect of discouraging my interest in him.

Actually I think Janet's student's idea is quite a terrible one, almost as bad as the idea of everyone being able to read each others' minds. Though without the latter ability the idea would probably just result in massive lying. Not to mention the formidable difficulty of carrying around enough books to cover all the wanderings of one's mind.

Well, it was a joke.

AMDG

Oh, I know. Just thinking it on out.

Yeah, it would be really terrible most of the time.

AMDG

Heh! I just thought the concept was amusing.

I will probably give Merton a try, now that I've read this post.

Could I just perpetually carry a tangled mass of shreds of different books? That'd be simpler.

Ha!

I'm afraid I would be lying all the time. Carrying around some edifying spiritual work while thinking about something quite unedifying.

C. S. Lewis Secret Agent
Don't know if y'all have seen this. Author is a friend.

AMDG

Saw that on Fb but have not had time to read yet. Looks interesting.

Last night I noticed a copy of Thomas Merton's No Man is an Island sitting on the floor of my wife's side of the bed so I asked where it came from. Apparently I had put it in her Amazon basket by mistake, and she had placed an order without making sure exactly what was in the order. As a result I now own this book - Margo did not know who Merton was until I explained last night. :)

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