Saturday, March 7, 2015

Thomas Merton and the Eternal Search - The New Yorker

Thomas Merton, 1951.

A convert to Catholicism, a searcher, a monk, and a celebrity.  Fr. Thomas Merton was all of those things.  He represented openness despite the cloister, or was it because of the cloister?  He had been a conscientious objector in WW II because he was not a warrior and was committed to the Trappist monastery he had not yet joined.  He explored his own life in and out of the cloister, looked to eastern mysticism in a serious way - and tragically died at 52 - electrocuted in the shower  in a monastery in Thailand.  We are still shocked that the pilgrim  had died so arbitrarily,with so much yet to be seen, thought, and said.  - gwc

Thomas Merton and the Eternal Search - The New Yorker
by Paul Elie

Here ends the book, but not the searching. Thomas Merton ended “The Seven Storey Mountain” with a little Latin to that effect: Sit finis libri, non finis quaerendi. Set tombstone-style in small caps, at once pompous and obscure, it runs against the spirit of the book, which is personal, casual, talky, and self-deprecating—the story of a conversion to Catholicism and a call to a Trappist monastery as the adventures of a young New York dangling man.***

“Well, what is it that I have been trying to say?” he asked in the same piece. After dismissing the obvious answer—that he was trying to make a case for the contemplative life—he answered the question with another question. “When a man enters a monastery he has to stand before the community and formally respond to a ritual question: Quid petis? ‘What do you ask?’ His answer is not that he seeks a happy life, or escape from anxiety, or freedom from sin, or the summit of contemplation. The answer is that he seeks mercy. ‘The mercy of God and the Order.’ ” That, Merton declared, is what he had sought, and he offered his writing as evidence “that I have found what I sought and continue to find it.”

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