Thursday, December 11, 2008

Thomas Merton

Since high school I have been interested in the spirituality of Thomas Merton. I was reminded today that it is the 40th anniversary of his death.

Books that I have of his are A Thomas Merton Reader (an anthology), The Sign of Jonas, and The Monastic Journey and The Way of Lao Tzu. They have all been of use in my own spiritual journey, particualrly through my teenage years. It was he who was my spiritual guide through discerning my own vocation (which I found was not the cistercian one), in getting into the habit of reading the Office daily, and in getting in touch with who I really am. He introduced me to the desert fathers, and the great cistercian writers such as St Aelred of Rievaulx and Isaac of Stella, all of whom I still enjoy.

My main criticism of his writings is that they sometimes got too introspective about techniques of contemplation. Some of the traditionals/conservatives dont like him because he dabbled in eastern religions, and went all hippy in his hermitage. This is not correct. He kept to his catholic faith and was very orthodox but made the effort to reach out to others. In that he actually found that in terms of spiritual discipline, other religions have a lot in common with ours. Some of them like Zen are a lot more strict. He found echoes of Zen running through strands of Catholicism particularly in the spitituality of St John of the Cross. I actually find St John of the Cross and the great Zen master Dogen as equally obscure.

Here is a good short doco that I found through Whispers in the Loggia which gives a good overview of his life.

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