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The Intimate Merton: His Life from His Journals

The Intimate Merton: His Life from His Journals

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Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.7" Width: 4.96" Height: 2.25"
Weight:   1.25 lbs.
Binding  Audio Cassette
Release Date   Feb 1, 2004
Publisher   Saint Anthony Messenger Press
ISBN  0867165820  
EAN  9780867165821  

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In this diary-like memoir, composed of his most poignant and insightful journal entries, The Intimate Merton lays bare the steep ways of Thomas Merton's spiritual path. Culled from the seven volumes of his personal journals, this twenty-nine year chronicle deepens and extends the story Thomas Merton recounted and made famous in The Seven Storey Mountain. A spiritual autobiography of our century's most celebrated monk, here is Merton's account of his life's major challenges, his confrontations with monastic and church hierarchies, his interaction with religious traditions east and west, and his antiwar and civil-rights activities. The Intimate Merton captures the essence of what makes Thomas Merton's life journey so perennially relevant. 12 audiocassettes in binder.

Buy The Intimate Merton: His Life from His Journals by Patrick Hart from our Audio Book store - isbn: 9780867165821 & 0867165820

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A life lived in contradiction  Jun 4, 2007
In Notebook 17, Merton writes "I am thrown into contradiction:/ to realize it is a mercy,/ to accept it is love,/ to help others do the same is compassion." (269) From a year or two before he died, this recognition shows what his journals, excerpted here from the seven complete volumes, chart. These take you beyond the more familiar writings that made Merton famous, and show by extension his more frail, doubting, and pensive side.

These pages begin in 1939-41, as he wrestles with being rejected by the Franciscans, works with the poor, reads and thinks at Columbia and upstate New York, and decides to enter the Trappists. His fervor as a recent convert energizes his visit to Cuba. He is full of ideas and energy, but seeks and needs focus. Early on, he realizes the trouble with a journal. If it's written for publication, "then you can tear pages out of it, emend it, correct it, write with art. If it is a personal document, every emendation amounts to a crisis of conscience and a confession, not an artistic correction."(12/4/1940; p. 21) He decides to keep his diary for posterity, for others to read.

The second chapter, although dated 1941-1952, begins five years after his entrance to the Order, at the end of 1946. He has written his soon to be bestselling memoir, and prepares for the fame that he desires but recoils from. His ordination in 1949 enlivens his spirits, and monastery at this point has not wearied him. Even then, the wish for solitude begins to take hold, to be apart from what will be, in the wake of "The Seven Storey Mountain," a rush of aspirants for Gethsemani Abbey. Ironically or justifiably, he will be appointed Master of Novices and later of Scholastics, the students attracted by his very writings. Surprisingly, he writes little of the daily conferences and dealings with his fellow monks in this journal, perhaps out of respect for their confidings, but also, one suspects, out of a disenchantment with the noise, the cheese factory, the tractors and the press of new faces into what had been for him the place where he sought to be alone with God.

This contradiction drives him towards a hermitage on the property, a compromise he battles out. He is famous, and he seeks anonymity. He wants a public to speak to, and welcomes visits. He learns that his freedom allows him to go out on the town with his friends, and temptations will arise as his freedom increases, and his vocation is crucially tested.

1951 sparks a burst of mystical longing. His journals become more contemplative, as his time alone increases and his duties to the Abbey lessen somewhat. By the mid-1950s, he is living full-time at the hermitage. He thrives on study and contemplation. "Perhaps the Book of Life, in the end, is the book of what one has lived, and, if one has lived nothing, he is not in the Book of Life."(7/17/1956) He reads wisdom from the Eastern Christian and Asian traditions.

Musings on Boris Pasternak, Marxism and Latin American struggles begin to enter his journal, followed by Civil Rights and antiwar activist reports. He wishes to be drawn into the world he once thought he would and could leave behind. His advice is sought out by many, and the retreat becomes instead a visitor's center. This is partially by choice, and partially by fame.

The reforms of Vatican II appear to have come slowly to the Order and not altogether smoothly. He laments the end of Latin prayers and Gregorian chant; he records Dan Berrigan saying a non-canonical Mass circa `66 that presages the daring poses of relevance that unsettle Merton, who eschews violence and grandstanding by his more radical, media-hungry, confreres.

But, he knows that he can no longer remain within the walls of the monastery in this time of change and tumult. He wrestles with loyalties. On the fourteenth anniversary of his ordination, he feels defeated. Untraditional, unable to conform, he agonizes. "Perhaps that is good. I am not a J.F. Powers character. But the frustration is the same." Although neither Greene's whiskey priest nor a despairing curate as in Bernanos, his sincerity seems a charade. He acts a lie. Depressions grow as he nears fifty. "People think I am happy." He does seek solace in the Mass. "I suppose that in the end what I have done is that I have resisted the superimposition of a complete priestly form, a complete monastic pattern. I have stubbornly saved myself from becoming absorbed in the priesthood, and I do not know if this was cowardice or integrity. There seems to be no real way for me to tell." (5/26/1963; pp. 206-7) The next few years of revolt and reaction outside the monastery and travel within and beyond its no longer totally enclosed walls will test his indecision severely and unexpectedly.

He falls in love and- although not explicitly stated in these excerpts- consummates a relationship with a nurse who seems about half his age, who cares for him in a Louisville hospital in the spring of 1966. These are the most human and gripping entries of the volume. We witness in the first-person- if at an oblique angle that increases the perspective of realism-- an intelligent, tender, and righteous man break his vows, and then his promises to renew his commitment at great personal and psychic and physical sacrifice. He learns to treat "M" with dignity and does the right thing by her and himself, and reconciles his failing with the immediate joy he has foolishly if understandably embraced briefly.

In his fifth decade, Merton grows up. "Vocation is more than just a matter of being in a certain place and wearing a certain type of costume. There are too many people in the world who rely on the fact that I am serious about deepening an inner dimension of experience that they desire and is closed to them. It is not closed to me: this is a gift that has been given me not for myself but for everyone, even including M." Tempted again to sneak into the city to see her, he realizes: "In the end I would ruin her along with myself."(6/22/1966; p. 295) Here, Merton's saintliness shows itself most movingly to me. I recognize my own faults in his, and now realize his own integrity. If you have only read "Seven Storey Mountain," you only know the honeymoon period. The journals show the whole committment, the lifetime after the infatuation wears off.

In November 1968, a month and a day before his death, he records during his visit to the Dalai Lama in exile the three types of "bodhicitta." Kingly ones save one's self and then others. Boatmen ferry themselves with others into salvation. Shepherds guide others first and enter salvation last. I think of Merton, so near unawares his own sudden "liberation," as one who by his writings and example led many into spiritual heights.

These pages record how he labored, lonely among hundreds of other monks. How many, I wonder, who resented his popularity, worshipped his celebrity, or benefitted from his writing and the nights of loneliness that flowed into his pages? He lived as a flawed monk among others no less so, and this obvious but gradual admission comes to bring him and his community and so many other millions of readers the past fifty years the grace to accept the need for guides wiser than us to help lead us into nirvana.

Groundhog Day Comes to Gethsemani  Apr 22, 2006
Rather than review the book _The Intimate Merton_, I have chosen to review the persona who presents himself within these pages. For it is this persona that has attracted readers to his works, and through his works, to his life. If we are to profit at all from a man's personal journals, we must be certain that first he intends to be truthful and forthright about the time's of his life. And we are not to be dissappointed here by the subject of this work, as he assiduously presents his story with his most intimate thoughts.

We see, as the title of this review reflects, a man who has become entranced by his own idea of himself and his vocation, at once both a passionate writer and a solitary monk, bound to live the same day over and over again until he got it right. We see this reflected in the editor's introduction when they say: "He got up and fell down, he got up and fell down, he got up over and over again." He was as much a product of his times and the events that molded and influenced him as he was a simple human being longing for release. Only toward the end of his life, though, did he begin to travel down the road toward learning about who he really was, as opposed to the persona he carried around with him the majority of his life. His journals, condensed here from the seven that were ultimately published, are a testiment to how not to lead the spiritual life, and for that honesty of truthfulness with which these entries are presented, we are in debt to the man himself.

What the reader learns of Thomas Merton the man and the Trappist monk is that he was as sincere about what he wanted to accomplish with his life as he was in leaving us with a candid accounting of that life. His sincere wish can be summed up in an entry made in December of 1946 in which he states: "Meanwhile, for myself I have only one desire, and that is the desire for solitude -- to disappear into God, to be submerged in His peace, to be lost in the secret of His Face." What we learn about the truth of this sentiment is that Merton spent the majority of his twenty-seven years as a monk searching for that silence of peace into which to merge himself, but that he only on rare occasions found it. For the most part, his days were taken up with endless rounds of duties and projects which kept him busy and estranged from the solitude which he sought, and yet it was only in the final years of his life that he was finally able to begin to realize that solitude through having separated himself from the monastic community at Gethsemani and living at a private hermitage on the property.

We are shown this through such passages as the following, in which a forty-eight year old Merton laments the anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood: "Today is the fourteenth anniversary of my Ordination to the priesthood. . . . I have certainly not fitted into the conventional -- or even traditional -- mold. Perhaps that is good. I am not a J. F. Powers character. Yet the frustration is the same. (I do not know if I am a George Bernanos character. I am not a Graham Greene character.) But this business of defeat is there and I see it is perhaps in some way permanent. As if in a way my priestly life has been sad and fruitless -- the defeat and failure of my monastic life. (Perhaps. For after all how do I know?) I have a very real sense that it has all been some kind of a lie, a charade. With all my blundering attempts at sincerity, I have actually done nothing to change this."

Repeatedly, we are shown instances of this kind of self-admonishment throughout the latter sections of the book, and after a while, we begin to wonder "will he ever learn?" In that same journal entry we find the following, perhaps unparalleled in its honesty and self-disgust in the annals of autobiographical works: "Probably the chief weakness has been lack of real courage to bear up under the attention of monastic and priestly life. Anyway, I am worn down. I am easily discouraged. The depressions are deeper, more frequent. I am near fifty. People think I am happy." This was Merton as he appeared to himself on his worst days. Fortunately for him, these moments were as fleeting and impermanent as the very thoughts that went into expressing them. And yet his genius is that he shows us his struggle, time and again, to bear up under the task he has outlined for himself.

He is aware that his life is artificial in many ways and that the circumstances under which he has agreed to live have contributed to this artificialness. "I am convinced that the tensions of our community life are delusions and obsessions because of the unreality of our activities -- the basic unreality of our relationships. Unreal because much too artificial and contrived." Yet we see by these many observations that he is honestly seeking to evaluate his life in the manner of a genuine contemplative.

On occasion, he shows us some glimmer of hope as in the following entry from June of 1963: "Identity. I can see now where the work is to be done. I have been coming here into solitude to find myself, and now I must also lose myself: not simply rest in the calm, the peace, the identity that is made up of my experienced relationship with nature in solitude. This is healthier than my 'identity' as a writer or a monk, but it is still a false identity, though it has a temporary meaning and validity. It is the cocoon that masks the transition stage between what crawls and what flies." It was during this next period of his life, the last five years, that he began coming upon some of the ideas that helped him to begin putting the pieces of his life's puzzle together.

As it is always darkest before the dawn, at the turn of the year to 1964 we find the forty-nine year old Merton once again lamenting his situation: ". . . twenty-two years of relative confusion, often coming close to doubt and infidelity, agonized aspirations for 'something better,' criticism of what I have, inexplicable inner suffering that is largely my own fault, insufficient efforts to overcome myself, inability to find my way, perhaps culpably straying off into things that do not concern me." Yet even here he is on the brink of a discovery, for just a few short weeks later his contemplations begin to yield some much needed light. The darkness begins to lift ever so slightly as he makes the realization that his "real self" was nothing other than "the self that one is. . . . However, the emperical self is not to be taken as fully 'real' either. Here is where the illusion begins." It is during this time period that he begins to explore the religious traditions of China, Tibet, Japan, and ancient India, and the light that he has been seeking is about to dawn for him.

Yet for all his spiritual wandering during the next few years, for all his reading and digesting of new concepts and writing books on Taoism and Zen Buddhism, the hold and lure of Christian imagery and conceptual iconography keeps calling him back over and over again. When all else fails comprehension, he returns to the familiar. Even so, his subconscious mind is working on all he is learning, churning it over, integrating certain ideas, seeking for common ground with the already familiar.

For perhaps the first time in his monastic career, he was beginning to realize what his real work in this contemplative tradition was all about: "It would do no good to anyone if I just went around talking -- no matter how articulately -- in this condition. There is still so much to learn, so much deepening to be done, so much to surrender. . . . The best thing I can give to others is to liberate myself from the common delusions and be, for myself and for them, free. Then grace can work in and through me for everyone." He added the preceding journal entry in late June of 1968, just a little over five months before his untimely passing. And what is sad is that he was never to realize this accomplishment in his lifetime. And yet in the same breath, what was hopeful is that he realized this -- what he needed to accomplish -- before his passing, as he wrote in July of that same year: "I have to go my own way in terms of needs that to me are fundamental: need to live a life of prayer, need to liberate myself from my own 'cares' and 'unique' need for authentic monastic solitude (not mere privacy), and need for a real understanding and use of Asian insights in religion."

He arrived in the Orient in October of 1968, where he was to spent the better part of two months meeting with various Eastern religious, including an unprecedented three audiences with the Dalai Lama. His experience in the Orient was a much needed education for Merton as he began to reassess his own possibilities for his continuation in the contemplative life back home. Far from being indisputably drawn to the East, his roots were calling him back to the West. But it would not be the same there as it had been. There would of necessity need to be changes made in order to suit his new understanding of what he needed to accomplished. Ironically, he was never to return to Kentucky and the monastery at Gethsemani, but rather to end his days in Bangkok, accidentally electrocuted on December 10th, 1968. On that day he found peace from this life.
An Introduction to the Journals of Thomas Merton  Oct 22, 2005
Last May I visited Gethsemane Abbey where Thomas Merton lived his life as a monk. I wanted the opportunity to see Thomas Merton's hermitage, where he wrote some of his greatest writings. I guess the image of the writer in me decided that I would be inspired by visiting the beloved private space of one of the twentieth century's most famous and influential spiritual writers. I'd be inspired to finish my novel, write a spiritual treatise or two, and it would all be due to my visit to Merton's hermitage. Far fetched? Perhaps, but you'd be surprised at the ideas that come to mind after driving from Boston to Bardstown, Kentucky, alone. Sixteen hours of driving spread over two days can produce all sorts of grand ideas. Well, the hermitage was in use and I wouldn't be able to visit it and since I was at the abbey for a retreat, the hermitage would probably have been a distraction. Anyone who has ever read Merton knows what he thought of distractions, so it was probably in keeping with the spirit of Merton's life and message that I didn't visit the hermitage, but something interesting did happen when I was visiting. I went for a walk and passed through the cemetery where the monks are buried. I wasn't paying all that much attention but I did look down and saw a simple white cross with the name Fr. Louis and the year 1968 on it. I was standing where Thomas Merton was buried. Suddenly a man I admired as a priest, writer, and person seemed more real and human which is what I believe gives Merton such an appeal to so many. He knew what the human heart was searching for, which is the appeal of his writings, yet he was not some sort of remote guru. He was human like everyone else and had his triumphs, but also his struggles.

Thomas Merton's diaries are essential for understanding Merton. He kept journals throughout his lifetime, and many of his entries have been published. The earlier entries are somewhat pious and sanitized, due to his initial monastic fervor and the fact that his superiors were his final editors. Sometimes the superiors are accused of censoring, and Merton himself believes this from time to time, but it really wasn't censoring as we think of it, at least in the United States. He was allowed to write for the good of the Trappist order and the Abbey of Gethsemane, not for his own fulfillment, so those who asked him to write for this purpose did have the right to say what would and would not be for the good of the order. Yes they were too restrictive, and no doubt they deleted essential information that is now lost, but that was the reality of religious life at the time. As the rules became more relaxed, Merton's writings expressed more of his struggles, foibles, and the challenges he faced in life. The later journal entries are hardly the sanitized entries that make up THE SIGN OF JONAS. Brother Patrick Hart and Jonathan Montaldo have edited what remains of Merton's journals and the result is a seven volume set of Merton's most personal writings. THE INTIMATE MERTON contains excerpts from the seven volumes that give the reader a general idea of Merton's life from his point of view and give the readers a glimpse behind the great writer and spiritual figure.

This particular volume arranges the materials chronologically and presents the material in the order in which it was written rather than piecing the entries together to form a biography. Some of the entries are mini-masterpieces, others are almost fragments, but anyone who has kept a journal knows that this is part of journaling.

I do have one suggestion for readers who purchase this book. Make sure you have a basic outline of Merton's life available when reading this volume. The editors have decided to let Merton's writings stand on their own, but for people not familiar with Merton's life and writings, it's easy to get lost. There is very little biographical information in the book which can make the information a bit overwhelming. If the book contained a few paragraphs of commentary at the beginning of each section to situate the reader, it would be helpful, but even without the commentary, it's a great introduction to the journals of Thomas Merton.
A spiritual master...  May 31, 2003
The book `The Intimate Merton', edited by Brother Patrick Hart and Jonathan Montaldo, is a great encapsulation of the journals which Thomas Merton, monk, writer, activist and spiritual guide (I believe he would eschew the word leader, kept from the time he began considering a vocation (both as a monk and as a writer) to the time of his death nearly thirty years later.

The book is broken into sections reflective of Merton's monastic life. Each section is composed of selections, representative and/or significant, from his regular daily journals. Merton actually kept voluminous journals (published in seven thick volumes), much of which served as a basis and self-reflective sounding board for his other writings. This book is a user-friendly spiritual autobiography, distilled from the wisdom gained over twenty-nine years of teaching, prayer, reflection, prayer, writing, prayer, activity, and yet more prayer.

Merton was not (and still is not) universally loved, even by the church and monastic hierarchies who claim him as a shining example of one of their own. Merton's life is a quest for meaning, and quest for unity before God of all peoples, and a quest for love. These were not always in keeping with the practices of the church, which found itself more often than Merton cared for embroiled in political action in support of the state, or at least the status quo.

Merton was a Trappist monk. The Trappists derive their name from la Trappe, the sole survivor of a reformed Cistercian order in France about the time of the Revolution. This order of Cistercians (white-robed monks) had fairly strict observances which included the usual monastic trappings of vows of chastity, stability, obedience, poverty -- and a regime of prayer and psalm recitals coupled with daily work and study that is not at all for the faint-hearted (or faint-spirited). It was to this order that Merton pledged himself, in his beginning search for meaning and fulfillment.

`The great work of sunrise again today.
The awful solemnity of it. The sacredness. Unbearable without prayer and worship. I mean unbearable if you really put everything aside and see what is happening! Many, no doubt, are vaguely aware that it is dawn, but they are protected from the solemnity of it by the neutralising worship of their own society, their own world, in which the sun no longer rises and sets.'

Poetry in prose -- this passage, from the section on The Pivotal Years, reflects a searching nearing a conclusion, but still far from grasping, and far from complete. It also reflects the need for sharing, the drive toward caring, the simplest of things in the world, available to all, free of charge -- and most will never take possession.

God is calling in the sunrise. Merton recognises the call. He wants to deliver this sunrise in a package to the world. But he cannot. This is Merton's endless frustration, and the drive to do more, while yet being, as he would say himself, selfish in wanting to grasp it for himself, too. His time in the Hermitage, a time during which he was removed even from the company of fellow monks -- reflects this duality of vocation in Merton. He recognises that in some ways, it is an escape, but other ways, a fulfillment.

Even late in his life, after he was called away from his solitude at the Hermitage, because the world needed him, he was still humble and seeking. After nearly three decades of monastic practice and reflection on the level that Merton had done, one would expect a certain 'expertise' to have permeated his thinking. And yet, he would write:

`I have to change the superficial ideas and judgments I have made about the contemplative religious life, the contemplative orders. They were silly and arbitrary and without faith.'

This, on the basis of one retreat in December of 1967, with laypersons and clerics and monastics outside his Trappist order -- this is his conclusion, his resolute determination to not be boxed in, even by his own thinking. The true search can lead anywhere, even to the conclusion that one has been wrong all along.

And yet, Merton was not wrong. There was value in each of his spiritual discoveries as he discovered them. They still resonate for all of us today.

`Since Hayden Carruth's reprimand I have had more esteem for the crows around here, and I find, in fact, that we seem to get on much more peacefully. Two sat high in an oak beyond my gate as I walked on the brow of the hill at sunrise saying the Little Hours. They listened without protest to my singing of the antiphons. We are part of a menage, a liturgy, a fellowship of sorts.'

Near the end of his life, Merton was becoming more and more one with all around him, with all of God's creation, with nature, with people, with friends and strangers. And yet, he missed his privacy, his time for personal reflection and solitude.

`Everyone now knows where the hermitage is, and in May I am going to the convent of the Redwoods in California. Once I start traveling around, what hope will there be?'

Merton had premonitions that 1968 was a year `that things are finally and inexorably spelling themselves out', prophetic indeed, for in the same year the world lost Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy, and Brother Thomas Merton. He never was able to reclaim the solitude, pouring himself out for his friends ('what greater love hath anyone...'), who he counted as the entire world.

May Brother Thomas' journey enlighten your own.

The Story of a Soul  May 21, 2003
One may wonder why another book on Thomas Merton, one of the most self-chronicled lives of the twentieth century, is needed, but The Intimate Merton serves a valuable purpose. Only academics and fanatical devotees of the famous writer and monk will have the time and interest to read all seven volumes of his personal journals. And yet, as this selection of entries from them demonstrates, Merton's journals are a treasury of autobiographical revelation, psychological honesty, and spiritual insight.

Just a few of the more memorable entries justify the book. These include an hilarious account of Merton the non-driver taking a jeep for a spin, a beautiful description of a night watch as a dark night of the soul, and Merton's sober yet grateful meditations on his 50th birthday.

Nevertheless, it is the sweep of years, the chronicle of a soul, that make these meditations most interesting. The Intimate Merton wisely focuses on the journal entries from the 1960s, material not covered by The Seven Storey Mountain and other earlier works. Thus we see a self-portrait of the older Merton wrestling with his need to be an individual versus his need to love and be loved, fitfully learning to accept his failures and to appreciate the gifts of others, and searching for his home in this world and beyond.

Thomas Merton was a complicated, Thoreauvian figure who considered himself to be, among other things, an "amateur theologian." Yet an amateur is essentially a lover, and Merton, for all his faults and doubts, was certainly a lover of God. Other lovers of God will enjoy tracing his spiritual journey through these pages.

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