Tuesday, April 22, 2008

From the Archive: Merton and Me

I originally ran this on a previous version of my blog, and added it to the archives when I moved "This Side" here. I thought it worth reposting.


I read Thomas Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain last year. It’s got some really good bits. There is some nonsense about God rewarding the potential of the soul, but he’s also got some razor sharp diagnoses of our human frailties.

What stuck me most was his self-characterization before his voyage to America to study at Columbia:

“It did not take very much reflection on the year I had spent at Cambridge to show me that all my dreams of fantastic pleasures and delights were crazy and absurd, and that everything I had reached out for had turned to ashes in my hands, and that I myself, into the bargain, had turned out to be an extremely unpleasant sort of a person–vain, self-centered, dissoulte, weak, irresolute, undisciplined, sensual, obscene and proud. I was a mess” (Merton, pg. 132).
How does this not characterize most students today? Most people today? What Merton could detect in himself while still an outright pagan is lost on men today. It is on lost on many who would claim to be Christian and still cannot see themselves. Of course, Merton wrote this as a Christian and could very well have been analyzing his past while contemplating in his Trappist monastery. On the other hand, he writes this diagnosis as a large factor in his motivation to be a collegiate Communist.

His sins? Partying, drinking, gossiping, criticizing, staying up late, and skipping lectures. Yet beneath these outward sins, Merton had been given the eyes to recognize the source of these symptoms, the festering gangrene that began in his toes and worked its way out in his jaws, that filled his whole vile flesh from one end to the other.

That God would give us the eyes to see ourselves in such clear light! Grant it, Good Lord!


  1. orrologion said...

    Merton was my introduction into a Christian spiritual world I had no previous experience with - there's something positive and alluring about monasticism?! I really had no understanding of the great middle of Church history between John on Patmos and Luther. I also had no real undrestanding of the art and intellectual worlds that he was a part of in his youth. I 'accidentally' picked it up in Northampton, MA (very, very liberal) and devoured itwhile visiting the family of a lapsed Catholic friend and my agnostic/atheistic astrophysicist girlfriend at the time. I guess that's a lot like the world Merton was living in then.

    It's always interesting to discover the 'other' isn't totally alien.