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Thomas Merton Selected Essays

Author: Patrick F O’Connell (Ed)
Published By: Orbis Books
Pages: 512
Price: £25.99
ISBN: 978 1 62698 023 5

Reviewed by Terry Hinks.

This is a substantial collection of essays by the famous Cistercian monk and contemplative, Thomas Merton. Merton was a prolific writer and sometimes felt he wrote too much: “People,” he wrote, “are now convinced that I secrete articles like perspiration.” In all he wrote about 250 essays. This book is a selection of 33 of those essays, arranged chronologically, beginning with the autobiographical White Pebble (1950) and ending with the Monastic Renewal: problems and prospects (1967). The White Pebble, reflecting on Revelation 2.17, speaks of the need for Christians to see their baptism “in the light of eschatology”, the coming of Christ in glory and the fullness of Christ and the need to become more productive members of the mystical body of Christ. “My conversion is still going on...The Truth we believe in must work itself more and more into the very substance of our lives.” For Merton, that required asceticism and led him into the Trappist Abbey and to ordination as a priest. “The mystery of God’s goodness to me is something that dazzles me more and more.”

The essays that follow show the breadth of Merton’s thinking and theology. He was well versed in poetry and philosophy, fascinated by the Desert Fathers and the mysticism of St John of the Cross. He developed a deep interest in Eastern meditation and developed a dialogue with Eastern religions. There are essays on politic, pilgrimage and peace (his Order’s authorities banned him from writing on war, but allowed him to write on peace!). There is a beautifully playful essay about value as opposed to price, delighting in life, entitled Rain and the Rhinoceros, a superb little article on the philosophy of wilderness and the importance of an ‘ecological conscience’, and a fascinating article on the challenges faced by the monastic movement in the 1960s. With Final Integration, he returns to his eschatological theme as he contemplates the secular solutions of the hippie kingdom of love or the capitalist Western establishment and looks instead to the Spirit to speak clearly through a renewed ecclesiastical and monastic community. 

This is a fine collection of Merton’s essays, showing the breadth, depth and development of his thinking. Not just for ‘Merton enthusiasts’, his words still have potency in our 21st century.

Terry Hinks

United Reformed Church Minister and Ministry Today Board Member

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You are reading Issue 64 of Ministry Today, published in July 2015.

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