Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton's classic Catholic autobiography, THE SEVEN STOREY MOUNTAIN, is one I’ve always meant to read, You do not have to be a Catholic to enjoy THE SEVEN STOREY MOUNTAIN: you just have to start it. The years go on--the paperback somehow becomes scuffed and yellow on the shelves--and finally jumps onto your coffee table, apparently of its own volition. You paid 25 cents for it at a library sale, a VERY cheap price for religion.

Even if you’re not religious, it’s a good idea to read a spiritual classic now and then. It helps you understand how the millions of religious people think (even if you think it's the opium of the masses, as an atheist). An hour a day will get you through most of it in the summer. Merton’s riveting narrative is an adventure, weaving the events of his life with his thoughts, and relating his spiritual journey as an artists’ son through his reckless and disillusioned youth to his Catholic baptism and his entry into a Trappist Monastery.

Born in 1915 in Europe during World War I, he writes: “The world was the picture of Hell, full of men like myself, loving God and yet hating Him, born to love Him, living instead in fear and hopelessly self-contradictory hungers.

“Not many hundreds of miles away from the home where I was born, they were picking up the men who rotted in the rainy ditches among the dead horses and the ruined seventy-fives, in a Forrest of trees without branches along the Rlver Marne.”

Yet he quickly makes a transition from hell to descriptions of his parents’ innocence and art, his childhood and travels. This is a rewarding autobiography. If you're not religious, you will admire Merton's writing. . It is easy to see how this brilliant man moved from hell to to Catholicism to the Trappist monastery. It's my choice for spiritual autobiography of the summer.

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