It took me some time to actually sit down and read Merton. Honestly, I was intimidated by his reputation. I thought he might be too advance for me, so I began by trying to take in some of his quotes. Here’s a few of my favorites:
He wrote a lot on love:
“Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy.”
He wrote a lot on silence and solitude:
“The world of men has forgotten the joys of silence, the peace of solitude which is necessary, to some extent, for the fullness of human living.”
And he also wrote a lot on suffering:
“The more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer, because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you, in proportion to your fear of being hurt. The one who does most to avoid suffering is, in the end, the one who suffers most.”
Years ago, I was invited to a retreat at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, in Conyers, GA. They had a beautiful exhibit all about the history of the monastery. I was surprised to find Brother Louis (Merton’s monk name) pictured among the monks who built the monastery. It was fascinating to see him, just one of the community, working to lay brick, or cut wood. It peaked my curiosity, and I began researching his life.
I noticed some time ago, it is difficult for me to learn from any theologian unless I experience them in the context of their life. Their story teaches me as much as their theology. Merton’s life story was no different. I found him to be a real person, with a real life. Complete with struggles, failures, and small triumphs, just like myself.
Since then I have read Merton’s work with a fresh perspective. I have found his most profound writing in a collection of his Journals, “Entering the Silence: Becoming A Monk and Writer,” edited by Jonathan Montaldo.
These personal reflections touch quiet places within me, and I find myself no longer in the presence of a man’s whose reputation intimidates me. No, I find myself in the presence of fellow traveler, on the same path to God as myself. He, obviously, is bit further on the road than me.
Tomorrow, N is for NOUWEN
(who was also influenced by the writings of Thomas Merton)