Shannon only had partial knowledge of the vast reservoir when he started organizing the correspondence for publication in the early s. Bochen and I began working on Thomas Merton: A Life in Letters , we had a much more comprehensive knowledge of the letters. We were, therefore, in a much better position to choose the nine topics that guided our selection of letters. Undoubtedly, this will be corrected in subsequent editions.
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Literary sociologists David Barton and Nigel Hall argue in Letter Writing as a Social Practice that letter writing is a genre unto itself and deserves to be studied as enthusiastically as poetry or the novel. How will Merton be critiqued as a letter-writer per se?
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The publication of personal letters can have a tinge of voyeurism. The letters show him testing ideas, crafting opinions, grounding his analysis, playing with images and phrasing, sorting and sifting the essential components of his life story. Elizabeth Hewitt, author of Correspondence and American Literature, Cambridge University Press, , points out that in Alexis de Tocqueville remarked that the marvel of American political ideology was the seeming ability to strike a balance between individual liberty and a celebration of democratic principles 4.
Shannon and Bochen are unarguably the best situated Merton scholars for selecting correspondence that is both comprehensive and truly representative.
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Amid all the amazing letters in this collection, one letter stood out for its uniqueness. On January 12, , Merton wrote to ecologist and biologist Rachel Carson—one of his few, if not his only, letter to a scientist. Merton writes:. Add to Wishlist.
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The Clash of Images. A moving, memoiristic short-story collection by a venerated Moroccan writer about growing up during a A moving, memoiristic short-story collection by a venerated Moroccan writer about growing up during a time of cultural upheaval. Here, too, he was speaking to a profound need of our time, to develop the mindfulness that can combat the excessive reptilian brain power trips that so dominate a patriarchal and imperial culture in its last days. Merton wrestled constantly with the Via Creativa as his vocation, and no place more than in his tornness between solitude and community.
Of course, he lived the Via Creativa generously through his prodigious birthing of books and articles and conferences as well as in his photography, his cultivation of friendships, his immense volume of correspondence, his calligraphy, his music, his teaching and more.
Thomas Merton & Thérèse Lentfoehr on Apple Books
And of course he rediscovered the Via Transformativa—indeed, he offered us a definition of compassion in his final talk that we can all live with and start practicing anew. His sensitivity to injustice—whether racial or ecological or economic or gender or political—was fine-tuned, and it came from a place of passion, not a place of cerebral consciousness or academic privilege and rational intellectualisms.
Thus he moved far beyond the Christology of the Nicene Creed, fashioned as it was by Emperor Constantine himself, who called and abetted the Council of Nicaea upon being converted to Christianity in the fourth century. That creed has almost nothing of the teachings of Jesus in it—it is all about elevating Jesus to the exclusive status of the Christ. As for sexuality, so burning a topic for the dominant culture, here Merton underwent a great circle of a journey.
From misusing women as a young man, to practicing celibacy via considerable ascetic tactics as a young monk, to rediscovering the intrinsic sexual and blessing-filled nature of all of reality, to breaking his vows while learning of human love for the first time as a responsible adult, to then returning to his monastic vows of celibacy —Merton travelled a path that many people undergo in some fashion. Here, too, he separated from St. Augustine who, after all, is the father of the anti-birth control hysteria in modern Catholicism since he taught that all lovemaking is sinful and must be justified by having children.
Merton also overcame his patriarchal consciousness, turning late in his life though he was only fifty-one years old to a young, thirty-one-year-old feminist theologian, Rosemary Ruether, for advice and counsel. Though, like most clerics of his generation, he rarely if ever had a woman teacher in his life. Sign up to receive our top articles, courses and other freebies direct to your inbox! Mind-spirit Mind-spirit See all. Conscious Creativity See all.