Sunday, November 15, 2009

Thinking about Merton

Just read a post on Why I Am Catholic (see sidebar), where Thomas Merton and his autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain are mentioned. This got me to think why I don't talk about or recommend Merton and his famous book more than I have. Does it have something to do that Merton was first recommended to me by a college professor, who incidentally was a non-practicing Catholic (I am a fairly narrow-minded person)? Not that at the time I cared a hoot either about Catholicism, or a fallen away ex-believer. I remember the writing in question included nature, a secluded cabin, more nature, and an awful lot to do with rain, and harsh indictment of evil consumerism.

About a year after I officially became Catholic, I came across the famous book at a parish spaghetti supper where a table-full of used books were for sale as part of the fundraiser. I grabbed it, took it home and immediately started reading. I read it, wept, and read it, wept, virtually non-stop, except when reaching for Kleenex to wipe the mess off my face. It was a thick book, and Merton's style tended a bit toward the meandering (and so do some other writers I love). I don't think I paid much attention to the formal things, e.g., style, phrases, imagery, witticism, etc. I read it for the "story," and cried my heart out.

I own another a little dairy book by Merton the Monk, of his Trappist days, interspersed with exquisite little drawings by him. They make you think of Zen (indeed he wrote about Zen in the journal), which ordinarily would trigger the suspicion in me (another topic. No, I don't resent any one's fascination with Zen, the problem is entirely my own. Remember, I grew up in China, where Zen - called Chan in stead, is invented; not by the Japanese, mind you. I was smitten in my teen years with the poetry of the Zen Literati ). But these little drawings are clearly exercises of contemplation and sincerity, albeit perhaps a little too charming. I respect them by not thinking too deeply about them.

I can't sincerely say Merton is one of my favorites, even though he made me cry, he did not do it like Augustine in the Confessions. Take that for what it's worth. I may meditate on the topic some more, later.

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