Daily readings from the correspondence of Thomas Merton DLT 2011 £10.99 ISBN 978-0-232-52883-1 175pp
Those expert in condensing their thoughts into 140 character Tweets will appreciate Fiona Gardner’s ‘retweeting’ of succinct Merton nuggets for daily consumption. Whether you tweet or not having more of Merton’s wisdom, with his gift for condensing thinking , relayed in 50-200 word paragraphs through the painstaking efforts of the Thomas Merton Society chair is a blessing.
Reviewing such a volume is a lengthy process as you get stuck as Merton hits your mind or spirit and you get out of your allotted time frame! ‘People have a mania for organisation and complication, trying to draw up detailed programmes for everything all the time, and they forget to just live’ was a quote that hit me! So did repeated reference to the transformative power of love. ‘Love has an infinite power, and its power, once released, can in an instant destroy and swallow up all hatred, all evil, all injustice, all that is diabolical. That is the meaning of Calvary’. More prosaic: ‘let’s keep praying that we will all get lost in His love. And this may help us bring more love into a world that needs it’.
In her preface the editor notes how Merton himself practised and commended slow, savouring spiritual reading that allows us to open ourselves to experiential encounter with God. Less is more, which is why the small paragraphs are particularly valuable as a springboard for meditation. Here are some that touched me: ‘We must minister mercy to our hateful self, and to our brother (sic) in whom we most see our condition reflected. Thus we become Christs.’ ‘All humanity inexorably climbs to Calvary with the Lord, either, as the repentant thief, or…as the Pharisee.’ ‘It is good to be quiet enough to let God work and not get too much in His way with one’s own pep, because when my own steam obscures everything things don’t move nearly as fast.’ ‘The Truth that makes us free is not merely a matter of information about God but the presence in us of a divine person.’ ‘Repentance…to open our hearts to a universal and all-embracing love that knows no limits and no obstacles…total love of all, even of the most distant, even of the most hostile.’
Images resonant of Merton’s colourful past were particularly striking. ‘We are like a bunch of drunken men at the last end of a long stupid party falling over the furniture in the twilight of dawn. I hope it is dawn’. Or the gramophone: ‘to be in the sort of place where God wants one: that is certainly a marvellous thing. As soon as you get set in your groove, boy do things happen!’ On his past formal religion: ‘I think that part of the problem is that Anglicanism assumes a great deal and takes a lot for granted: first of all that you are able to do most of it on your won, so to speak. The Roman Catholic Church goes to the other extreme and tries to push you into everything and do it all for you, including your own thinking.’
That last quotation is ironic since the later Merton was, to use his image, a very ‘adult’ Roman Catholic. His critical loyalty to the major Christian denomination is though part of the dynamic of his thought since the underlying confidence he has in the Church with all its shortfalls surely facilitates his creativity. If he could laugh at the Church he could also laugh at himself and the whole world as in this concluding taster of Fiona Gardner’s Precious Thoughts:
‘It is certainly a wonderful thing to wake up suddenly in the solitude of the woods and look up at the sky and see the utter nonsense of everything, including all the solemn stuff given out by professional asses about the spiritual life: and simply to burst out laughing, and laugh and laugh, with the sky and the tress because God is not in words, and not in systems, and not in liturgical movements, and not in ‘contemplation’ with a big C, or in asceticism or in anything like that, not even in the apostolate. Certainly not in books. I can go on writing them, for all that, but one might as well make paper airplanes out of the whole lot.’ Don’t do it!
The Revd Dr John Twisleton Rector of St Giles, Horsted Keynes, West Sussex 26th September 2012