print by Thomas Merton, Untitled, 1967
(image size: 8 1/2" h x 6 1/2" w)
August 21, 1967. Can I tell you that I have found answers to the questions that torment the man of our time? I do not know if I have found answers. When I first became a monk, yes, I was more sure of “answers.” But as I grow old in the monastic life and advance further into solitude, I become aware that I have only begun to seek the questions. And what are the question? Can man make sense out of is existence? Can man honestly give his life meaning merely by adopting a certain set of explanations which pretend to tell him why the world began and where it will end, why there is evil and what is necessary for a good life? My brother, perhaps in my solitude I have become as it were an explorer for you, a searcher in realism which you are not able to visit … I have been summoned to explore a desert area of man’s heart in which explanations no longer suffice, and in which one learns that only experience counts. An arid, rocky dark land of the soul, sometimes illuminated by strange fires which men fear and peopled by specters which men studiously avoid except in their nightmares. And in this area I have learned that one cannot truly know hope unless he has found out how like despair hope is.” (Hidden Ground of
Love, p. 156)
Note: Roger Lipsey thinks that this beautiful image has similarities to the simple gather of icons that Merton kept in his hermitage chapel (photo is here) - an "element of religious imagination and something dark, a foreboding or sorrow".