|Photo by Gene Meatyard|
Today is the birthday of Thomas Merton, born in Prades, France in 1915. His mother was an American, and his father was from New Zealand. They were both artists, and they met at an art school in Paris. Merton's mother died of stomach cancer when he was six years old; 10 years later, his father died of a brain tumor.
Merton converted to Catholicism in 1938, while he was a student at Columbia University. On December 10, 1941, he quit his job teaching at at St. Bonaventure College and entered the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani in Kentucky, to begin his life as a Trappist monk. He continued studying, and kept journals full of his questions and musings. His superior at the monastery, Father Abbot Dom Frederic Dunne, noticed his talent for writing and encouraged him to continue.
In 1961, Merton wrote, "It is possible to doubt whether I have become a monk (a doubt that I have to live with), but it is not possible to doubt that I am a writer, that I was born one and will most probably die as one." Over the course of his life, Merton wrote more than 70 books, 2,000 poems, and numerous essays and lectures. He's perhaps best known for his autobiography and conversion narrative, “The Seven Storey Mountain” (1948). It's been compared to the Confessions of St. Augustine. He ends the book with the line Sit finis libri, non finis quaerendi: "Here ends the book, but not the searching."
From “The Seven Storey Mountain”:
"It is only the infinite mercy and love of God that has prevented us from tearing ourselves to pieces and destroying His entire creation long ago.People seem to think that it is in some way a proof that no merciful God exists, if we have so many wars. On the contrary, consider how in spite of centuries of sin and greed and lust and cruelty and hatred and avarice and oppression and injustice, spawned and bred by the free wills of men, the human race can still recover, each time, and can still produce man and women who overcome evil with good, hatred with love, greed with charity, lust and cruelty with sanctity."
— Writer’s Almanac / 31 January 2017
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My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
“Thoughts in Solitude” (p 83)