Monday, August 27, 2007

the hermitage

Photo by John Howard Griffin

A reader has requested some photos of Merton’s hermitage, so I will add some more of those to this collection, as well as some of Merton’s thoughts on hermitage.

Merton entered his hermitage on a full-time basis on August 20, 1965, the feast day of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, the Cistercian Doctor of the Church. On August 21, 1965, Merton wrote this in his journal:

"This morning-grey, cool, peace. The unquestionable realization of the rightness of this, because it is from God and it is His work. So much could be said! What is immediately perceptible is the immense relief, the burden of ambiguity is lifted, and I am without care-no anxiety about being pulled between my job and my vocation. I feel as if my whole being were an act of thankfulness-even the gut is relaxed and at peace after good meditation and long study of Irenaeus. The woods all around crackle with guerrilla warfare-the hunters are out for squirrel season (as if there were a squirrel left!). Even this idiot ritual does not make me impatient. In their mad way they love the woods too: but I wish their way were less destructive and less of a lie."

Thomas Merton: Dancing in the Water of Life. Journals, Volume 5. Robert E. Daggy, editor. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1997: 283

[Note: the above quote is this week’s Merton reflection from the Merton Institute.]


  1. Hi Beth,
    I hope that your Tallahassee trip went well. I printed the poem by Barbara Evans on LL II. Very powerful, I intend to share it with friends and family.
    Todays weekly reflection and your post come at a time for me when I can really relate to what he feels on the break of his first day in the hermitage. I can almost feel the weight come off of my own shoulders as I read his words. I often, probably way to often, imagine myself right there in Mertons hermitage. Then my mind gets confused and starts to judge that desire as a desire to escape. I am really not a people person. I know that I could easily spend a month in his hermitage and not miss the "world" even a little bit.
    Of course a month or two is one thing, the rest of my life as a hermit is something else! I am hoping to one day spend some time at Gethsemani on a retreat. Try to just keep up with the Monks for a few days, ahh, I am dreaming again!
    I also get a laugh out of his description of the squrirrel hunters, soon it will be duck hunting season here in NJ, talk about an idiot ritual!
    See you later,

  2. I can relate, Sean. Sometimes I try to talk myself out of my very real need for solitude by thinking that it is just a symptom of my "shyness". Geez. The pressures to stay out there, "with it", busy and connected, are all around, all the time. Merton is a strong affirmation for me to follow my deepest desire to go inward and go silent. Not too many spiritual writers follow this path to solitude as clearly as Merton does.

    My days in Tallahassee went well - thanks for asking! I feel hopeful.

    And thanks for your comments, Sean.

  3. There's a telling simplicity in these photographs so strong that I guess people who didn't know the source might well guess it was a retreat or hermitage of sorts.

  4. Yes. I'm intrigued with the way that Merton's photos play with light and shadow. As if there is something other dimension (and aliveness) at play in the "seeing".

    In both Merton and Griffin's photos, I can feel the silence of the place. Like you say, a "telling simplicity".



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