Saturday, November 22, 2008

Christ the Tiger

The following story, from Megan McKenna’s book, “The Hour of the Tiger – Facing Our Fears” is attributed to Merton. I hope to locate the original in his journals.

“Once upon a time there was a tiger with three young cubs. They were young and playful, but the mother tiger was trapped and killed. Eventually two of the cubs died but the other one wandered, eating grass and trying to survive. It came upon a meadow filled with sheep and goats, and even though it was very hungry he ate grass with them and settled down. He would butt heads with them, roll on the grass and sleep with them. And he grew stronger and larger. He was always hungry. Sometimes he would catch a small creature and chew contentedly on it. And sometimes he would look at what they’d taste like – but they were already like kin to him.

“Then one day a tiger appeared on the hill and the goats and sheep bleated and ran in terror, but the cub stayed. It watched as the tiger loped down the hill so graceful, so strong and free, and fast! They stood and faced each other, full grown tier and small cub. Then the cub thought to play and put down its head and butted the tiger! The tiger looked at it and took its great paw, pulled in its claws and batted the cub, sending it rolling over the grass. The cub was stunned, but did it again. This time the tiger batted him harder and he rolled farther. A third time he put his head down and ran for the tiger. This time the tiger pulled out his claws and gently but firmly hit the cub. The cub crouched and whimpered. The tiger went and picked it up in her mouth, as tigers carry their young, and walked off with the cub in her mouth – down to the river. At the river’s edge, she dropped the cub. The cub looked at itself in the water, its eyes wide. Then it looked at the tiger beside it and its eyes grew huge. It looked back and forth from the water to the tiger. Then the tiger roared, shaking the valley and filling the air, and then the cub tried it – letting out a weak growl. The tiger roared again and again, followed by the cub until they were both roaring together. Then Merton says … ‘I never knew I was that tiger cub until God came mysteriously into my life and batted me once, then again and again, then picked me up in his mouth and carried me to the river that revealed to me my real nature and then I learned to roar. I think the first time I was batted by that great paw I woke up and looked at myself truthfully. The second time I got hit with that paw, claws still held in, I became a Catholic. The third time I became a Trappist monk, and now every Advent and Lent I know that paw is coming and I’m to be swatted again, taken up into the mouth of God and dropped by the river’s edge to once again learn to roar and become more of what I was born to be.’”

Megan McKenna, "The Hour of the Tiger", pp. 9-10


  1. As I remember, there is a similar story in The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna about a lion -. It's still surprises me when I get a bat and see something about myself -

  2. I think that many of these animal stories are rooted in Asian meditation practices and the wisdom stories of the East. After all, their zodiac is based on animals: year of the tiger, rat, etc.

    BTW, Marc, I didn't get down to SLU last week, but the coming week I will for sure. I need to pick up some stuff from the Italian grocery store for Thanksgiving dinner. I saw several articles about the Berrigans, particularly Dan, in the later (1967-1968) issues of Jubilee.

  3. Thanks - I tried searching for "Jubilee"- through our campus library without success, and I see that finding issues through search engines like "bookfinder" didn't yield much in results. It's strange considering the stature of the magazine. I did check the index of "The Catholic Counterculture in America" and read a little about it - Ed Rice had to struggle to keep it going over the years, partially which he attributed to American Catholics being "dopes".

    We don't have any decent Italian grocery stores here in Omaha. But I am trying a new snack for Thanksgiving: proscuitto and brie with a rosemary fig sauce. I miss my italianess this time of the year - Thanksgiving at Grandma's house -

  4. Make sure you ask the librarian. Catholic University of America in DC was telling me that they didn't have it, and then a librarian found them "in storage".

    As for the magazine's stature, I guess it depends on who you're talking to. I can imagine that not a few Catholics would want the magazine out of sight and out of mind.

    There is a wonderful Italian section of St. Louis: "The Hill". Blocks and blocks of Italian grocery stores and restuarants. We are going to friends' house in Illinois for Thanksgiving, but I need to pick up some cookies from the Italian bakery.

  5. My aunt always makes pizzelles for thanksgiving and xmas.

    I analyzed your blog with the typealyzer:

    INTP - The Thinkers
    The logical and analytical type. They are especialy attuned to difficult creative and intellectual challenges and always look for something more complex to dig into. They are great at finding subtle connections between things and imagine far-reaching implications.

    They enjoy working with complex things using a lot of concepts and imaginative models of reality. Since they are not very good at seeing and understanding the needs of other people, they might come across as arrogant, impatient and insensitive to people that need some time to understand what they are talking about.

  6. Thanks for the analysis, Marc. Hmmm. Much to contemplate there.

    Pizzelles sound wonderful ... I've never had them. My husband's family tends toward the pasta dishes, all homemade of course. I've picked up some of it, but am nowhere near as good as they are. I love the way ethnic foods always start with simple, basic ingredients. I am convinced that is the way to heal the food problem in America - so many people never learn how to cook!

  7. Oh my but this is a wonderful, wonderful entry. I believe that everyone who discovers Merton feels as if they have had a unique personal experience with him and their life is enriched by it forever.
    From the way you have put this website together, I see that it true for you as well...and that makes us "family."
    Right now I'm rationing the reading of these entries so they last longer. I hope you continue the entries and that they blossom as well into something uniquely your own. Tom would like that too, I'm sure.
    Bravo for your blog. Bravo for your website efforts, and Glory Be.

  8. Gee thanks, Pardes.
    To be honest, this website has been a work of love. I've long (more than 40 years) been a Merton reader, and he has served me well. And I love talking Merton with others who have also come to know (and love) him. You're right, that makes us all a "family" - and what a blessing that is!

    THat being said, I think that a a year or so ago I had a lot more energy for this blog, and the bulk of material is there. But things keep coming up and so the blog just keeps going!


2nd Sunday of Advent 2023

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