Lately (the last 2 or 3 years), it has seemed to me that the cult of Thomas Merton has run its course. The charismatic pull of his personality and his time - the 1950s, Vatican 2, the War in Vietnam, Civil Rights - related to many of our personal histories. Merton personified for us a way to understand our history and time. Our Church. Our country.
Merton died in 1968. My mother died in 1973 and I often marvel that she died before microwave ovens, answering machines, VCRs. Long before computers became integral to our lives. Times have changed. A couple of generations have passed since Merton lived.
There is still interest in and a need for institutional monasticism in our world. Monks have something to offer us, but rather than drawing more people to monasteries (as Seven Story Mountain did in the 40s), I think that monasticism should open out, shining its light toward the world rather than inward upon itself. Pope Francis is picking up where Merton left off.
Over this time a funny thing has happened: I’ve internalized Merton. Who Merton is/was, is who I am. If that makes any sense. What Merton was doing in his lifetime, in his monastery, I do in my own lifespan. Knowing Merton, and how he did it, has helped me to find my own way. But I no longer need to keep Merton always at my side; I can take off in other directions on my own, confident that what I’ve learned from him is still valid and grounding, but it’s not the whole story. There is more to the story. Can I call it future?
I’m not much interested in the new books that continually come out about Merton. I find very little that is new in them.