Ready for Merton...
An old saying, sometimes attributed to an anonymous Zen master, asserts, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” On the upcoming 100th anniversary of Thomas Merton’s birth (January 30, 2015), this would seem to be the case for me and his writings.
I first encountered Merton in my 20s, when I happened upon his books in the spirituality section of my college bookstore, just another offering amidst books by Paramahansa Yogananda (Autobiography of a Yogi), Carl Jung (Man and His Symbols), Ram Dass (Be Here Now), Alan Watts, and other writers representing a far-flung world of spiritual writing. I was on my own global pilgrimage at the time, via books, seeking and testing one train of thought after another. Though I tried to read Merton at the time, his writing in popular books like New Seeds of Contemplation was nearly incomprehensible to me.
In my literary wanderings of the time, I encountered Merton again in my 30s by reading The Seven Storey Mountain, the moving and light-filled story of Merton’s conversion and entrance to a Trappist monastery, the Abbey of Gethsemani. But I was still not ready to go further.
In my 40s, I found myself encountering Merton through my work at Franciscan Media. I copyedited a book entitled Thomas Merton: An Introduction by William Shannon. This introduction to all of Merton’s works was intriguing, but amidst the demands of a full-time job and two small children, my curiosity, though piqued, soon faded away.
Now, on this centenary of Merton’s birth, with a host of new Merton publications surrounding me, I feel the time is ripe to absorb some of his brilliance. Franciscan Media has recently released Simply Merton (Linus Mundy), The Spiritual Genius of Thomas Merton (Anthony T. Padovano), audio versions of New Seeds of Contemplation and Thoughts in Solitude (Thomas Merton), as well an audio version of The Franciscan Heart of Thomas Merton (Daniel P. Horan, OFM).
Why is Merton so appealing to someone like me? Linus Mundy gets it, noting in Simply Merton, “It is this searching, wandering, wondering Merton that appeals to so many of us today. We see ourselves in him; we see ourselves and our deepest yearnings and wonderings in the topics he wrote and talked and obsessed about.”
I feel ready now to join Merton on this wandering, wondering journey.