is a state one can be connected to God, with oneanother, with nature and with the deepest part of us, which is thesoul. According to tradition being spiritual meant having anattachment to religious values as well as matters of the spirit.Being spiritual does not focus on worldly materials or interests. Thomas Merton was one of the Catholic authors who were deeplyinterested in religious matters. He tried to bring out the deeperunderstanding of spirituality.
Merton was born in France in the year 1915. His father was from NewZealand while the mother was from the USA. During his adolescence, hewas converted to Catholicism. At this time he was studying atColumbia University. On December 1941, Merton joined a community ofmonks. This community observed the order of Cistercians strictly(James, 2015). This was the most ascetic monastic order.
Merton was a writer and one of the most influential Catholic peaceactivists. He became a Trappist monk in the United States of America. Thomas Merton was a poet, a social activist and author. Also, Mertonalso supported interreligious dialogue. He engaged in religiousdiscussion with other leaders. The life and career of Merton wereabruptly cut short at the age of 53. He faced his death after beingelectrocuted when he was stepping out of his bath.
It is important to note that, all this time that was spent in thecommunity brought about profound changes in Merton. He was able tolearn more about spirituality and self-understanding. Through thesechanges, Merton was compelled to the political arena (John, 2015). In1960, he started launching peace movements. He became a strongersupporter of the nonviolent civil rights movement. Thomas Mertonconsidered this involvement as one of the greatest examples ofChristian faith in action.
Merton was one of the founders of interfaith understanding. He wasmuch interested in Asian religions. During his time he became thefirst person to bring together the Asian spiritual figures throughdialogues (Mary, 2016). Among the leaders was His Holiness the DalaiLama. He was praised for his more understanding of other religionssuch as Buddhism than any other Christian. This was one of theachievements that made Merton prominent.
Paul Pearson, an Archivist of the Merton Center, recommends the workof Thomas Merton up to date. He says that the message of Merton aboutspirituality still speaks powerfully to people today. He adds bysaying that people are catching up with Merton`s thinking aboutspirituality. Besides, Pearson writes that the topics that have beendrafted by Merton about spirituality are still relevant today. Hegives examples such as the issue of war and racism that areapplicable in our day to day life.
Also, many prominent church leaders such as Father Robert commendMerton`s fight for spiritual growth. He describes Merton as thefather of spiritual life. Father Robert goes ahead and says thatMerton`s work has a weighty effect on his soul also the rest of theworld. He insists that Merton was the founder of the deeperunderstanding of spirituality. All these applauses for sure show therole that was played by Thomas Merton in his lifetime.
Brother Paul Quenon quotes in his writing quotes that, "Mertonhad a pleasant and witty personality." He says that Merton wasan interesting person. Merton was an individual who was committed tohis work. Brother Paul recalls that Merton gave him a book aboutBenedictine spirituality. He says that Thomas Merton encouragedhumility in serving the Lord. He urged Trappists not to be sad.Through his writings, many souls had been saved.
Clark admirers Thomas Merton`s work but recommends that the worksmust be ready carefully to get a clear understanding. Clark uttersthat Merton had a brilliant intellect and a deep spiritual insight.Merton wrote his work the time when the Western region was inreligious doubt. Through Merton`s works, most people were converted.They were able to get a clear understanding of spirituality. He addsby saying that during his time, Merton faced opposition. This was aperiod when everyone was a spiritual seeker. Merton`s writings shedlight on those people who seek spirituality today.
Frances Robinson applauses Merton`s work on spirituality. He saysthat he may not have a clear understanding of who Merton was, but herecommends that Merton`s work has changed the world. He says thatafter reading through Merton`s work, he can have a vivid picture ofspirituality. We believe that spirituality is unseen, but we can feelthe presence of the spirit. Frances concludes that the works ofMerton should be respected if we want to grow spiritually upright.
One of the proponents of faith in Christ recommends Merton’s work.He says that the greatest saint in the world is that who maintaintheir spiritual life in Christ. This means that Christians should notstruggle to inherit the world but rather the eternal life. Thosepeople who are living in the rat race to inherit the world will missthe opportunity of going to heaven. According to Merton, materialismdoes not go hand in hand with spirituality. If we want to growspiritually strong, we must put aside the desires of the world.
Merton on his writings says, whatever he has written at the end canbe reduced to this one truth that God calls His people to union withHimself. He adds by saying that those who are united with God in thespirit are united with Christ and the church. Besides, Merton saysthat he is a witness that there is, there must be a church by whichChristians can realize the mysteries of God and return to Him. Mertonemphasizes that all aspects of ourselves must be equally. The body,the mind, and the spirit must work in harmony for us to functionfully.
Is it important to say that Thomas Merton the Trappist monk who died1968 changed the world? Yes, he did. He changed the world hetransformed people`s lives. Merton with God`s grace did numerousthings that shed light to the world. First and foremost, Mertonreminded people that prayer was not just for monks. He emphasized theimportance of prayer. It is important to understand that Merton wasnot the first person to remind people about prayers. There beforeCatholic writers had encouraged men and women to pray. Jesus as wellhad taught his disciples on how to pray (James M., 2016).
Thomas Merton was unique in his way. He used books such as ‘No Manis an Island` in his ministry. This book helped thousands of peopleto know how to pray. Through his books, Merton informed his peoplethat their contemplation was as holy as those of the priests. He oncewrote that a lay person who lives out a holy life is morecontemplative than that of the monks. He insisted that those who puttheir trust in God, their prayers must be answered. Merton emphasizedon the supreme being of God.
Moreover, Merton wrote the seven storey mountain. This book waspublished in 1948. He wrote a story about his sad childhood life,deserted adolescence, and his wild young adulthood. All this lifelater converted Merton to a Catholic who later becomes a monk. Henarrated his sad story on how he was lost but then found himselfserving the Lord as a monk. It is very hard to understand the reasonas to why his most popular book continues to speak his message to thepeople.
Is it because of the dazzling prose? Is it because of histransparency? Or is it because most people have lost direction? These are some of the questions that became hard for Merton toanswer. He came to realize his purpose at the age of 25. He unveiledthat his mission was to change the world. To change the world in themanner, that the power of God is felt. This is the time Mertondecided to submit his life in serving God.
Furthermore, Thomas Merton wrote that ‘For me to be a saint meansto be myself.’ He meant that for one to become holy, he or she mustbecome stronger progressively in his or her inner life (James M,2016). Those people who claim to be saints must be ready to sacrificetheir lives for others. He continued to say that saints never died.They dedicate all their lives to God. Saints do not do what othersdo, but rather they do what they feel is right. Saints never getinfluence other people on whom to serve. For this reason, Mertonurged all people to be saints and commit their lives to serving theLord.
Moreover, Thomas Merton made it okay for the Catholics to look to theeast. Merton became the first monk to understand the riches of theBuddhism and other Eastern traditions. This discovery made Mertonface a lot of opposition and enmity from all corners. Through this,some Catholics remain suspicious about Thomas Merton up to date. Itwas surprising that the opposition he faced did not prevent him fromreconciling east and western regions.
When Merton was traveling to the Far East in 1968, he almost died inThailand. He had encountered Dalai Lama, a profound spiritual leader.Dalai was not in good terms with Merton. They had ideologicaldifferences. This was the time Merton was at the peak of reconcilinghis people. The encounter with Dalai left Merton in suspense. Hewondered whether the people of East and West could ever bereconciled. Since Merton was a strong saint who believed himself, hedid not give up. He said that even if he could not do this inpractice, he was ready to use any means to reconcile this twoparties.
Correspondingly, Thomas Merton wrote in his books that we should notspend our lives struggling for things we never want to be. If we needunderstand ourselves and know what we want in life, we should notwaste our time doing things that do not add value to our lives.Merton wrote that we should stop thinking about things that areopposite of what we were made for. This message was very captivating.It transformed many people`s way of thinking.
Besides, Merton worked tirelessly for social justice. This wassomething he started long ago during the cold war. Merton continuedwith his work of social justice even after moving into a hermitage.People expected to miss the services of Merton after he went to thishouse of seclusion. This never happened. Merton continued to fightfor his people against social injustice. This left many followers towonder why Merton did not confine himself to his writings aboutprayers. Merton believed that the change was just but natural. Hequoted that encountering God makes one have the desire to encounterothers. This meant that he had sacrificed his life in serving theworld.
Catholic peace activist such as Daniel Berrigan, Joan Baez amongother friends visited Merton in his small hermitage. They weresurprised the way Merton was simple and humble even after moving tothe Hermitage. They expected to find Merton alone in the seclusionplace. They thought Merton was not to associate with the lay people.Thomas Merton responded by saying that he was serving the true God,who does not despise, who loves his people equally regardless theirstatus. This reaction left the Catholic peace activist astonished.
It was, this time, Merton had planned for a retreat for Dr. MartinLuther King. Merton was against Luther`s injustice behaviors. Heoppressed the poor, grabbed people`s property. Luther was misleadingthe people of God by undermining the worshipping of the true God. Itwas unlucky that Luther King was assassinated before the retreat. Theassassination of Dr. Luther did not stop Merton from his mission. Hecontinued fighting his people.
It is of importance to note that this social justice work also madeMerton lead a miserable life. He underwent so many challenges. Mertonwas stopped from speaking publicly about the interwar issues. Thiswas organized by his Trappist superiors. He received cold war lettersfrom him, admirers. These letters were later published in the year2006. Even after receiving the threats, Merton was still firm in hisfaith. He was not shaken even one single day. Merton was a saint whohad committed his entire life to God.
Additionally, Merton in his writings reminded people that everyone isextraordinary and everyone is ordinary. Nobody was superior to theother. All people are equal before the Lord’s eyes. He added bysaying that God created His people equally. Merton wrote that it isan individual who may decide to be ordinary or extraordinary. Hefurther said that becoming extraordinary needs one to do ordinarythings extraordinarily well. But he emphasized that before the Lordno one is ordinary or extraordinary.
Thomas Merton further wrote that he was overwhelmed when he suddenlyrealized that he loved all the people. He apprehended that all thepeople were his and he was theirs. Moreover, Merton wrote that hecould not be alien to one another even if they were total strangers.He believed in the spirit of togetherness. He felt like he was fromthe world of fiction, the world of reincarnation and the world ofholiness. This feeling of illusion was such a joy to him.
In one of his works, Merton quoted that love is our true destiny. Hesaid that we do not find the meaning of life by ourselves but throughothers. This means that people are supposed to live in peace andharmony. In times of happiness and in times of sorrow love for oneanother should prevail. He supplemented by quoting that you need notknow exactly what is happening. Neither where it is headed to butrather to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by thecurrent situation.
In the seven storey mountain story, Merton says that the moment youtry to avoid suffering you will suffer more. He explains that smallerand petty things start to hurt you as you try to evade the biggerchallenges. Also, our job is to love others without expecting to beloved back. Merton expounds by saying that our business is to loveour neighbors as we love ourselves. Finally, Merton utters that weshould not depend on the hope of the results. If we do so, we shallbe misled by the results.
Merton concludes his writings by saying that he had the immense joyof being a man of God. He says that he could not allow stupiditiesand sorrows of the world to overwhelm him. He further says that ifeverybody could realize that we are members of God`s race, then wehave nothing to lose on earth. He sums up everything by saying thatif all people realize who they are and what is their purpose onearth, then there is no need of telling the people that they arewalking around shining like the sun.
James, G. (2015). The Complex of Thomas Merton. Our Sunday Visitor, 5-9.
James, M. (2016). 7 Ways Thomas Merton Changed the World. Onfaith, 12.
John, C. (2015, November 9). Thomas Merton: the Hermit Who Never Was, His Young Love and Mysterious Death. The Irish Times, pp. 33-55.
Mary, A. (2016). Practicing with Thomam Merton. Practice, 14-19.