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(Wednesday) 7:00 pm
Come join us on Wednesday evenings where we will watch a 25-minute video, followed by discussion and sharing, led by Bishop +Peter and various priests.Week 1: Introduction to Thomas Merton
Come join us on Wednesday evenings where we will watch a 25-minute video, followed by discussion and sharing, led by Bishop +Peter and various priests.
Week 1: Introduction to Thomas Merton (May 15)
When Thomas Merton’s published The Seven Storey Mountain in 1948, no one would have expected it to become an international sensation. Deriving its title from Dante’s Divine Comedy, this autobiography recounted his spiritual awakening and conversion to Catholicism. But this book is only the tip of the iceberg. In this series, you will join with his acclaimed biographer, in exploring his compelling autobiographical literature, including journals, letters, novels, and poetry.
Week 2: The Secular Journal of Thomas Merton (May 22)
Thomas Merton’s path to conversion was bumpy and sometimes difficult. His journey brought him many places – education at Columbia, an interlude in Cuba, and his career as an instructor at Saint Bonaventure in NY. Ultimately, he would join the Trappist Abbey of Our Lad of Gethsemani. Tonight, we will discuss his Secular Journal and the influence of the romantic poet, William Blake, on whom Merton wrote his thesis at Columbia.
Week 3: The Seven Storey Mountain, Part 1 (May 29)
The picture on this page is of Merton at his Ordination in 1949. When his book was first published, it was not expected to be anything remarkable. However, it soon became a sensation, captivating readers around the world. Deriving its name from Dante’s Purgatorio, this spiritual classic explores Merton’s spiritual awakening. It is a remarkable work for a young writer.
Week 4: The Seven Storey Mountain, Part 2 (June 5)
We will explore the central themes, focusing on five crucial ideas: William Blake, Gerard Manley Hopkins, his relationship with his artist father, the Trappists, and the death of his beloved brother, John Paul. Merton publicly appropriated Blake’s rebellious posture. Like Blake, Merton understood that true holiness and redemption lies in the energy, the imagination, in the ‘marriage of heaven and hell,’ the restoration of the Contraries, a mystical and prophet experience involving the whole person.
Week 5: The Sign of Jonas (June 12)
While he was writing Seven Storey Mountain, Merton kept a journal, later published as The Sign of Jonas, covering the period from 12/10/46 – 7/4/52. It reflects a disciplined spontaneity; Merton intended it to be published, that his private ruminations become public property. There are fragments of an ongoing conversation between himself and the reader, a kind of spiritual direction. He is portrayed as a common wayfarer in his search for the true self, ‘to be alone with the Alone.
Week 6: Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (June 19)
Tonight we will see a journal [1956-1965] that moves out expansively: it shows an evolving ecumenism, deep interest with the issues of the day, critiques of a failing monasticism and the poetic Merton. Some of the key ideas include his reflection on technology, totalitarianism, the point verge, the unit of faiths, renouncing ‘false’ monasticism, and the call to life. In Eichman [depicted above on trial, 1961] Merton saw the immaculate German officer who was a symbol of the corruption of obedience, the sterility of the Kantian concept of duty.
Week 7: A Vow of Conversation (June 26)
This week, we will explore his journal [1/1/64-9/6/65]. He wrote that he was aware ‘of the need for constant self-revision and growth, leaving behind the renunciations of yesterday and yet in continuity with all my yesterdays.’ One figure that he found very unsettling was Simon Weil [depicted above] but he found in her mysticism a searing authenticity. He anguished over the fact that as a monk, he was always going to face dissatisfaction and suffering because the process of growing was invariably incomplete and frustrating. At his 5th year in the hermitage, he saw that if he was not ripe for solitude now, he never would be. He felt most of his life was swallowed up by illusion, struggling to become something he is not.
Week 8: The New Mexico, Alaskan, and West Coast Journals (July 10)
These journals cover 5/16/68 – 10/15/68. He observes that the injunction not to run from one thought to the next – drawn from Theophane the Recluse – but to give each one time to settle in the heart, is wise spiritual counsel. He recorded his impressions of the beauty of the desert and sky. He wrote that ‘in our monasticism, we have been content to find our way to a kind of peace, a simple undisturbed thoughtful life, and says this is good, but wonders if it is good enough. He is pictured above in the early 60’s at hermitage. He explored establishing a hermitage in Alaska.
Week 9: The Asian Journal (July 17)
This is the last journal Merton wrote. It outlines his encounter with numerous religions and leaders, suh as the Dalai Lama, his effortless dialogue about the primal truths of spiritual searching, and his realization that all that is holy will come together. He was giddy with excitement when he left on this trip. The future was daunting and he was unsure of his footing. After all, 1966 had proven that he could fall madly in love. What would 1968 prove? Merton, the monk with ‘heretic blood,’ Blake’s 20th century descendant, dies as he had lived: electric, suffused with energy. Was it a Zen death, an unconsciously organized suicide? A political act, a planned assassination?
Week 10: The Restricted Journals (July 24)
These journals reflect the complete body of his journals published in seven volumes after his death, covering the years 1939-1968. His sudden and unexpected death was at 53. The private journals could not be published until 1993, 25 years after his death in 1968. They include his ‘episode of the heart,’ in which he recounts his experience of falling in love with a young nurse identified as ‘M.’ In this session we will closely explore his episode of the heart. Merton’s sexual awakening revealed the uncharted depths of his own emotional dislocation, his need for genuine and reciprocated love. Even as he wrote his love poems to M., he knew this situation could not last. He discovered in his love a way to bring closure to the inadequacies of the past.
Week 11: My argument with the Gestapo: The Novel as Autobiography (July 31)
Although he wrote two other novels, this is the only published one. It is an unusual, Joycean, and deeply autobiographical work. During his holiday break in 1932, he was wandering through the Rhineland and encountered the Nazis. In 1933, he went to England on a steamer full of Nazi spies and saw how they expressed their detestation toward Jewish passengers. These experiences in addition to his own damaging emotional relationships, general immaturity, and alienation from his godfather resulted in a work of rebellion, full of youth’s unreasoning rage.
Week 12: The Seven Storey Mountain Revisited (August 7)
We will explore how Merton explored the story of the Seven Storey Mountain through his poetry. We will look at several important poems that highlight the trajectory we see in his prose. The three poems are ‘A letter to my friends,’ ‘The biography,’ and ‘On the anniversary of my baptism.’ All of these lyrical poems anticipate and prefigure his Seven Storey Mountain. His letters, too, were moments of self-baring, containing intimate confessions of spiritual angst and impotence. We can all resonate with his writings.
Week 13: Merton’s Story and Our Own: Some Excerpts From Recordings (August 14)
We will play selected excerpts from homilies, talks and conversations that are available for our final wrap-up, and sharing what we’ve identified with and learned from this three-month series together.