Thomas Merton - a Life in Letters
Thomas Merton (1915-1968) was one of the most influential spiritual writers of modern times. A Trappist monk, peace and civil rights activist, and widely-praised literary figure, he was also one of the most prolific and provocative letter writers of the...
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Thomas Merton (1915-1968) was one of the most influential spiritual writers of modern times. A Trappist monk, peace and civil rights activist, and widely-praised literary figure, he was also one of the most prolific and provocative letter writers of the twentieth century. His letters (those written both by him and to him), archived at the Thomas Merton Studies Center in Kentucky, number more than ten thousand.
^^For Merton, letters were not just a vehicle for exchanging information, but his primary means for initiating, maintaining, and deepening relationships. Letter-writing was a personal act of self-revelation and communication. His letters offer a unique lens through which we relive the spiritual and social upheavals of the twentieth century, while offering wisdom that is still relevant for our world today.
Thomas Merton (1915-1968) is widely regarded as one of the most influential spiritual writers of modern times. He was a Trappist monk, writer, and peace and civil rights activist, whose strong voice for Christian activism still inspires readers today. His letters, archived at the Thomas Merton Studies Center, number more than 10,000. This collection offers a rich and nuanced portrait of the monk, mystic, and prophet who helped to shape American Catholic thought, fusing spirituality and social justice and pursuing unity beyond difference.
Born in France, Thomas Merton was the son of an American artist and poet and her New Zealander husband, a painter. Merton lost both parents before he had finished high school, and his younger brother was killed in World War II. Something of the ephemeral character of human endeavor marked all his works, deepening the pathos of his writings and drawing him close to Eastern, especially Buddhist, forms of monasticism. After an initial education in the United States, France, and England, he entered Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky, where he remained until a short time before his death.
His working life was spent as a Trappist monk. At Gethsemani, he wrote his famous autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain (1948); there he labored and prayed through the days and years of a constant regimen that began with daily prayer at 2:00 a.m. As his contemplative life developed, he still maintained contact with the outside world, his many books and articles increasing steadily as the years went by. Reading them, it is hard to think of him as only a "guilty bystander," to use the title of one of his many collections of essays. He was vehement in his opposition to the Vietnam War, to the nuclear arms race, to racial oppression. Having received permission to leave his monastery, he went on a journey to confer with mystics of the Hindu and Buddhist traditions. He was accidentally electrocuted in a hotel in Bangkok, Thailand, on December 10, 1968.