The Best Laid Plans...

Continuing to meditate on the milieu of his parents' predictably unconventional sensibilities, Merton reflects:

"If we had continued as we had begun, and if John Paul and I had grown up in that house, probably this Victorian-Greek complex would have built itself up gradually, and we would have turned into good-mannered and earnest sceptics, polite, intelligent, and perhaps even in some sense useful. We might have become successful authors, or editors of magazines, professors at small and progressive colleges. The way would have been all smooth and perhaps I would never have ended up as a monk.

But it is not yet the time to talk about that happy consummation, the thing for which I most thank and praise God, and which is of all things the ultimate paradoxical fulfillment of my mother's ideas for me--the last thing she would ever have dreamed of: the boomerang of all her solicitude for an individual development."

~Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain, pp. 12-13


Bohemian Monks

"My father and mother were captives in that world, knowing they did not belong with it or in it, and yet unable to get away from it. They were in the world but not of it--not because they were saints, but in a different way: because they were artists."

~Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain, Harcourt, 1998, p. 3.

Here Merton, the writer, presages in a mirror his own struggles as an artist who, by the end of this journey, will also be trying to detach himself from the world by entering the cloister. Both the monk and the artist enact a bohemian refusal of "success" as dictated by bourgeois expectations.

Blogging Merton's "Seven Storey Mountain"

Over the holidays I finally began reading Thomas Merton's classic, The Seven Storey Mountain (in a lovely 50th anniversary edition that my gracious neighbors gave me several years ago). Reading it was just what I had hoped: a veritable retreat between two covers, the itinerary of a soul in the best Augustinian tradition. (Indeed, while Merton talks more about Thomas and his neo-scholastic heirs, Gilson and Maritain, it seems to me he absorbed an Augustinian sensibility--the parallels to the Confessions are striking.)

This was a significant book for me, so I'm going to try a little experiment here: blogging The Seven Storey Mountain as a way of revisiting it and paying homage to the book. My goals are quite minimal: simply to highlight some passages of Merton's charmed writing, with little if any commentary, across the sweep of the book, over the next several weeks. I hope these snippets might be an invitation for others to pilgrimage with Merton's masterpiece.