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Dialogues with Silence: Prayers and Drawings Hardcover – October 23, 2001

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Editorial Reviews Review

Though best known for his spiritual writings, Thomas Merton also made drawings, whose Eastern-style brushwork have a meditative power rivaling that of his finest prayers. In Dialogues with Silence, these (mostly unpublished) drawings--of human figures, churches, the crucifixion, and abstract forms--are paired on pages with the texts of his well-known prayers. Editor Jonathan Montaldo's introduction to this volume asserts that Merton, the author of classics including The Seven Storey Mountain, became a:
witness for his generation of the way out of self-defeating individualism by tracking anew the boundaries of that ancient other country, whose citizens recognize a hidden ground of unity and love among all living things.
He might have added that, for Merton, one direct escape from individualism was the act of loving other individuals, an aspect of Merton's character that shines clearly in the many portraits here. Notably, the most arresting of these images is a face without features. It hovers next to a prayer that begins, "O God, my God, why am I so mute?" --Michael Joseph Gross

From Publishers Weekly

Like his beautifully crafted letters and journals, Merton's prayers and drawings reveal his multifaceted personality, his hunger for God and his passion for providing others with a glimpse of the path to union with God. Jonathan Montaldo, who directs the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine College in Louisville, Ky., collects here for the first time Merton's black-and-white line drawings along with the monk's prayers, most of which have been previously published. The effect is stunning, for the drawings and prayers are printed on facing pages. The stark realism of Merton's art startles and prepares the soul for the prayer on the opposite page. For example, opposite a drawing of a humble Mary, he prays: "Lady, Queen of Heaven, pray me into solitude and silence and unity, that all my ways may be immaculate in God.... Let me... disappear into the writing I do. It should mean nothing special to me... its results should not concern me." Opposite a half-formed figure, Merton prays: "My God, I pray better to You by breathing/ I pray better to You by walking than by talking." While some readers will wonder why the world needs another book of Merton's writings when these prayers are available already, Merton's art provides a glimpse of his journey never before seen. Merton fans will certainly welcome this new addition to their already burgeoning shelves. (Nov.)Forecast: Publishing Thomas Merton's writings has become a small cottage industry, and Harper San Francisco holds the key to the cottage door. As long as there are treasures to be mined from Merton's life and writings, expect more little volumes like this.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; 1st edition (October 23, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060656026
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060656027
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #805,602 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) is arguably the most influential American Catholic author of the twentieth century. His autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, has millions of copies and has been translated into over fifteen languages. He wrote over sixty other books and hundreds of poems and articles on topics ranging from monastic spirituality to civil rights, nonviolence, and the nuclear arms race.

After a rambunctious youth and adolescence, Merton converted to Roman Catholicism and entered the Abbey of Gethsemani, a community of monks belonging to the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (Trappists), the most ascetic Roman Catholic monastic order.

The twenty-seven years he spent in Gethsemani brought about profound changes in his self-understanding. This ongoing conversion impelled him into the political arena, where he became, according to Daniel Berrigan, the conscience of the peace movement of the 1960's. Referring to race and peace as the two most urgent issues of our time, Merton was a strong supporter of the nonviolent civil rights movement, which he called "certainly the greatest example of Christian faith in action in the social history of the United States." For his social activism Merton endured severe criticism, from Catholics and non-Catholics alike, who assailed his political writings as unbecoming of a monk.

During his last years, he became deeply interested in Asian religions, particularly Zen Buddhism, and in promoting East-West dialogue. After several meetings with Merton during the American monk's trip to the Far East in 1968, the Dali Lama praised him as having a more profound understanding of Buddhism than any other Christian he had known. It was during this trip to a conference on East-West monastic dialogue that Merton died, in Bangkok on December 10, 1968, the victim of an accidental electrocution. The date marked the twenty-seventh anniversary of his entrance to Gethsemani.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By RCM VINE VOICE on April 22, 2006
Format: Paperback
While he was alive, Thomas Merton dedicated his life as a monk to contemplative meditation, constantly seeking a closer and ideal relationship with God. After becoming a Trappist monk at Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky, he searched for solace in a monk's life of solitude. But the more Merton expressed himself through his writing, and became better known in the outside world, the solitude that he sought was harder and harder for him to find. Johnathan Montaldo has done a wonderful job of editing this collection of Merton's prayers and private thoughts and pairing them with sketches from Merton's own hand. Together both represent the soul of a man who offers inspiration and insight to this very day.

"Dialogues with Silence" is a collection that is best read in small batches; while it is possible to read it through as one might a novel, the point of meditation and contemplation (especially on the prayers) would be lost. Some of the pictures and words go hand in hand and offer a look into Father Merton that many have never experienced before this book. The prayers are a candid glimpse into a struggling soul, and are juxtaposed with thoughts on nature and poems that are starkly beautiful. Every page is a testament to the magnificent talent that Merton had in transferring his thoughts into words.

There are many prayers I could single out to include as an example of the power of Merton's writing, but this prayer to Etienne Gilson struck me as most appropriate to one of the struggles that Merton underwent: "Please pray for me to Our Lord that, instead of merely writing something, I may 'be' something, and indeed that I may so fully be what I ought to be that there may be no further necessity for me to write, since the mere fact of being what I ought to be would be more eloquent than many books." It is extremely fortunate for us that Merton did feel the need to write so that his love of God might be an inspiration to all who read his works.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By JMack VINE VOICE on March 6, 2009
Format: Paperback
While many are familiar with the writings of Thomas Merton, "Dialogues with Silence" presents a different side of him. What struck me as the most touching portion of the book was the simplistic sketches that accompany each passage. Although the sketches may not have had a particular purpose when Merton drew them, they add a new perspective to the writings in this book since most of the writings were previously published in various books.

This book would make an excellent coffee-table book, and serves as a great conversation piece. I came upon this book by chance, and have not seen it available in stores since that time. The sketches that accompany the prayers and writings alone make this book worth purchasing.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Dane on May 17, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition
When the dawn is still quiet, before the world comes crashing through the door, join Thomas Merton, as he prays, writes, questions, and walks through the woods always bumping into God. I still giggle at his distraction, a postulant wearing a shirt full of horses all heading in one direction, except one. During prayer, Merton mused thinking to himself about the one horse, "And where do you think you're going?"

For the spiritual and the writerly, this book is indispensible. The kindle version enables one to take and find notes rapidly.

Just loved it. Please put Seeds of Contemplation on the kindle too....
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By nana on August 6, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Love Thy.Enemy VINE VOICE on April 3, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
First of all let us note in passing this review is of the paperback with white cover with the ink sketch of a monk done by Father Thomas Merton, pacifist priest (a redundancy, of course, forgive me). This edition is exquisitely published on the kind of good thick and uncut paper we expect to find from French high quality paperbacks of an earlier era. Again, the edges are uncut, and the paper thick and a joy to caress and to study. This is the quality of publishing we learned to expect from James Laughlin's New Directions publications of Father Thomas Merton's poetry and other works (please consult their correspondence in Thomas Merton and James Laughlin: Selected Letters).

We get the feeling in reading this volume that much here he would not have presented for public consumption, including the drawings. Many of the writings reveal most personal and private prayers, imperfect, incomplete; some represent stylistic experiments by this excellent writing monk. Some we read as if hearing the rejected practice tapes of a deceased musician, re-issued for post-humous profit, never intended for public hearing.

The drawings most often seem the doodles of the searching, made in the process of meditation, not for the rough finished product but as an aid to contemplation, never intended to share.

And yet much here there is which is exquisite, and which represents Father Merton's continual preoccupation for peace.

We may find this more fully developed in such works as
...Read more ›
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