on July 7, 2000
A wellspring of encouragement for those who are looking for spiritual simplicity, without dogmatism. Merton's flowing prose carries the reader so effortlessly, that I often had to stop myself, saturated, and put off going on until I had the capacity to absorb more. The greatest challenge of this book is not in comprehending his points, but in accepting them as actually possible, and internalizing their meaning for one's own life context. Merton opens a door to a place of potential joy, that many will desire to pass through.
The writings gathered in this volume will not be read quickly or superficially. Paragraphs will continually ask to be reread. Thomas Merton's perspicacious meditations, offered with such poetic strength, are to his reader like veins whose rich ore leads the miner deep. The effort is real and so too is the reward. Merton (1915-1968) was a contemplative monk, a Trappist, and although most of his readers may think themselves of another world, so to speak, it is the world of which Merton writes which is Real, and the clabbering, self-directed world of our common experience that is illusory.
A few thoughts, ones that are obviously directed more narrowly toward other Catholic monks, may generally be less helpful to most readers (I think of basically one chapter). I could offer other minor detraction but it would probably only amount to vanity on my part. It will be more valuable to meditate on these words of Merton:
"Those who love their own noise are impatient of everything else. They constantly defile the silence of the forests and the mountains and the sea. They bore through silent nature in every direction with their machines, for fear that the calm world might accuse them of their own emptiness. The urgency of their swift movement seems to ignore the tranquillity of nature by pretending to have a purpose. The loud plane seems for a moment to deny the reality of the clouds and of the sky, by its direction, its noise, and its pretended strength. The silence of the sky remains when the plane has gone. The tranquility of the clouds will remain when the plane has fallen apart. It is the silence of the world that is real. Our noise, our business, our purposes, and all our fatuous statements about our purposes, our business, and our noise: these are the illusion. God is present, and His thought is alive and awake in the fullness and depth and breadth of all the silences of the world. The Lord is watching in the almond trees [Jer 1.11, 12]. . . Whether the plane pass by tonight or tomorrow . . . whether the liner enters the harbor full of tourists or full of soldiers, the almond tree brings forth her fruit in silence.
"There are some men for whom a tree has no reality until they think of cutting it down . . . men who never look at anything until they decide to abuse it and who never even notice what they do not want to destroy. These men can hardly know the silence of love: for their love is the absorption of another person's silence into their own noise. And because they do not know the silence of love, they cannot know the silence of God . . . Who is bound, by His own law of Charity, to give life to all those whom He draws into His own silence."
This book is a collection of musings on a variety of topics fundamental to spiritual development. It does not have a specific outline as some books might have. Each chapter relates to the others, yet stands alone. Merton was an expert spiritual director. This comes through in the book.
My suggestion is for you to read carefully through the list of chapter titles and if more than one of them interests you, purchase the book.
1. Love can only be kept by giving it away (I liked this one)
2. Sentences on hope.
3. Conscience, freedom, and prayer
4. Pure intention
5. The word of the cross
6. Asceticism and sacrifice (this was interesting to me)
7. Being and doing
8. Vocation (a solid chapter)
9. The measure of charity (interesting)
12. Recollection (this made me think a lot)
13. "My soul remembered God"
14. The wind blows where it pleases (this also made me think a lot)
15. The inward solitude (I liked this one)
16. Silence (Merton ends with one of his best)
Thomas Merton is full of wisdom as he shares his spiritual insights. Merton exemplifies a life lived in the spirit of God.
There are many enemies of the spirit but the first enemy is our own self ( our ego). We love to be in control, to share our opinions, we are so afraid to let go, to go within and listen to the silence. Only when we listen with an open heart can we start living our real self with no mask.
Our busyness turns to a more peaceful existence, we become more creative and less stressed, more grateful and less in need of stimulus, less powerful but more compassionate. We are less fearful and more trusting of ourselves and others. Less depressed and more self accepting.
The inner soul created in the image of God. This is our true being. "To be or not to be that is the question."
on December 17, 2001
"No Man Is An Island" can only be described as profound. There are many superb writings of spiritualiy, God and Christ. Thomas Merton's book is one that should not be passed up, it is absolutely profound for the interior solitude, the silence within, our silence where we find God's silence, who knows us and where we know Him. A book by a man of God for men of God, Merton goes far beyond religious organizational teachings and human thinking, to that of the spiritual life with God. I can only say, I have new found respect for the Catholic church, for Merton does not write in defense of her, but for God, men and charity, that go far beyond this life, existing now within us, and bring us to the real life we seek.
on January 13, 1999
Merton's understanding of our human nature and his spiritual understanding of scripture combine to make a personally challenging and thoroughly understandable realization of how to become more spiritual, not religious. This is a "centering" book. It centers you in God revealed through Christ. This book has matured me as a Christian tremendously.
on July 1, 2006
"No Man is an Island" is a spiritually moving set of essays--or meditations, rather--that address many issues but ultimately center on our relationship with God, with each other, and with ourselves. Having read only a little of Merton, I found this book somewhat more straightforward and prosaic compared to a later work of his, "The New Man", and he gets a tad dogmatic in spots (well, he is ordained, so he has a license to do so, fair enough)--I was reminded of some of the more trenchant passages in "The Seven Storey Mountain" before he'd mellowed out a bit. And yet Merton's characteristic mix of simplicity and profundity, his fine-tuned mystic's sense of paradox, and his ability to take Catholic teachings and breathe new life into them are all here in full; indeed, in many ways this book would serve very well as a Catholic Monastic statement of what life's all about, spoken in Merton's gentle conversational tones at once calm and serious, critical of the shallow aspects of modernity while articulated in a manner that speaks eloquently to modern people. I have no doubt that this book should appeal to readers who profess Christianity as their religion, but I also think that many non-Christians (such as myself) will find much here that is inspiring and spiritually enlightening.
on January 24, 2003
I guess I have been spoiled by more modern writers, who seem to be simpler to read than Thomas Merton was. Still, I got a lot out of this book, especially his essays on suffering, charity, sincerity. mercy and solitude. He had many good quotes along the way that led me to some good introspection -- not mere bumper sticker theology. This is a book that needs to be read slowly, with a journal to record the thoughts that come along as you read it -- something I unfortunately did not do, and I regret that. I will probably have to read this book again when I have more quiet time to really absorb its meaning.
on November 15, 2004
I couldn't put this book down and have grown to love the writings of Thomas Merton better than some Protestant books I own. His words speak elegantly of the love of Christ, the beauty of His Church, and many other deep spiritual truths. His books were not merely written, but inspired every step of the way!
on December 25, 2010
I will start by saying that I picked up the book out of curiosity, I am not a Christian, and have no background in theology. Having said that, I enjoyed this book.
It is engaging and well written. It is also a relaxing read as the subject matter is essentially the proper way to love, hope, have faith, and give charity. I think that the author's view becomes clearer over the whole book and through repeated readings. He has a strong vision that is well worth understanding.
Though I liked the book, I felt that I was reading it as an outsider. I think the book is directed at spiritual co-travelers and it would probably be truly enriching for someone on a similar path.