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The Intimate Merton: His Life from His Journals Paperback – Deckle Edge, February 20, 2001

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Editorial Reviews Review

If you like your saints packaged without the messiness of an actual error-filled life, this book is not for you. If, however, you want a glimpse inside the mind and spirit of a splendid writer and thinker who tried live his life as honestly as he could as a journey into God, then this is a grace-filled beauty. Subtitled "His Life from His Journals," these selections--dating from 1939 (before he entered the monastery) to 1968 (within days of his death)--remind us how much of Merton's life unfolded precisely in and through his own writing--how he made himself through his writing. As he says, "it seems to me that writing, far from being an obstacle to spiritual perfection in my own life, has become one of the conditions on which my perfection will depend." Merton contends that writing--honest writing--is his way to move more and more deeply into the truth. In these very honest pages, covering everything from his meeting with the Dalai Lama to his experience of falling in love (25 years after entering the monastery), Truth unfolds itself through the act of writing. These pages are a thread into the center of that labyrinth, which is where he meets his God. Now we're invited along for the ride. --Doug Thorpe --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

"A path through the woods" is the description Hart and Montaldo (Merton's last secretary and a Merton lecturer, respectively) give to this condensation of the diaries faithfully kept by Merton before and throughout his 27 years as a Trappist monk at Our Lady of Gethsemani monastery in Kentucky. "Woods" serves as metaphor for Merton's full body of autobiographical work, encompassing the journals published during his life and the seven volumes that remained unpublished for 25 years after his death in 1968. This manageable portrait of Merton's inner and outer life, beginning in 1939, is condensed from the seven volumes and will likely suffice for all but Merton scholars and the most devoted aficionados. Merton's restlessness, his frustration with censorship of his anti-war writings and his affinity for nature are portrayed here. Readers are privy to his dreams and his experiences of divine and human love, including details of his secretive love affair. The volume ends as abruptly as his life, cut short at age 53 by accidental electrocution in Bangkok, where he was exploring Asian religions. The path cleared by Hart and Montaldo, worthy guides to this terrain, is a boon for busy readers, who will turn to Merton's journals not only for information about his life but to learn, from his spiritual self-scrutiny, more about themselves. (Dec.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; Reprint edition (February 20, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062516299
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062516299
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #320,348 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.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

64 of 65 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 16, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Thomas Merton set himself the task of living a truly spiritual life in a fiercely secular age. His journals should be read by all kindred souls, that is, anyone who values the reflective life, silence and solitude, and good books and fine writing. His editors have skillfully honed his seven volumes of published journals into one handsome book of less than 400 pages. Only complaint: print size a bit small.
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41 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Arthurian Tapestry on August 13, 2000
Format: Hardcover
For readers who have loved Merton's works such as Sign of Jonas or Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander; and who found the the seven volumes of now published journals of Merton too much to tackle at the moment, this book will make a perfect reading companion...many times as I read this I felt as if I were there with Merton in his hermitage...he reveals his innermost thoughts from his search for truth, his dislikes, his passions, even his own shortcomings in startling honesty and depth...there is no "holier than thou" rantings here...this is the real Merton, even in his uncertainties...if you are seeker of truth, you will find this volume very consoling; you will feel less lonlier in your search after while even reading this...this volume is an editing down of the 7 volume work already published...the editors state that it is like a path cut through the woods but it is not the only path, which will have whetted some of our apppetites to read Thomas Merton in his entirety...the part I found the most interesting was Merton's thoughts on love for a woman and his idealization of a girl who visited him in dreams called Proverb, with it's connection to a real someone-this from a celibate monk, who was devoted to his vocation but unabashedly human...this volume which I reciev'd for my b-day is a volume I will cherish and return to is a book to take out with you into the woods or some quiet corner and delve into the mind of a remarkable writer, monk, and seeker of truth.....
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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Timothy Kearney VINE VOICE on October 21, 2005
Format: Paperback
Last May I visited Gethsemane Abbey where Thomas Merton lived his life as a monk. I wanted the opportunity to see Thomas Merton's hermitage, where he wrote some of his greatest writings. I guess the image of the writer in me decided that I would be inspired by visiting the beloved private space of one of the twentieth century's most famous and influential spiritual writers. I'd be inspired to finish my novel, write a spiritual treatise or two, and it would all be due to my visit to Merton's hermitage. Far fetched? Perhaps, but you'd be surprised at the ideas that come to mind after driving from Boston to Bardstown, Kentucky, alone. Sixteen hours of driving spread over two days can produce all sorts of grand ideas. Well, the hermitage was in use and I wouldn't be able to visit it and since I was at the abbey for a retreat, the hermitage would probably have been a distraction. Anyone who has ever read Merton knows what he thought of distractions, so it was probably in keeping with the spirit of Merton's life and message that I didn't visit the hermitage, but something interesting did happen when I was visiting. I went for a walk and passed through the cemetery where the monks are buried. I wasn't paying all that much attention but I did look down and saw a simple white cross with the name Fr. Louis and the year 1968 on it. I was standing where Thomas Merton was buried. Suddenly a man I admired as a priest, writer, and person seemed more real and human which is what I believe gives Merton such an appeal to so many. He knew what the human heart was searching for, which is the appeal of his writings, yet he was not some sort of remote guru. He was human like everyone else and had his triumphs, but also his struggles.

Thomas Merton's diaries are essential for understanding Merton.
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful By FrKurt Messick HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on May 30, 2003
Format: Paperback
The book `The Intimate Merton', edited by Brother Patrick Hart and Jonathan Montaldo, is a great encapsulation of the journals which Thomas Merton, monk, writer, activist and spiritual guide (I believe he would eschew the word leader, kept from the time he began considering a vocation (both as a monk and as a writer) to the time of his death nearly thirty years later.
The book is broken into sections reflective of Merton's monastic life. Each section is composed of selections, representative and/or significant, from his regular daily journals. Merton actually kept voluminous journals (published in seven thick volumes), much of which served as a basis and self-reflective sounding board for his other writings. This book is a user-friendly spiritual autobiography, distilled from the wisdom gained over twenty-nine years of teaching, prayer, reflection, prayer, writing, prayer, activity, and yet more prayer.
Merton was not (and still is not) universally loved, even by the church and monastic hierarchies who claim him as a shining example of one of their own. Merton's life is a quest for meaning, and quest for unity before God of all peoples, and a quest for love. These were not always in keeping with the practices of the church, which found itself more often than Merton cared for embroiled in political action in support of the state, or at least the status quo.
Merton was a Trappist monk. The Trappists derive their name from la Trappe, the sole survivor of a reformed Cistercian order in France about the time of the Revolution.
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