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Thoughts In Solitude Paperback – November 29, 1999

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The renowned Trappist monk Thomas Merton wrote Thoughts in Solitude in 1953 and 1954, when his superiors allowed him extended periods of seclusion and meditation. This elegant gift book, with clean, spare type and graphics, does justice to a 20th-classic (this is its 25th printing). What has made this book such an enduring and popular work is that it recognizes how important solitude is to our morality, integrity, and ability to love. One does not have to be a monk to find solitude, notes Merton; solitude can be found in the act of contemplation and silent reflection in everyday life. Also, this is not a pious book that assumes that a relationship with the divine can be obtained only by denying our humanity and striving for saintliness. Instead, Merton asserts that connection with God can most easily be made through "respect for temperament, character, and emotion and for everything that makes us human." --Gail Hudson --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, is perhaps the foremost spiritual of the twentieth century. His diaries, social commentary, and spiritual writings continue to be widely read thirty years after his untimely death in 1968.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 129 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (November 29, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374513252
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374513252
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.4 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (56 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #58,513 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

129 of 131 people found the following review helpful By Thomas E. Defreitas on December 12, 2000
Format: Paperback
This slender book is one of Merton's best. It contains several brief, luminous, sound, quiet, humble essays and observations gleaned from the labours, prayers, and extensive reading of this century's most prominent and perhaps most mercurial Trappist monk.
The tone is sedate. It is loyal to the ecclesia, and contains the unmistakable Merton note: the apologia for solitude as the mother of contemplation, prayer, wisdom, and holy hope. Confident without being preachy, serene without being quietistic or dull, not at all contaminated with the ephemera of politics or with complaints against the rigours of his chosen life, THOUGHTS IN SOLITUDE is an excellent place for the new Merton explorer to begin, and a very good place for the veteran spiritual reader to return from time to time: each essay (or prayer) scarcely more than a few paragraphs, sometimes only one paragraph, is a kind of haven from the tumult of the world that can be frequently "too much with us."
Merton cautions against, and is wise to caution against, a misanthropy or a cowardice that calls itself religious solitude, because we can come to know, and do come to know God through our neighbours, as uncomely and annoying as some of them are at times (my words, not Merton's)!
He relates humility to listening, relates reading to prayer, and relates all things to God. The temptation to quote is overwhelming, but we will leave it to the readers to select their favourite passages. (Section X of part two is a lovely prayer, indeed.)
There are more than a few uncritical readers of Merton, "Mertonolaters" if you will, who praise his writing and his thinking in a fashion that would perhaps embarrass the monk himself.
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53 of 53 people found the following review helpful By Wayne Burns on August 3, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Even though the contents of this book were written in 1953-54, the thoughts here are most appropriate today if one seeks to understand solitude as it relates to the spiritual life. Merton's thoughts about the desert, one's spiritual life, the sacraments, prayer, the Church, books and reading, and silence will make one evaluate one's relationship with God.The book is divided into two sections. One is the aspects of the spiritual life, and the other section is the love of solitude. One conclusion Meron makes in the first section is found in the following words: "The solution of the problem of life is life itself. Life is not attained by reasoning and analysis, but first of all by living" (page 78).The spiritual life is a journey. In the second section, Merton has some challenging thoughts on solitude. It seems that every Christian desires solitude from time to time. Merton writes, "We put words between ourselves and things. Even God has become another conceptual unreality in a no-man's land of language that no longer serves as a means of communion with reality" (page 85).THOUGHTS IN SOLITUDE is a brief book compared to many of Merton's other books, however, this is one of his best. It will make you think, and it will probably make you evaluate your Christian walk with God. As Merton writes, "Do not flee to solitude from the community. Find God first in the community,then He will lead you to solitude." This is a book worth reading.
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51 of 53 people found the following review helpful By Brad Shorr on June 25, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
To defend the spirit against what Merton calls "the murderous din of our materialism", we must learn to live in solitude. But true solitary life is not a withdrawal from society: on the contrary, it is the only way to become social in the fullest sense, because through solitude we come to comprehend God's profound love for us, so that we can love other men in imitation and reverence of Him. Of the many themes Merton emphasizes in explaining true solitude, gratitude and humility are perhaps the most important. To live in solitude is to be without attachment to material things, personal relationships, or even spiritual accomplishment. Therefore solitude is a life of utter poverty and humility: our entire lives are a gift to God. Through this act we discover that nothing is due us, and our lives become an ongoing prayer of gratitude for whatever gifts we receive. For the true solitary, actions are far more important than thoughts, because, as Merton points out, if our ideas are not reflected in our actions, we do not really think them. If we do not follow our true vocation our lives will be choked by internal conflict between what we are called to do and what we actually do. Or worse, we may avoid the problem by ignoring our spiritual condition. Merton's commentary is highly relevant to all who care about their spiritual condition, and all who seek God in the murderous din.
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29 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Swing King on April 28, 2003
Format: Paperback
This is actually the first time I have FINISHED a Thomas Merton book- not to say I do not find him normally interesting- actually it's the opposite. When I had been reading Merton's "New Seeds of Contemplation" a few years back, I was very confused. Confused in a good way- because it forced a lot of deep questions to arise within me. So much so that I never seemed to actually get anywhere with the reading.
But Thoughts in Solitude has a different flavor to it- do not get me wrong- it is still that extremely contemplative and philosophical Merton everyone loves. But it has a feeling about it that it's more- refined- or perhaps relaxed would be the word I am looking for. I think it is important to point out that I am actually a Zen Buddhist, but this sort of view on God that Merton has- is not to far askew from my own. Though I simply don't "make that word God" from the get go.
But all in all, Merton shows us one of his best works in this book. The words simply jump out at the reader, they are alive with the food so many of our spiritual lives stomachs are craving for. So order this book. When it arrives, kick off them shoes, put on that REGULAR coffee, maybe run some bathwater- and relax! You will absolutely enjoy this book. The type of book that could be written actually nowhere else but a monastery if you ask me. It has an, "This was meant to be private"- kind of feel to it. But that's just Merton at his best-I doubt there is any real intrusion on our, the reader's part. Anyway I hope you enjoy the book;)
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