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About Monica Weis
For years I have been a member of the International Thomas Merton Society (ITMS), the College English Association (CEA), and the New York State CEA; in Fall 2011 I was a Visiting Fulbright Professor of American Literature at the University of Pannonia in Veszprém, Hungary. I loved being in Hungary and spending weekends in Budapest--definitely my favorite European city.
My free time has been spent hiking, bird watching, and swimming. Now that I am retired from teaching, I devote my morning work time to reviewing books and designing workshops/lectures. Afternoons are spent running errands and reading novels. And there always seems to be "something else" to do. No grass growing under my feet.
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Nature was always vital in Thomas Merton's life, from the long hours he spent as a child watching his father paint landscapes in the fresh air, to his final years of solitude in the hermitage at Our Lady of Gethsemani, where he contemplated and wrote about the beauty of his surroundings. Throughout his life, Merton's study of the natural world shaped his spirituality in profound ways, and he was one of the first writers to raise concern about ecological issues that have become critical in recent years.
In The Environmental Vision of Thomas Merton, author Monica Weis suggests that Merton's interest in nature, which developed significantly during his years at the Abbey of Gethsemani, laid the foundation for his growing environmental consciousness. Tracing Merton's awareness of the natural world from his childhood to the final years of his life, Weis explores his deepening sense of place and desire for solitude, his love and responsibility for all living things, and his evolving ecological awareness.
Hinkle was allowed unprecedented access to many areas inside the monastery and on its grounds that are generally restricted. His photographs invite the reader to experience the various knobs, lakes, woods, and hermitages Merton sought out for times of solitude and contemplation and for reading and writing. These unique images, each accompanied by a passage from Merton's writings, evoke personal reflection and a deeper understanding of how and why Merton came to recognize himself as a part of his Kentucky landscape.
Woven throughout the book, Weis's text explores Merton's fascination with nature not only at Gethsemani, but during his early childhood, throughout his spiritual conversion to Roman Catholicism, and while a member of the Trappist community. She examines how Merton's lifelong interaction with nature subtly revealed and informed his profound spiritual experiences and his writing about contemplation. Thomas Merton's Gethsemani replicates Merton's path on his solitary hikes in the woods and conveys the wonder of the landscapes that inspired him.