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The Seven Storey Mountain Paperback – October 4, 1999
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In 1941, a brilliant, good-looking young man decided to give up a promising literary career in New York to enter a monastery in Kentucky, from where he proceeded to become one of the most influential writers of this century. Talk about losing your life in order to find it. Thomas Merton's first book, The Seven Storey Mountain, describes his early doubts, his conversion to a Catholic faith of extreme certainty, and his decision to take life vows as a Trappist. Although his conversionary piety sometimes falls into sticky-sweet abstractions, Merton's autobiographical reflections are mostly wise, humble, and concrete. The best reason to read The Seven Storey Mountain, however, may be the one Merton provided in his introduction to its Japanese translation: "I seek to speak to you, in some way, as your own self. Who can tell what this may mean? I myself do not know, but if you listen, things will be said that are perhaps not written in this book. And this will be due not to me but to the One who lives and speaks in both." --Michael Joseph Gross --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
Harcourt is pulling out all the stops for this 50th-anniversary edition of Merton's spiritual masterpiece. In addition to the full text, this enhanced version includes an introduction by Merton's editor, Robert Giroux, and a reader's note by biographer and Thomas Merton Society founder Fr. William Shannon. The book comes with a cloth binding and a ribbon marker. Merton's faithful fans will be in seventh heaven over this glorious edition.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
Merton writes in a clear, matter-of-fact, self-depreciating style that is quite attractive. He makes the reader feel as "if this too, could happen to them", because Merton himself is portrayed as just a common man - filled with sin and propensity for wrong decision-making, but on the road to God nevertheless.
Merton shows us that our religious conversion is more than just a point in time: it is a journey in God.
I would especially recommend this book to young adult Catholics and those who were not in the Catholic Church during the pre-Vatican II period. The book goes into a fair amount of detail regarding Merton's experience in that Church, and for this reason, might be of interest to those who have come into the Catholic Church since the mid-1960's.
Merton loved music, women, good food, yet he also had a yearning to be free of the world. He describes the ascetic diet at the abbey--meat is forbidden, even fish not eaten, and the monks do heavy agricultural work on bread, vegetables, cheese, and in the evening, maybe a small dish of applesauce. Despite the hardships, Merton finds that becoming a priest is the most meaningful thing ever to happen to him. This book is his memoir of becoming a priest and his spiritual climb from a self-indulgent youth to a mature man continually on the search for spiritual peace and enlightenment. Thus the title "seven storey mountain" aptly taken from the mountain of Purgatory in Dante's Divine Comedy--a place of punishment, though temporary, on the way to Heaven.
Merton's writing made him so famous he sought a hermitage at the abbey. He never seemed quite comfortable anywhere. His sense of discomfort with himself and his exquisite sensibility to spiritual heights make for fascinating reading.
When I presented her with a new copy of this edition, I asked if I could read aloud my favorite passage (early in the book) concerning Thomas Merton's `little brother' John Paul (five years younger) who, like his older brother was a French-born, American citizen.
Late in the book Thomas Merton tells us how John Paul was compelled early in WWII to join the Royal Canadian Air Force (and trained right here in Manitoba! John Paul Merton had been flying bombing runs over a real sandy desert on the prairie just outside nearby Camp Shilo, where today's Canadian Artillery Officers still train. My late father was flown at Canadian Army expense each year, late in life, to address the graduating officers at that camp: Small world!)
Just before leaving for overseas, John Paul flew to see his older brother Thomas and, not incidentally, be Baptized, and welcomed into the Catholic faith. Then he left for England (and was killed in action the next year, when his RAF bomber went down over the English Channel).
His death provides the moving culmination to this book - bringing the reader `full circle' from the moment (back on page 25) when Thomas Merton introduces us to John Paul. (What follows is the passage that moves me to tears when I read it aloud to a friend.)
"One thing I would say about my brother, John Paul: My most vivid memories of him, in our childhood, all fill me with poignant compunction at the thought of my own hard-heartedness, and his natural humility and love.
"I suppose it's usual for elder brothers, when they are still children, to feel themselves demeaned by the company of a brother, four or five years younger, whom they regard as a baby, and tend to patronize and look down upon.
"So when Russ and Bill and I (older brothers all) made huts in the woods out of boards and tar paper . . . we severely prohibited John Paul, and Russ' younger brother Tommy and their friends from coming anywhere near us. If they did try to come and get into our hut, or even to look at it, we would chase them away with stones.
"When I think now about that part of my childhood, the picture I get of my brother John Paul is this: standing in a field a hundred yards away from our hut, is this little perplexed five-year-old kid in short pants and a kind of leather jacket, standing quite still; his arms hanging down at his sides.
"He is gazing in our direction, afraid to come any nearer on account of the stones, as insulted as he is saddened, and his eyes full of indignation and sorrow. And yet he does not go away. We shout at him to go away, beat it, go home, and wing a couple more rocks in that direction. We tell him to play some other place. He does not move.
"And there he stands, not sobbing, not crying, but angry and unhappy and offended and tremendously sad. And yet he is fascinated by what we are doing, nailing shingles all over our new hut. And his tremendous desire to be with us and to do what we are doing will not permit him to go away.
"The law written in his nature tells him he must be with his elder brother and do what he is doing, and he cannot understand why this law of love is being so wildly and unjustly violated in his case.
"Many times are like that, and in a sense, this terrible situation is the pattern and prototype of all sin: the deliberate and formal will to reject disinterested love for us, for the purely arbitrary reason that we simply do not want it. We `will' to separate ourselves from that love; we reject it entirely and absolutely, and will not acknowledge it, because it does not please us to be loved . . . "
[Thomas Merton immediately recalls an astounding event] "when our `gang' tried to antagonize the extremely tough Polish kids who had formed a gang in nearby Little Neck (approaching their headquarters) and "from a very safe distance we would challenge them to come out and fight" (but) "nobody came out - perhaps (that day) there was nobody home."
But then came the day, Merton recalls, "one cold and rainy afternoon, when we observed that numbers of large and small figures, varying in age from 10 to 16, most of them very brawny" gathered outside the Merton home, "20 or 25 of them. There were four of us."[hiding inside].
"The climax of the situation came when Frieda, our German maid, told us that she was very busy with housecleaning and we must all get out of the house immediately. Without listening to our extremely nervous protests, she chased us out the back way . . . we made our way through back yards to the safety of Bill's house" [a block away, with a clear view across a field, of the Merton home].
"And then an extraordinary thing happened. The front door of our house opened. My little brother John Paul came walking down the steps with a certain amount of dignity and calm. He crossed the street (and) walked toward the Little Neck gang. They all turned towards him. He kept on walking and walked right into the middle of them.
"One or two of them took their hands out of their pockets. John Paul just looked at them, turning his head to one side and then the other. And he walked through the middle of them and no one ever touched him.
"And so he came to the house where we were. We did not chase him away."
The book closes with a poem written by Thomas Merton upon learning of his brother's death in the North Sea: "I learned that John Paul was severely injured in the crash but managed to keep himself afloat, even tried to support the pilot who was already dead.
"He was very badly hurt; maybe his neck was broken. He lay in the bottom of the dinghy in delirium. He was terribly thirsty. He kept asking for water. But they didn't have any. It didn't last too long. He had three hours of it and then he died. His companions had more to suffer, and were finally picked up and taken to safety five days later. On the fourth day they had buried John Paul at sea."
The chapter concludes with Thomas Merton's poetic requiem for his "dear brother" asking their Maker to,
"Take my breath . . .
and buy yourself a better death . . .
And buy you back to your own land
The silence of Whose tears shall fall
Like bells upon your alien tomb.
Hear them and come,
They call you home."
Thomas Merton died 40 years ago (on the 20th anniversary of his book's first publishing) while attending a conference of Eastern and Western monks in Thailand (electrocuted by a faulty table lamp in his Bangkok hotel room).
This "Fiftieth Anniversary Edition" includes a delightful "Note to the Reader" from William H. Shannon, founding president of the International Thomas Merton Society, who recalls that, from the very first day in print (October 4, 1948) the book was "an instant success: Hailed as a modern day version of the `CONFESSIONS' of St. Augustine, it has continued to sell and sell and sell."
As Evelyn Waugh, no easy critic, wrote prophetically: It "might well prove to be of permanent interest in the history of religious experience."
Buy a copy and see for yourself (I highly recommend this edition).