I’d like to take this post to do a total shameless plug for Thomas Merton – a holy man who has taught me so much that I consider him to be a spiritual father.
At the end of the old year and to help me start the new year, I picked up his book Thoughts in Solitude. It’s a relatively short book – but each sentence is packed with wisdom. I’m about half way through so far, and I’ve underlined something on nearly every page (sometimes underlining a whole half page!).
Thoughts in Solitude has been a providential tool for examining my life with God and putting serious thought into how I live my faith. We should all take such a moment of solitude with God at the start of this new year.
God truly gifted Merton with a keen eye and a generous heart. He speaks about the things of God and the things of men in a way that reaches down into the core of our reality today. His words connect the reader to the transcendent Truth that has always been and always will be, while retaining harmony between the deeply spiritual inner life and the sometimes mundane external reality. He is one of the best guides I have found for living a life with God in the midst of our modern world.
But don’t take it from me – Fr James Martin, SJ, who is fast becoming a prolific and central public figure in our Church and society, has a whole book on why he loves Merton, too. It’s called Becoming Who You Are. Fr James Martin also dedicates a chapter to him in his book, My Life with the Saints.
If that hooks you and you want to learn more, I earnestly suggest Merton’s autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain. It’s a long book, to make an understatement, so I suggest reading some of his other spiritual works first. Once you fall in love with those, you’ll want to know where he came from, and be able to make it through the fascinating story of his life and vocation.
To further entice you to seriously consider taking up Merton as a spiritual guide in this new year, here are a couple quotes from Thoughts in Solitude. I know that after I read the prologue, I was totally hooked!
“In actual fact, society depends for its existence on the inviolable personal solitude of it members. Society, to merit it’s name, must be made up not of numbers, or mechanical units, but of persons. To be a person implies responsibility and freedom, and both these imply a certain interior solitude, a sense of personal integrity, a sense of one’s own reality and of one’s ability to give himself to society – or to refuse that gift (p xi)”“No amount of technological progress will cure the hatred that eats away thevitals of materialisticsociety like a spiritual cancer. The only cure is, and must always be, spiritual.” (p xii)
“The spiritual life is first of all a life. It is not merely something to be known and studied, it is to be lived.” (p 37)
“Faith alone can give us the light to see that God’s will is to be found in our every day life. Without this light, we cannot see to make the right decisions. Without this certitude we cannot have supernatural confidence and peace. We stumble and fall constantly even when we are most enlightened. But when we are in true spiritual darkness, we do not even know that we have fallen.” (p. 38)