Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Bear, baptism, and Thomas Merton

This time of year, in 1966, Thomas Merton was reading Go Down Moses by William Faulkner. He used the book, particularly the story “The Bear” as well as Faulkner’s novel “The Wild Palms” as subjects for Sunday afternoon lectures to the novitiates at Our Lady of Gethsemani Abbey, KY. Merton was so taken with “The Bear” that he desired to one day write a book about the story and what he saw in it. What he mentions in his journal at the time is, for him, “The Bear” held the key to monastic life. In January of 1967, he published an essay discussing these two works. He felt that “The Bear” presented a story of baptism, not of water, but of nature. The memorable scene for him (and for me, before reading his essay) is when Ike, as a young boy on a hunt for Ben the old bear, forsakes his watch and compass; hangs them on a branch deep into the woods, and just ventures into the forest…

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