Monday, January 30, 2012

The “barns and ennobling” of Thomas Merton

There are many business and marketing reasons why one cannot find a copy of Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain (except at the Kansas City Public Library) or Merton’s volume of 111 Cold War Letters in a Kansas City bookstore. Yes, you can go online to order. Merton seems a literal literary enigma these days. Hard to track down his writing and harder still to categorize his works in the Barnes and Noble-like deconstruction and categorization database of contemporary culture.

The reasons come forth in the reading of him: his journals, memoirs, poetry, religious contemplations, literary essays, his novel, biographies, anthologies, periodical pieces, private letters, and even photography. His subject matters and methods of expression would have him sprinkled across a bookstores labeled shelves should a merchant wish to sell them to you. And it feels ironic to me that we deserve the availability of his voice more than ever today.

You can think of numerous other writers like this; writers with wisdom and depth, hard to find yet resonant years beyond their passing. I was thinking the other day, is our contemporary Merton-like conscience-challenging writer the recently departed Christopher Hitchens? Who is our Merton in recent times? I’m struggling to name her, or him.

This short bit of thought is not meant to be a lament. Rather, it’s a suggestion for us to find our personal Merton and browse the real and virtual book barns to gather their bodies of work and dip slowly into the depth of someone’s mind in order to realize the depth of our own. That’s what Merton does for me…he sends me on a journey often to find his books, he takes me on trips of interior searching, he makes me laugh, consider more prayer, and he encourages me to write. There’s the wisdom as well; wisdom he’d probably tell me is not that wise.

And as an extra treat, he offers up his bibliography of things he read over time, and launches me into the stacks of the library. He’s a good friend like that.

picture is a view of the book-burning memorial by Micha Ullman in Berlin at the Bebelplatz.

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