Thomas Merton and me

Posted by HC in Celibacy / Monasticism / People on 2 November 2008

I have the yacht to myself. I shall use the time to remember Thomas Merton, it being close to the 40th anniversary of his death.

The crew has gone ashore and will be getting drunk. It’s not often they can all leave the boat and risk mild incapacity. In normal times, they have to be ready to take the boat to sea at short notice. But here in the repair yard, the main engines have been shut down and all but immobilised. We have domestic supplies only. The crew call them “hotel” services. 

Normally, when the owner’s aboard, the place is all subdued bustle. When he’s not around, there’s usually someone somewhere playing music. Often several, almost competitively.

But now, all is still and silent. It was all dark until I put on a reading light to tap this out. It did me good to let the gloaming take over.  

I try not to wonder about myself and my tastes too much. It’s a waste of time. But a note in a radio schedule reminded me that next month is the 40th anniversary of Thomas Merton’s death in Bangkok.

It is unwise to blame any particular person for one’s desire to be a monk. But I would blame Merton if anyone in my case. The more I know about him, the less I am inclined to really admire him. But that is not remotely the point.

When I first read Merton as a very young man, he struck me as embodying spirtuality as it applied to young people who wanted to be both modern and devout. Even now, I can’t rewind my initial impression of him. An idea of him is lodged in my person and perception and won’t be budged. Similarly, I think he threw a switch in me, and I am pretty sure I can’t find it and wouldn’t flick it the other way even if I could.

What is so odd is that I remain in many important respects the monk he made me. I have lost most of my faith and changed some of my opinions. But I remain loyal to the idea of a solitary person risking everything to pursue one rather odd approach to taking life seriously and trying to be useful. I find the shape of Benedictine monasticism still fits me. It remains the history that I want to add another soul to. 

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