I was first introduced to Thomas Merton’s writings by my friend Ken when we were both working for Catholic New York newspaper many years ago. Ken’s knowledge of and love for all things Trappist made him an excellent Merton mentor. That early introduction, when I was in my 20s, was the start of a lifelong love for the writings of the famed Trappist monk who died 41 years ago today when he was accidentally electrocuted while in Bangkok for a conference.
I haven’t read everything that Merton wrote and sometimes even the stuff I’ve read feels ever so slightly beyond my grasp, like I’m trying to catch the wind. My head may not be able to make logical sense of everything he says, but my heart understands and responds. It is amazing to read his words and feel as though he is reading my mind, the heart.
Thomas Merton got it. He was flawed, as are we all, and yet he took his weakness and turned it into words that would inspire countless people, Catholic and non-Catholic, to pursue a deeper relationship with God and a better understanding of themselves.
As I’ve said in previous posts on Merton (HERE and HERE, to pick a couple), I couldn’t choose one “favorite” Merton quote; there are too many. So I’ll chose two of many favorites, ones that feel right for today. Because what I have found is that there is a Merton for every mood and every season.
From “Thoughts in Solitude”:
“To love solitude and to seek it does not mean constantly traveling from one geographic possibility to another. A man becomes a solitary at the moment when, no matter what may be his external surroundings, he is suddenly aware of his own inalienable solitude and sees that he will never be anything but solitary. From that moment on, solitude is not potential — it is actual.”
As someone who is starting to crave more solitude and silence as I get older, I take great comfort in the idea, the reality that solitude is not a physical place that I have to try to get away to. Instead it is right here, even in the midst of my crazy and chaotic life.
And here is one of the Merton quotes that I come back to over and over as I pray, one that I’ve posted here several times because it really speaks to me and I want to make sure no one misses out on it:
“God approaches our minds by receding from them. We can never fully know Him if we think of Him as an object of capture, to be fenced in by the enclosure of our own ideas.
‘We know him better after our minds have let him go.
‘The Lord travels in all directions at once.
‘The Lord arrives from all directions at once.
‘Wherever we are, we find that He has just departed. Wherever we go, we discover that He has just arrived before us.”