“Saint or no saint, what can this monk possibly have to say to me… After all, monks live a unique kind of life. They are cut off from most of the kind of experiences that make up my life. What light can a monk possibly shed on my journey?” – William Shannon, Silent Lamp
This biography, intimately written by a Merton scholar and a priest, is possibly the best book about Thomas Merton ever written; depicting to the reader, unique insights and intimate knowledge of a highly gifted Catholic monk.
The author reveals that despite the Trappists’ cloistered life way of life, monks are not as different from the rest of us as we often suppose. The pages of this book shows that the same human needs, longings, searchings, frustrations, ecstasies, sorrows and alienation can be found as much in a monastery as outside.
William Shannon shares with us, that while monks may have chosen a special way of living in the world, they have not opted out of the human condition. The title of the book resonates with the name of Merton in Chinese, meaning “Silent Lamp”, a testimony of what Thomas Merton has become for thousands, if not millions of people throughout the world; providing spiritual direction embodied in his writings – more than 50 books and 4,000 letters and poetry.
Within this book, the reader will encounter the chronological evolution of Merton’s contemplative spirituality, with silence as its core – the inner journey, the life of the Spirit; how Merton’s writing influence goes beyond Roman Catholicism, beyond Christianity and reaching out to touch many who share none of his religious beliefs. Every page shares with us the story of a person recognizing and actualizing the gifts he received, gifts that are sometimes burdensome; imposing responsibilities that weigh heavily on the human spirit to bring them to full bloom.
For almost half his life, Merton lived without any clearly definable religious faith; born in 1915, only found the Roman Catholic Church in 1938, discovered monasticism three years later, remained a monk to the very end, where his journey comes to an abrupt end in a most unexpected and mysterious way at the Oriental Hotel, in Bangkok, 1968.
Very briefly, the fifteen chapters reveals to us eight chronologies in the life of Merton from years 1911 to 1968, his father who seemingly did little to communicate ‘faith’, his fears of a life without meaning or purpose, his favorite books, his prayer life, his drinking and womanizing years, his struggles with illusions, his desire to enter a monastery and become a priest, why he chose the Cistercians of the Strict Observances, his vulnerability, fears and continuous dialogue with life, his writings, censorship of his books and how he enriched his faith by expanding it to other religious traditions.
This highly engaging 300+ pager reflective biography reveals to us that Thomas Merton is fully “Catholic” in the best sense of the word and that certain happenings in life are necessary “for a fuller flowering of God’s grace.”
For me, the reading of this biography has been a humbling and an enlightening experience. In fact, I will definitely read it again to get an even richer insight.
This definitive book about Merton can be purchased from either Thriftbooks (free shipping in US) or Amazon.com at a ridiculously cheap price.