Thomas Merton and the Dalai Lama, 1968
I first heard Thomas Merton's name this past summer when I read "My life with the Saints". The author elaborated several Catholic saints that he admired dearly. One of them is Thomas Merton, a Trappist Monk who died on an accident at his prime of 53 years old. When he wrote his autobiography of "The Seven Storey Mountain", he was only 33 years old.
I had preconceived notion that a person of only 33 years old can not possibly be too philosophical in his thinking, and definitely will not have enough life experience to impart his wisdom to the world. I first resisted reading it, but the autobiography was highly acclaimed, and was life changing for many. Since I borrowed the book from my local library, I might as well give it a chance.
Embedded in his ordinary childhood and sensual youthful adolescence, there was a soul beckoning to break out of the worldly existence. He was led mysteriously to the shrines, the churches of Rome for a time. He was in awe, and came away with a great sense of peace and joy. Those experiences were short, temporary and quickly forgotten, but they could have built a foundation for his life changing decision of being a Monk. It is a matter of gradual remembrance of what is essential of living one's life. There were reflection of his own behaviors and he was aware of the fact that this century of materialistic abundance molded most of us to be extrovert, self seeking and self indulgent in all of our five physical senses. It took a great soul in such a young age to have this magnificent realization of the truth. I remember when I was at that age I thought spirituality was for old folks and for people with blind faith, and I will have no part of it.
I am reading his autobiography just about half way through. The transformation from extremely anti-Catholicism to secretly fascinated of Jesuits' ascetic, self restraining life style set the stage of his vocation. The journey itself is very humanly subtle, as the saying goes, God writes straight with crooked lines. There was no booming voice from God commanding his life changing decision. In a slightest twist we all can relate to his inner journey.
Besides bringing spiritual inspiration to the world , Thomas Merton was extraordinarily brilliant and funny in his writing. It is a literary masterpiece.
PS. There was actually a voice prompting him to become a Catholic, not exactly a booming one but quite insistent nonetheless.