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Kirkus ReviewsIn this volume of previously unpublished writings (the fifth installment of his journals), Merton speaks of his new life as a hermit and his reactions to contemporary upheavals in the Catholic Church and American society.
Having spent over 20 years in the strictly communal life of the Trappist Cistercian Order, Merton finally obtained permission to live in solitude. Although this move was clearly a way for him to follow his bohemian and intellectual bent, it gave expression to his deep desire to seek God absolutely, free from the trivia that often complicated life in the Abbey. These journal entries illustrate both modes of Merton's existence. He discusses his omnivorous (and apparently random) reading of such writers as Rilke, Nietzsche, Neruda, Flannery O'Connor, and Simone Weil. He corresponds with contemporary intellectuals, including the Buddhist scholar Marco Pallis and Zen master D.T. Suzuki, even visiting the latter in New York. We see Merton's exasperation with US policy in Vietnam and with the South's racial practices, his excitement at developments in the Catholic Church's Second Vatican Council, and his misgivings at the Church's liturgical changes (e.g., the Passion Gospel read in English instead of sung in Latin strikes him as "liturgical vaudeville" and devoid of imagination). Merton supports the peace movement and distrusts the optimistic clichés of contemporary American culture, lamenting an increasingly Americanized world without cultural roots. Vignettes of daily life in the Abbey and in the hermitage form a background for each of these pages. We see Merton struggling with the mediocrity of his abbot and his own inconsistencies. His relentless introspection makes challenging reading, while his copious allusions to spiritual writings down the centuries open to us the sources of his own rich inner life.
Merton at his best: sophisticated, honest, humorous, and mystical.