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Entering the Silence: Becoming a Monk and a Writer

Entering the Silence: Becoming a Monk and a Writer

by Thomas Merton

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The second volume of Thomas Merton's "gusty, passionate journals" (Thomas Moore) chronicles Merton's advancements to priesthood and emergence as a bestselling author with the surprise success of his autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain. Spanning an eleven-year period, Entering the Silence reflects Merton's struggle to balance his vocation to


The second volume of Thomas Merton's "gusty, passionate journals" (Thomas Moore) chronicles Merton's advancements to priesthood and emergence as a bestselling author with the surprise success of his autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain. Spanning an eleven-year period, Entering the Silence reflects Merton's struggle to balance his vocation to solitude with the budding literary career that would soon established him as one of the most important spiritual writers of our century.

Editorial Reviews

Steve Schroeder
Like the first two volumes of Merton's journals, this third volume is full of insight into his life and work. Readers will be grateful that when it came to his journals, Merton's Trappist silence did not leave him speechless. In a 1956 entry, he notes that he had "always wanted to write about everything" --not to write a book that "covers everything" or contains everything, but "a book in which everything can go." The journals accomplish this largely by avoiding what he refers to (in a 1958 entry) as "the apostolate of alienation and hatred," a "mania for making everyone else like oneself." Merton's great gift, which shines through in the bits and pieces of his journals even more than in his finished work, is an ability to listen and respond to a world in which everything does go. Lawrence Cunningham notes in his introduction that Merton's journals are full of reflection on what it means to be a monk. In this volume, as in the second one, that reflection plays a major role in shaping his discernment of the world and his place in it. This volume maintains the high standards established in the first two and will leave readers anxiously anticipating the remaining four.
Kirkus Reviews
This volume of journals reveals Merton in his late 40s, already pulled by the tension between spiritual interiority and social activism that was to characterize his final years.

By 1960 Merton was an internationally renowned figure. His bestselling Seven-Storey Mountain (1948) had been ranked alongside St. Augustine's Confessions, and in a steady stream of books and articles he had explored monastic spirituality in a way that seemed fresh and relevant to a wide public. The themes in this volume of his journals show a definite shift away from his earlier otherworldliness. Kramer (English/Georgia State Univ.) has divided the manuscript chronologically into four parts. We see Merton at last obtaining the unusual permission from his abbott at Gethsemani to live in a hermitage, yet meeting a growing number of thinkers and representatives of other faiths in his retreat. Even before Vatican II begins, he is involved in the issues of liturgical reform, ecumenism, and especially the Church's attitude to the modern world. The Cuban missile crisis and the apparent inevitability of nuclear war loom large. Merton considers the need for Christians, including himself, to speak out against the Vietnam War and social segregation, while the writings of Hannah Arendt and the Eichmann case force him to think more deeply about the Catholic understanding of obedience. These pages are characterized more by breadth than depth. Although there is much personal questioning, spiritual musing, and notes from Merton's extensive reading and worldwide correspondence, most readers would do better to turn to Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (1966), which contains the developed fruits of these jottings.

Strictly for Merton connoisseurs.

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HarperCollins Publishers
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Journals of Thomas Merton , #2
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The Noviatiate Journal
December 1941-April 1942

Our Lady of Gethsemani
Entered as Postulant, St. Lucy's Day, December 13, 1941

Poem For My Friends, Dec 12-13This holy house of God,
(Nazareth, where Christ lived as a boy)
These sheds & cloisters,
The very stones & beams are all befriended
By cleaner sun, by rarer birds, by humbler flowers.

Lost in the tigers' & the lions' wilderness,
More than we fear, we love these holy stones,
These thorns, the phoenix's sweet & spikey tree.

More than we fear, we love the holy desert
Where separate strangers, hid in their disguise,
Have come to meet by night the quiet Christ.

We who have some time wandered in the crowded ruins,
(Farewell, you woebegone, sad towns)
We who have wandered like (the ones I hear) the moaning
(Begone, sad towns!)
We'll live it over for you here.

Here are your ruins all rebuilt as fast as you destroyed them
In your unlucky wisdom!
Here in the Holy House of God
And on the Holy Hill
Fields are the friends of plenteous heaven,
While falling starlight feeds, as bright as manna,
All our rough earth with wakeful grace.

And look, the ruins have become Jerusalems,
And the sick cities re-arise like shining Zions.
Jerusalems! These walls & roofs,
These flowers & fragrant sheds!
Our desert's wooden door,
The arches, & the windows, & the tower!

December 18, 1941
Not one word is lost, not one action is lost, not one prayer is lost, not one mis-sung note in choir is lost.Nothing is lost.What in the worldwould be wasted is here all God's, all for love.I shiver in the night (not now that I have the postulants' white, woolhabit) [but] for love - and I never hated less the world, scorned it less or understood it better.Because nothing is lost. — (and therefore everything is in proportion) — every act is seen in its context, and everything in the monastery issignificant.Because everything here is in a harmonious and totally significant context (every face is turned to God — every gesture and movement is His). Thus, everything in the world outside is also significant, when brought into relation with this!
How long we wait, with minds as quiet as time,
Like sentries on a tower!
How long we watch, by night, like the astronomers!

O Earth! O Earth! When will we hear you sing,
Arising from our grassy hills?
And say: "The dark is gone, and Day
Laughs like a bridegroom in His tent, the lovely sun!
His tent the sun! His tent the smiling sky!"How long we wait, with minds as dim as ponds,
While stars swim slowly homeward in the waters of our
O Earth! When will we hear you sing?

How long we listened to your silence in our vineyards,
And heard no bird stir in the rising barley.
The stars go home behind the shaggy trees:
Our minds are grey as rivers.

O Earth, when will you wake in the green wheat,
And all our oaks and Trappist cedars sing:
"Bright land! Lift up your leafy gates!
You Abbey steeple, sing with bells,
For look, our Sun rejoices like a dancer
On the rim of our hills!"

In the blue west, the moon is uttered like the word

JMJT [Jesus, Mary, Joseph, Thérèse]
Feast of the Epiphany [January 6], 1942

January 9, 1942
How will I ever do this?

Not by any power of my own, but by two things (God may be soon to fill me with such love that my presence in the world will be not my presence but His presence, and I may be forgotten, and all around in the world, evil give place to good): these two things are prayer and penance.

"Child! First love Me with all your desire, and cast out all other loves, - for your body, for your name, for your work, for your health, for your own consolation, for your own idea of Me - sacrifice everything. Love my will."

"O Lord! How joyful and happy must they be who, when they come to consider their own selves, find in themselves nothing remarkable whatever. Not only do they attract no attention outside themselves, but now they no longer have any desires or selfish interests to attract their own attention. They remark no virtues, they are saddened by no huge sins, they see only their own unremarkable weakness and nothingness, but a nothingness which is filled obscurely, not with themselves but with your love, O God! They are the poor in spirit, who possess within themselves the kingdom of heaven because they are no longer remarkable even to themselves, but in them shines God's light, and they themselves and all who see it glorify you, O God! JMJT


"This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee"

Once when our eyes were clean as noon, our rooms
Filled with the joys of Cana's feast:
For Jesus came, and His disciples, & His mother,
And, after them, the singers
And the men with violins.
Once when our minds were Galilees,
And clear as skies our faces,
Our simple rooms were charmed with sun!

Our thoughts went in and out in whiter coats than God's disciples,
in Cana's crowded doors, at Cana's tables.

Nor did we seem to fear the wine would fail:
For, ready in a row to fill with water and a miracle,
We saw our earthen vessels empty.
What wine those humble waterjars foretell!

Wine for the ones who, bended to the dirty earth,
Have feared, since lovely Eden, the sun's fire,
Yet hardly mumble, in their dusty months, a prayer.

Wine for old Adam, digging in the briars.


Entering the Silence. Copyright © by Thomas Merton. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) was a Trappist monk, writer, and peace and civil rights activist. Merton's works have had a profound impact on contemporary religious and philosophical thought. He is best known for his autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain and New Seeds of Contemplation.

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