Turning Toward the World: The Pivotal Years; The Journals of Thomas Merton, Volume 4: 1960-1963

Turning Toward the World: The Pivotal Years; The Journals of Thomas Merton, Volume 4: 1960-1963

by Thomas Merton

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"Inexorably life moves on towards crisis and mystery. Everyone must struggle to adjust himself to this, to face the situation for 'now is the judgment of the world.' In a way, each one judges himself merely by what he does. Does, not says. Yet let us not completely dismiss words. They do have meaning. They are related to action. They spring from action and they


"Inexorably life moves on towards crisis and mystery. Everyone must struggle to adjust himself to this, to face the situation for 'now is the judgment of the world.' In a way, each one judges himself merely by what he does. Does, not says. Yet let us not completely dismiss words. They do have meaning. They are related to action. They spring from action and they prepare for it, they clarify it, they direct it." --Thomas Merton, August 16, 1961

The fourth volume of Thomas Merton's complete journals, one of his final literary legacies, springs from three hundred handwritten pages that capture - in candid, lively, deeply revealing passages - the growing unrest of the 1960s, which Merton witnessed within himself as plainly as in the changing culture around him.

In these decisive years, 1960-1963, Merton, now in his late forties and frequently working in a new hermitage at the Abbey of Gethsemani, finds himself struggling between his longing for a private, spiritual life and the irresistible pull of social concerns. Precisely when he longs for more solitude, and convinces himself he could not cut back on his writing, Merton begins asking complex questions about the contemporary culture ("the 'world' with its funny pants, of which I do not know the name, its sandals and sunglasses"), war, and the churches role in society.

Thus despite his resistance, he is drawn into the world where his celebrity and growing concerns for social issues fuel his writings on civil rights, nonviolence, and pacifism and lead him into conflict with those who urge him to leave the moral issues to bishops and theologians.

This pivotal volume in the Merton journals reveals a man at the height of a brilliant writing career, marking the fourteenth anniversary of his priesthood but yearning still for the key to true happiness and grace. Here, in his most private diaries, Merton is as intellectually curious, critical, and insightful as in his best-known public writings while he documents his movement from the cloister toward the world, from Novice Master to hermit, from ironic critic to joyous witness to the mystery of God's plan.

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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Chapter One

May 25, 1960. Vigil of the Ascension
Said mass this morning for the Louisville Carmel. Wrote to Mons. [Loris]Capovilla to thank him for the book on Italian Church architecture whichhas some very satisfying small churches. Some of the more ambitiousprojects do not impress me, but in general the plans are honest andstraightforward. Some of them can give us some ideas for the MountOlivet hermitage and retreat house. Jack Ford wrote about that today. Imean he wrote on the 18th and I got it today.

Had been waiting for an opportunity to say a Mass for Louis Massignon and for his project, under the patronage of B1. Charles Lwanga for African boys etc. I happened in a curious and almost arbitrary manner to pick on June 3rd and only today did I discover by surprise that this day is the Feast of B1. C.L. and the Uganda martyrs! Louis Massignon wrote that nonviolence is mocked in Paris and opposed by the French hierarchy.

Was annoyed at the force of having to go to vote at the primaries yesterday, without having the slightest knowledge of the candidates. (Except that Johnson came here when he was governor and I remember Dom Frederic's speech.) But the ride turned out to be nice and all the kids were playing outside St. Catherine's school. The big ones at basketball, some younger ones in an arbitrary and rather hectic game of catch, others in quieter games, and behind the gymnasium the girls in blue uniforms, much quieter altogether.

Reading [Joseph Jean] Lanza del Vasto, Le Pèlerinage aux Sources [Paris, 1945]. His account of Gandhi and Wardha is impressive. I am stillnot persuaded that the spinning wheels were so foolish. lt is customary in the West to dismiss all that as absurd, and to assume that technological progress is an unqualified good, as excellent as it is inevitable. But it becomes more and more passive, automatic -- and the effects on "backward" people more and more terrible.

Today they proudly posted on the bulletin board in the small cloister the news about an American intercontinental missile fired from Florida and landing in the Indian Ocean. Something to be proud of! Have we lost all sense of proportion along with our faith?

May 26, 1960. Ascension Day
Remember 11 years ago, to the day, my ordination. Certainly these 11years have been the best, and also the hardest, of my life. But they are the only years to which I can attach any real importance, years of genuine and full activity and being -- not preparation. Everything else was a more or less appropriate preparation.

Even my sins, for a priest is not without a knowledge of human inferiority and it is good that I have a deep knowledge of it in myself. Otherwise my life and writing might have been even more preparation than they actually are.

May 29, 1960. Sunday after Ascension
[Boris] Pasternak is ill -- perhaps dying -- perhaps dead.

Yesterday, rain -- I finished ms. on Liturgy and Personalism -- in the afternoon, cleaned up the room. This, as [Jacques] Barzun says, is the age of white people.

Fragments of faded, dying paper used as markers in my copy of Denziger. A dim yellow envelope from New Directions, postmarked 1952. Already ancient history, 1952! I threw it away, along with an Italian holy card that got there no one knows how -- (one of the baser variety!).

Eyes still bad.

More and more the average Catholic and priest tends to think of dogma only as what has been dogmatically defined by a universal council or a Papal definition.

We are losing our respect for the ordinary magisterium of the Church, because we no longer fully understand what it is.

Actually, it requires a greater and more enlightened spirit of faith to adhere faithfully, intelligently and with suppleness to the ordinary teaching of the Church, which is richer, more living, more nuanced, more detailed, more complete than the formal and extraordinary definitions. These are capsules, containing the bare essentials, and in an emergency form, to meet a special need.

To live on formal definitions rather than on the ordinary magisterium is like living on vitamin capsules rather than bread and meat and milk and eggs.

I was shocked, in Collectanea [Cisterciensia] to read a report from one of our monasteries which said that contemplatives should nourish their prayer above all on what is defined. This is a distortion. First it implies that there is nothing in between formally defined dogmas of the extraord[inary] magisterium and controverted opinions. Second it shows a complete lack of appreciation for the real sources of contemplative reflection -- liturgy, the Fathers and the Scriptures as understood by monastic tradition.

May 30, 1960. St. Joan of Arc
Mardis de Dar-es-Salam. Deeply moving prayer of Louis Massignon on the Desert, on the tears of Agar, on the Moslems, the "point-vierge" [the virgin point] of the Spirit seemingly in despair, encountering God. L.M. is a man with an unusual and important vocation: the dialogue with Islam. Not the prissy, dressed-up dialogue over teacups of a bunch of dilettantes, but a real understanding of the greatness of Islam and of the problems and sorrows of the peoples of Africa and the Near East.

Difficulty of our apostolate which bursts in without understanding and asks the Moslem, without further explanation, to betray the brightest conception he has of God and the Holy. For we do not present him with what seems to him to be better or more Holy. As long as he does not understand, we are wanting him to be, he thinks, a traitor to his truth.

Turning Toward the World. 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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