When the Trees Say Nothing: Writings on Nature


Millions know Thomas Merton as the author of The Seven Storey Mountain, the autobiography that became an international bestseller and a modern spiritual classic. Merton, a prolific spiritual writer and social activist, inspired a generation from the silence and solitude of a Trappist monastery. Decades after his death, he remains a modern spiritual master, a source of wisdom on peace, racial harmony, poverty, ...
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Millions know Thomas Merton as the author of The Seven Storey Mountain, the autobiography that became an international bestseller and a modern spiritual classic. Merton, a prolific spiritual writer and social activist, inspired a generation from the silence and solitude of a Trappist monastery. Decades after his death, he remains a modern spiritual master, a source of wisdom on peace, racial harmony, poverty, alienation, and the engagement of Eastern and Western spiritual traditions.

Now Merton is also revealed as a man whose spirituality is rooted in nature, an environmentalist ahead of his time. His writings on nature serve as a primer on eco-spirituality. He approaches ecology as a spiritual issue, one that exposes the degree of human alienation from the sacredness of the planet.

When The Trees Say Nothing gathers for the first time over 300 of Merton's nature writings, grouping them thematically into sections on the seasons, elements, creatures and other topics. Edited by Merton scholar Kathleen Deignan, the collection is cohesive and accessible, drawing from both Merton's public writings and his recently published private journals. The lyrical writings are enhanced with Deignan's own informative Introduction, along with a Foreword by Thomas Berry, renowned spiritual mentor for the environmental movement.

Unique and powerful on its own,When the Trees Say Nothing is enhanced with the art of John B. Giuliani, known for his stunning iconography. Giuliani's drawings harmonize exquisitely with Merton's meditations on nature, making When the Trees Say Nothing a spiritual and aesthetic prize.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781893732605
  • Publisher: Avenue Records
  • Publication date: 2/1/2003
  • Pages: 192
  • Sales rank: 800,732
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 7.50 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments 9
Foreword 13
Introduction: "The Forest Is My Bride" 21
Chapter 1 "To Know Living Things" 43
Chapter 2 Seasons 55
Autumn 55
Winter 59
Spring 65
Summer 70
Chapter 3 Elements 75
Earth 75
Air 79
Fire 81
Water 84
Chapter 4 Firmament 87
Sky and Clouds 87
Sun and Moon 93
Planets and Stars 96
Chapter 5 Creatures 103
Butterflies and Birds 103
Rams and Lambs 115
Rodents and Rabbits 116
Horses and Cattle 118
Snakes and Frogs 121
Deer and Dogs 124
Bees and Bugs 130
Chapter 6 Festivals 135
Rain 135
Flowers 144
Trees 147
Chapter 7 Presences 151
Mountains 151
Chapter 8 Sanctuary 161
Forest 161
Postscript: Sophia 179
Notes 181
Abbreviations 181
Bibliography 187
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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2003

    An Invitation to Meditation

    In the 4th Century, Christian men and women went into the deserts of Syria and Egypt in order to live more intensely spiritual lives. They found the solitude of the wilderness conducive to prayer and they responded to the world around them as the work and gift of God. The early Benedictines found God in the rhythm of the seasons as they farmed and in the nature imagery of the psalms they chanted seven times a day. In the 12th Century, Bernard of Clairvaux and the Cistercian reform saw the act of gardening and farming as a process of bringing creation to its fullness and reestablishing Eden on earth. Francis of Assisi is probably the first known Western mystic to find in nature a mystical experience of God. Thomas Merton is definitely in the tradition of Bernard and Francis, but he brings a contemporary quality to the issues of nature. Like many moderns, Merton was a searcher. He found the peace he sought in monasticism. His writings reveal inner connections between the monastic tradition, social justice, contemporary literature, philosophy, Asian spirituality and ecology. Merton did not write articles as such on the environment or eco-spirituality. What Kathleen Deignan has done is glean a paragraph here and a paragraph there from Merton¿s many volumes and then arrange these excerpts under the categories of seasons, elements, creatures and festivals. The result is not so much a book on Merton¿s eco-spirituality as a prayer book. The descriptions are an invitation to share the experience. Merton, borrowing from the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, uses the word ¿inscape¿ to connote the particular, deep-down uniqueness of things. This ¿inscape¿ is a window to the transcendent and sacred. There is a Zen quality to Merton¿s writings. He points to nature, to walnut trees ¿more beautiful still because of the dead end of the branches that reach out, stark and black, from the rich foliage and gesture against the sky and hills.¿ Through these meditations, there is an undercurrent that our humanity has been destructive of such beauty. In the preface, Thomas Berry tells us that the absence of a sense of the sacred is the basic flaw in many of our efforts at ecology. Our present attitude is that the natural world is a commodity to be bought and sold. Years ago, I saw some black and white photographs taken by Merton at his home monastery in Kentucky and at the Trappistine monastery deep in the redwoods of Northern California. Those photographs point in the same direction as his written descriptions. I would have loved to have seen some of these photos in this book, accompanying the text, as the drawings of Hopkins often accompany his published poems. As it is, Kathleen Deignan has done a masterful job bringing Merton¿s meditations on nature together. The book is handsomely illustrated by John Giuliani. The drawings rest unobtrusively on the page and, with the text, invite us in.

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