In the past week I’ve read articles/blog posts about two people in particular: J.D. Salinger and Thomas Merton. Salinger wrote one of the most controversial books of the twentieth century. Merton was a monk in Kentucky.
I became interested in Salinger when I read about his reclusive life. Why would a cause celebre do this? This is what has also interested me in Great Garbo and Van Morrison. Why after so much success withdraw? In a culture hell-bent on celebrating celebrities? A new biography was released recently and I was hoping it would give me some answers.
Thomas Merton keeps coming up. Eugene Peterson references him a lot. And I keep seeing quotes by him here and there. But I knew nothing about him. Then I read a post this past week. I got a little more interested. Not because I am interested in Roman Catholicism. Just interested in him. If he is good enough for Peterson, he is good enough for me. And Peterson did not let me down with Annie Dillard.
So this morning before I sat down in the library to study, I took a small detour to the biography section and looked for anything I could find on Merton. His autobiography was there. So I picked it up, sat down, opened it and saw enough to be interested even more.
After reading an article about Salinger today, I am less interested. His reclusiveness may have had a lot to do with his desire to be a cad. Anyway, gold lost its luster quick. And I was disappointed. But more than disappointed I was repulsed by this man’s life and its incongruence with his writing, which was supposed to be a compelling reaction to postwar America. And then I remembered something I had seen in the introduction to Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain – it was also a reaction to the end of WWII and the beginning of the Cold War.
And Merton also withdrew.
So here I am – a protestant reformed pastor – reading Merton – the Roman Catholic Monk – while taking breaks from sermon work.
While reading Brennan Manning I became really interested in Merton myself. I bought a couple of his books, but alas, I was sidetracked and have yet to crack them open. Let me know how it goes and what you learn. Blessings brother.
Believe it or not, I was once convinced that Thomas Merton was Salinger's ghost writer! But since you've read Seven Storey Mountain, and have met his friend, Seymour you are certainly aware of the similarity of prose styles. They both at around the same time attended the classes of *Story* editor, Whit Burnett, at Columbia University. And yet, despite a similarity of literary and spiritual interests (both being readers of Gilson), there is no record of their ever having met.–JM