Wednesday, January 31st, was the birthday of a Trappist monk and mystic, Father Louis, who was born in 1915. Most of the world will know him as Thomas Merton. Born to a New Zealander father and an American mother; he would eventually take up residence in the United States. While attending college in New York, he had a conversion experience, that would eventually lead him to the Abbey of Gethsemane, in Kentucky. In 1947, he became a professed member of the Trappist community; he was ordained a priest on May 26, 1949. The year before, 1948, he published his autobiography, “The Seven Storey Mountain,” which became the most popular book in American Catholic literature.
To be honest, I have never read the book; to the best of my recollection, my earliest encounter with his writings was either his history of the Trappist order, “The Waters of Siloe,” or one of his journals, “The Sign of Jonas.” Since then I have acquired a good size collection of his books. He had a talent for the making what it means to be a contemplative understandable; and more importantly, achievable by us ordinary folks. His writings continue to inspire me to at least try to deepen my prayer life. Some attempts have been more successful than others.
There have dry periods; sometimes very long dry periods. But when I pick up one of his books and read, I get inspired again, and try once more to live contemplatively in my daily life. And I am not alone, hundreds, if not thousands of individuals, both Christian and non-Christian, have taken up the journey, with Merton as our guide.