Divine Discontent The Prophetic Voice of Thomas Merton

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 8/14/2014
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic
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Thomas Merton's best-selling spiritual autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, was one of the most influential books of the twentieth century. The original (1948) hardback edition sold 600,000 copies and by 1984 paperback sales had exceeded 3m. It has been translated into 15 languages and remains in print today. The 2015 centenary of Merton's birth provides an opportunity to reconsider both his international reputation and his startling relevance in today's world.
Merton was a Trappist monk, writer, contemplative, social critic, pacifist, jazz lover and (in the context of world faiths) ecumenist whose sudden, premature death in unexplained circumstances prompted a further surge of interest in the man and his work. His extensive writings, many only recently available, provide the basis for a fresh examination of his story, permitting Merton to speak for himself whenever possible, but enabling also an analysis of his abiding fascination and the discontents - human and divine - that dominated so much of his life. The author inspires us to look again at our preconceived ideas about the natural world, the prevailing culture, abuses of power, questions of war and peace, contemplation and action, institutions and the freedom of the individual - and the search for God.

NB The International Thomas Merton Society has 40 Chapters in the US alone, overseas Chapters in Argentina, Australia (2), France, Japan, New Zealand and Russia, and affiliated organisations in 11 further countries (Belgium & the Netherlands, Brazil, Canada, England, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Korea, Poland, Spain and Sweden).

Author Biography

John Moses is Dean Emeritus of St. Paul's Cathedral, a member of the Advisory Board of the Centre for Religion and Public Life and a tutor for the Oxford Continuing Education Theology Summer School. His books include One Equall Light on the life and writings of John Donne (Canterbury Press, 2003) and The Language of Love: Exploring Prayer (Canterbury Press 2007).

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements\Foreword\Preface\Thomas Merton - a Chronology\1 Merton: the Fascination of the Man\2 Merton: the Trappist Monk\3 Merton: the Writer\4 Merton: the Contemplative\5 Merton: the Social Critic\6 Merton: the Ecumenist\7 Merton: A Study in Divine Discontent\8 Merton: A Prophetic Voice\Notes\Bibliography

Chapter by chapter synopsis:
The continuing fascination and influence. The paradoxes and contradictions. The passion for God. The independence of mind and spirit. The ebullience; the laughter. The delight in the natural world. Merton's legacy as a social critic and (in the context of world faiths) as an ecumenist. His continuing relevance as a prophetic voice in an age of transition.

Merton's discovery of faith and of his vocations as a priest and a religious. The life of the Trappist. The frustrations of community life. The vocation to write. The vow of stability. Merton's discontents with the Catholic Church, with monasticism, with the Trappist life, with his superiors. His vocation as a hermit. The ambiguities of his life. The journey to Asia. His exploration of Eastern traditions of mysticism, contemplative prayer, monasticism.

Merton's parallel vocations as a monk and as a writer. The tug of war between the contemplative life of a Trappist and the active life of a prolific and successful writer. The five distinct types of Merton's literary work: his journals, his letters, his books, his articles, and his poetry. Merton's understanding of the role of the artist in society. The limitations of his writing and Merton's own ambivalence.

Merton's discovery of prayer; his vocation to solitude; the influence of theologians and mystics from earlier centuries and other faith traditions. His exploration of contemplative prayer. The search for God beyond words and beyond images. The austerity of the contemplative life: losing and finding in the dark night of the soul. Contemplation and action.

Merton's early contempt for the world; the years of transition in his thinking; the importance of his monastic vocation, mystical theology, contemplative prayer, wide reading and extensive correspondence. The theological foundations of Merton's social critique: incarnation and eschatology, and (with acknowledgements to the Mahatma Gandhi) truth and love. Merton's criticism of the churches, and especially of the Catholic Church. His understanding of the church's vocation as "a stumbling block to the world, a sign of contradiction". Merton's criticism of the prevailing moral climate; the experience of alienation; the corrupting influence of power. The issues that dominated Merton's later years: racial justice, the poor, the Cold War, questions of war and peace, nuclear weapons, the Vietnam War. The limitations and the strengths of Merton's social criticism.

Early indications of a wider frame of reference. Protestant traditions of scholarship. Discussions at the Abbey of Gethsemane. The Second Vatican Council. The wider ecumenical vision: the parallels with Merton's work as a social critic; the dialogue between East and West; the global dimension; a universal consciousness. The influence of friends - reading, correspondence, conversation - in shaping Merton's appreciation of Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Tao, Zen and Buddhism. Merton as an exponent of Eastern thought. Merton as a protagonist of a wider ecumenical dialogue. The Asian Journey: the centrality of contemplative prayer, the renewal of monasticism.

The contradictions that Merton presents throughout his adult life; the problem of discovering the truth about Merton; the numerous points of friction, complaint, discontent; the perceived ambiguity of his place in the community. The psychology of Thomas Merton: the self-accusation of masochism and insecurity; the charge of megalomania and narcissism. Discontents - human and divine; a framework for interpretation; the paradoxes of grace; the wounded healer. Discontents - human or divine - as one of the authentic marks of Christian pilgrimage.

Merton's continuing fascinationand influence as an international icon of discipleship - wounded, flawed, but transfigured and transformed.Monasticism and the desert tradition. Merton as a pre-eminent representative of the desert tradition. The motif of transfiguration in Merton's monastic life. Merton's continuing relevance through his writing in many areas of contemporary concern: the environment and the natural world, his awareness of the interdependence of all life, his sense of solidarity with the whole creation; his feeling after a global vision, a universal consciousness, his critique of the prevailing culture, of the manipulations of power; his affirmation of the dignity and freedom of the individual viz a viz institutions, bureaucracies, hierarchies; his understanding of the role of the marginal person - the monk, the artist, the political prisoner; his critical questions concerning the church, the monastic life, the divide between contemplation and action, the relation between the world faiths.

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