Sunday, December 13, 2009

Quote of the Day (Thomas Merton, Finding Solitude As He Awaits Christmas)

“I found a fine place to read and pray, on the top floor of that barn building where the rabbits used to be. Up under the roof is a place reached by various ladders. Some stove-pipes and old buckets are there and many of the little boxes in which the novices gather strawberries in the early summer time. There is a chair and there is a beautiful small rectangular window which faces south over the valley—the outside orchard, St. Joseph’s field, the distant line of hills. It is the quietest and most hidden and most isolated place I have found in the whole enclosure—but not necessarily the warmest. However, it was good yesterday with the sun coming in the window: ‘Vacio, hambriento, solo, llagado y doliente de amor, suspenso en el aire.’ [“Empty, famished, alone, wounded and suffering with love, suspended in the air!”) Almost all activity makes me ill, but as soon as I am alone and silent again I sink into deep peace, recollection, and happiness.”—Thomas Merton, journal entry for December 17, 1949, at the Gethsemani seminary in the Kentucky woods, in The Sign of Jonas (1953)

Merton’s journal covers the five years before he took his final vows as a monk. He wrote this particular entry over a year after The Seven-Storey Mountain made him perhaps the greatest author of Catholic apologetics—and, I’d argue, one of the finest memoirists, period—of the 20th century.

While few people in these secular times would want to follow Merton’s extraordinary path—one filled with moments of doubt that manifest themselves in occasional severe physical discomfort even here in this account—many during this holiday period, I’m sure, would love to escape the materialistic madness of mall parking lots and find, even for a few fugitive moments, a place filled with the same kind of “deep peace, recollection, and happiness” that Merton discovered here.

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