Striving towards Being & The Journals of Thomas Merton

Striving towards Being
The Letters of Thomas Merton and Czeslaw Milosz
Edited by Robert Faggen
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $21, 160 pp.

The Journals of Thomas Merton, Volumes 1-5
Edited by Patrick Hart, Jonathan Montaldo, Lawrence S. Cunningham, Vincent A. Kramer, and Robert E. Daggy
HarperSanFrancisco, $15 (pbk.), $30 (cloth)

 

Writing to Thomas Merton in 1960, the poet Czeslaw Milosz reflected that we moderns “lack an image of the world ordered by religion.” Merton first wrote to Milosz in 1958, and they corresponded until Merton’s sudden death a decade later. In their letters, at once generous and scrupulous, Milosz makes exacting demands of Merton and does not hold back from trying to provoke him: He writes, for example, that he has not yet read Merton’s The Wisdom of the Desert (1960), “perhaps because I feel it is a sort of luxury-for those who [have] coped already with some basic theological questions.” Milosz urges Merton again and again “not only [to] understand and deplore the modern gnashing of teeth, but to have some complicity with it”-like Pascal, to pay attention to the atheists and perhaps the atheist in himself. “I imagine a reader,” Milosz writes, “who...would be ready to follow [you] in five volumes through a vision of the world redeemed by Christ.” But did Merton have such an overarching vision? Milosz was that reader, and he wanted to learn what was Merton’s “image of the world.” If Milosz is still interested, the possibility he imagined is now here: five volumes of Merton’s journals have been published. The journey is long (over 2,000 pages), but by midway through I got into the rhythm of Merton’s days and the patterns of his thinking, found him credible and sympathetic, and found myself reading between the lines. Merton...

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About the Author

Bernard G. Prusak is associate professor of philosophy and director of the McGowan Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility at King's College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.