It’s impossible to talk about Thomas Merton, the subject of this book, like some kind of expert. I know that he’s an important philosopher and theologian in Catholicism: there are so many books coming out about him this season, so many events dedicated to him. But for a non-Catholic, it’s rather like being invited by a friend of a friend to a party and then hanging about the edges of the room—you make small talk, and you hope you don’t offend anybody.
Reading The Unquiet Monk, I do get the feeling that Merton was disconnected from the world in a fundamental way. Every great thinker—scientist, artist, leader—seems to have that windowpane between themselves and the world, that lets them see everything differently. Merton was introverted (“paradoxically,” Higgins writes on page 25, “Merton’s increased contact with people encouraged an even stronger need for solitude”), examining his own thoughts and impulses with complete honesty. He was sardonic and cynical, with a bone-dry sense of humour, but also passionate about social causes and struggling with his love for M., a young nurse.
As Mary Jo Weaver puts it:
“… one of the interesting things about Merton is that he can articulate the way of negation or the withdrawn kind of aspect of religious life, and then articulate the way of affirmation and involvement and activity. It’s not so important, I think, that he lived both those things—all of us embody one or more paradoxes in our lives—but he could articulate both of those to an exquisite degree, and I think that makes him the paradigmatic monk of the twentieth century.” (pg. 30)
And I think that Merton embodies many of the struggles Catholics face today, in the twenty-first century. The rapid-fire pace of daily life removes people from the kind of deep spiritual contemplation the devout are supposed to practice. The panicky, twenty-four-hours-a-day nature of the news media and the anonymity of the Internet can dull people’s empathy. Everything is snarky and self-referential in books and movies and TV shows. It’s not hard to read Merton’s sense of humour, his awareness of global causes and his fundamental disconnection from the world in the challenges Catholics have today in their own lives. He remains just as important now, if not more important, than when he was writing.
Higgins’ new book is one of the best windows into his life. It’s clear, articulate writing—informative for people who don’t know who Merton is and insightful for people who do. The Unquiet Monk is fascinating, drawing the reader far away from the regular world and making them rethink their own lives as well as Merton’s. I can’t recommend it enough.
-Gillian Robinson, Sales and Marketing Assistant
Join us on January 31st as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of the world-renowned monk and spiritual writer, Thomas Merton. Award-winning author, broadcaster and Merton scholar Dr. Michael W. Higgins offers an engaging exploration of the contemporary relevance of Merton’s life and witness what will inspire and enrich your own life. You won’t want to miss this dinner and talk which is free and open to the public.