On January 31, 2015, we celebrate the centenary of the birth of Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk and prolific spiritual writer.
Merton’s life was full of paradox and contradiction. He was an extroverted New Yorker who entered the silent world of a Trappist monastery in the back woods of Kentucky. In making this choice, he left behind his ambition to become a writer, only to have his abbot sit him down at a typewriter and tell him to write.
Deeply attracted to women he gave up female companionship in becoming a monk, only to fall in love and have a powerful love affair with a young woman when he was fifty-one years old.
Merton sought solitude in a hermitage even as his life and writing turned outward to society’s evils: war, violence, injustice. Profoundly Christian, he discovered toward the end of his life the spiritual riches of Eastern religions.
One of the most famous prayers of Thomas Merton, and one of my favorite prayers is this—from his book: “Thoughts in Solitude.” Merton wrote:My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that, if I do this, you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadows of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.