Janet's Reviews > The Seven Storey Mountain

The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton
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Jan 06, 08

Recommended for: Catholics, orthodox Christians, people interested in religion and psychology
Read in November, 2007

(from notes in my journal, Nov. 9, 2007)

Why did I wait so long to read Thomas Merton? I've known so many fans of his work and had so many opportunities to get to know him. In my mid-twenties I lived for a few years in Lexington, Kentucky, just about an hour from Gethsemani, the Trappist monastery where Merton spent the second half of his life. I had a lover who made regular pilgrimages and once brought me seeds from Merton's garden, carefully folded inside a dollar bill. But I never visited Gethesmani myself, and in all these years I'd never even opened one of Merton's books.

Tonight I started "The Seven-Storey Mountain," because it was assigned for class next week. Merton is a philosopher as well as a damn good writer, and his reflections are vivid, complex, and rich.

Why did I wait so long to read Thomas Merton? I've known so many fans of his work and had so many opportunities to get to know him. In my mid-twenties I lived for a few years in Lexington, Kentucky, just about an hour from Gethsemani, the Trappist monastery where Merton spent the second half of his life. I had a lover who made regular pilgrimages and brought me seeds from Merton's garden, carefully folded inside a dollar bill. But I never visited Gethesmani myself, and in all these years I'd never even opened one of Merton's books.

Tonight I started "The Seven-Storey Mountain," because it was assigned for class next week. We've gone through several major spiritual autobiographies (Thoreau, King, Gandhi, Day) They've all been fascinating, but none were written with such skill and power as this one. Merton is a philosopher as well as a damn good writer, and his reflections are vivid, complex, and rich.

I was a bit disappointed that young the Merton in this work is not much like the older ecumenist and peace activist of the 1960s. I'm perplexed by any spiritual quest (and there are so many) that lead through renunciation or retreat from the world. I'm also not able to wrap my brain around the ideas of original sin and the need for salvation. But if I try to empathize with Merton and understand his journey within his world-view, there's a lot to be gained from this early autobiography.

A passage that hit me with particular force is Merton's adult explanation of his youthful scorn for his adoring little brother, who followed him everywhere only to be dismissed and rejected.

"And in a sense, this terrible situation is the pattern and prototype of all sin: the deliberate and formal will to reject disinterested love for us purely for the arbitrary reason that we simply do not want it. We will to separate ourselves from that love. We reject it entirely and absolutely, and will not acknowledge it, simply because it does not please us to be loved. Perhaps the inner motive is that the fact of being loved disinterestedly reminds us that we all need love from others, and depend upon the charity of others to carry on our own lives. And we refuse love, and reject society, in so far as it seems, in our own perverse imagination, to imply some obscure kind of humiliation." (p. 26, Harcourt Brace ed.)

I'm no Christian, and certainly no monastic, but I do recognize myself in this description. By this definition, I'm a huge sinner. I've had a long habit of refusing love, perhaps more often when I was younger, but I still do it now. Simply because it does not please me to be loved. And probably even more because of my aversion to that "obscure kind of humiliation."

Recently I've been treated to the terrifying experience of loving deeply and fearing that I will be rejected. In a way it would be only fair. But so far my love has been welcomed and returned. It's a kind of beautiful agony to be suspended in mutual love, feeling joyful and vulnerable at the same time. It's a profound form of dependence, but rather than leaving one impoverished, it is immensely enriching.

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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by ♥ Ibrahim ♥ (last edited Jul 27, 2008 08:25PM) (new) - added it

♥ Ibrahim ♥ Janet,

You don't have to be a saint in order to be a Christian. You only have to open yourself up to God's love and receive it. Lord, I receive your love. That just makes you a Christian. Christianity is not a religion. It is living in eternal fellowship with the God who made us and acknowledge him for everything, the air we breathe, the bread we eat, etc. You are a huge sinner now, and so am I. But so what? God doesn't save anybody but sinners. For sinners he decided to be clothed with human flesh, yours and mine. Please receive that love. If you read Merton and enjoy him and miss the point of who God in Christ is, you have missed the whole point completely.

Listen, I was born as a Muslim, I was a Muslim fundamentalist, and in the course of my comparison of Islam and Christianity, I met the Christ of the Gospels who captivated my heart with his personality. I am no Saint, Janet. I am a huge sinner like you, but I know am I loved and accepted in the Beloved, our Lord Jesus Christ.

If you want to discuss this some more, please email me. On the other hand, please go here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gnlJQw...

You will watch me on Youtube speaking to you. And the second part is,

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gqKlU5...

Have a great week.

In Christ,

Ibrahim


message 2: by Grant (new) - added it

Grant I was reading that section earlier this evening. It is moving, humbling and challenging. To achieve the effect that he does in such a short passage is masterful.


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