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The Sign of Jonas

4.27  ·  Rating details ·  507 ratings  ·  50 reviews
Begun five years after he entered the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani, The Sign of Jonas is an extraordinary view of Merton’s life in a Trappist monastery, and it serves also as a spiritual log recording the deep meaning and increasing sureness he felt in his vocation: the growth of a mind that finds in its contracted physical world new intellectual and spiritual dimension ...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published November 18th 2002 by Mariner Books (first published January 1st 1953)
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Elizabeth Adams
May 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This is probably the third or even fourth time I've read this book, my favorite of the many works by Thomas Merton. I began re-reading it after attending a silent Lenten retreat, and have continued through Holy Week and the Easter season. "The Sign of Jonas" is one of only a handful of books I've read and re-read over the last few decades; the reason is that for some reason I feel he's speaking directly to me in this painfully honest description of the monastic years leading up to his ordination ...more
Deirdre Keating
Jan 02, 2012 marked it as to-read
Love this line from a review: just where is God in the midst of all these annoying people I can't get away from?
Ed Cyzewski
Mar 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A rich collection of reflections on prayer and the contemplative life along with a healthy dose of Merton's self-aware critiques of his own personal flaws. Although a little less organized than Merton's other journal-style books, such as Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, fans of Merton will find this book accessible and beneficial for understanding the context of his other books. For instance, he complains often about writing one of his books, while he receives his first copy of The Seven Store ...more
Scott Rushing
Jun 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
I read The Sign of Jonas because it was advertised as a sequel to The Seven Storey Mountain. It is a sequel in the sense that the book picks up Merton's story after enters the Abbey of Gethsemani. But it is not a sequel in the sense that it is a very different kind of book. The Sign of Jonas is a journal, covering the years 1946-1952. Merton took his vows in 1941, so already you know that there is a 5 year gap in his life story if you were expecting a direct continuation. But The Sign of Jonas i ...more
Nov 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have begun in earnest to explore the writings of Thomas Merton. I am no expert, nor am I a traditional Christian. I have read some of Merton's journal entries, I have read parts of several of his books, but this is the first that grabbed me and would not let me go. This journal is deeply personal; it is deeply filled with doubt; it is deeply filled with his love of Nature; it is deeply filled with a sense of silence; it is deeply filled with God. It is a progression through five years of his l ...more
Joy Matteson
Sep 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
Fascinating journal of famed contemplative writer Thomas Merton. His insights into the world around him and his love for Christ is apparent on every page. His wit often surprises at the most unexpected moments, and his observations about nature are unparalleled. Recommended for lovers of meditation and contemplative living.
Pam Cipkowski
This is somewhat of a sequel to the Seven Storey Mountain, written mostly as a journal recounting Merton’s early days in the monastery. Some of it is just that: the days droning on and on, but it is in between days that we see the sparks and shimmers of Merton’s writing, his love of the contemplative life, as well as his doubts, yearnings, and frustrations. Merton is loved partly because he is such a beautiful writer, painting amazing scenes with words, and there is much of that here to delight ...more
Joel Cuthbert
Oct 06, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It’s been a long and pleasurable journey with ole Merton and this is perhaps my tenth or such read of his. This certainly sits in his earlier canon of works where he is bursting with delight and excitement at his new found vocation. In some ways I have increasingly been drawn to his later works where he felt more free to engage in political commentary and current thought, perhaps I’m inclined that way as the last I read of his was Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander. Nonetheless, I think it is in ...more
Lee Whitlock
Mar 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Merton's journal published just five years after he entered the Abbey of Gethsemani gives refreshing insight into the Monastic life in the early 1950. He is fresh "out of the world" and into the new world of relative silence. Relative because he longs for more silence. He moves between satisfaction with his new life and disappointment that the silence is not more total.

In 1994, I began reading all of Merton's published journals (7) and finished each as they were published. In 2015, I
Chase Rodrigue
Feb 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This book is an intimate look into the life and growth of Thomas Merton. Throughout the journal, readers are taken through Merton's solemn vows as a Cistercian Monk, his ordination as deacon and finally a priest. Readers get a kind of behind the scenes commentary on some of the other well-known works of Merton such as the Seven Story Mountain and Seeds of Contemplation. I was struck particularly by his reflections on the priesthood and the vital role that the Blessed Virgin Mary played in it. Th ...more
Feb 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
"Fire Watch" is one of the most breathtaking essays I've ever read. It's beautiful.
Cheyenne Goff
Mar 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Merton casually

I have long been a fan of Thomas Merton's work since I read a collection of his works as a teenager....his deep introspection and poignant observations on spirituality spoke to my soul. This work offers a different view of the man. Although it still contains much of the depth of thought Merton is known for, there is a lot of the day to day, humdrum, often humorous insight into the life of a monk included as well. Definitely worth reading if you've enjoyed any of his other work.
May 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: re-read-books
It is a vastly different book from the "Seven Storey Mountain" and it is puzzling for someone outside of monastic community to appreciate the different flow of life, the frustration of lack of solitude and the joy of silence. However, the authenticity of Merton speaks, no matter how strange his life as a monk and a contemplative. This is a book full of otherness, with only a tread linking the Merton in SSM and the Merton in Gethsmani Abbey. One wonders the call of Spirit manifested in Merton and ...more
Nancy Lou
Aug 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book is a treasure & agree that it may be his most readable. With the date of 1953 it's good to keep in mind that it is about a specific time in a specific place as Merton himself states that in his prologue. Merton was a complex man with a life goal "to love God and serve him with with simplicity and joy."
Aug 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
What an experience to read the journal of such a faithful and thoughtful man of God. Merton’s quotidian struggles and joys in Gethsemani as well as his theological musings are a must-read for any contemplative soul.
Jessica Schneider
Sep 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A wonderful book. One of Merton's best.
Jul 22, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found "The Sign of Jonas" both extremely irritating and extremely valuable.

I am not sure that I would actually have liked Thomas Merton even if I were with him when he was writing this journal and the same age (mid-30's). First, there is this enormous paradox in his behavior in joining a religious order of silence and contemplation AND his inability actually to keep quiet. That is, he writes at length about himself and even can't quite seem to end it all --- witness the lengthy epi
Bickety Bam
Mar 09, 2010 rated it it was ok
People who know me would be surprised to learn I read the diary of a Trappist monk. While my personal lack of religious belief renders many of the author's sentiments baffling to me, I did find the book having a definite influence on my daily life.

One of Merton's constant laments in the diary is that it is always too noisy in the monastery. He longs for quiet to contemplate and pray.

Being in the habit of always having a radio show or some music or TV going in the backgrou
Oct 27, 2012 rated it liked it
Covering the time period after the Seven Storey Mountain, The Sign of Jonas is a journal of Merton's experience up to and a little after his ordination. [I love the imprimatur on the verso of the title page.] Morton's writings and fame were a part of Gethsemani's growth and yet his journal is very direct with the struggles he faced in accepting a religious vocation. Lots of stuff to underline as he seems to grow up a lot during the time he wrote this.

p.10: "By making a vow of stabili
Pamela Ann
Sep 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing
One of my favourites of Thomas Merton's books. His struggles, I found, were all too familiar. Good spiritual journaling.
Aug 14, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
While I generally look to Merton because of his wisdom and the gift of prophecy that he has in reflection that is hard to find in many, that is not really the intent of this book. What we have here could be written by any monastic. It is essentially the diary of the events in a monastery and the struggle that takes place in giving a life towards God, yet still living selfishly. I would definitely recommend this for those that are interested on the day to day happenings of a monastery and the asc ...more
I read The Seven Storey Mountain oh, years ago. And it was OK. I mean it didn't radically change my world or anything and I ended up purging it in one of my Great Book Purges. I was always sort of wary of Merton.
But the Sign of Jonas is really great. It's his journal of five years in Gethsemani, during which time he makes solemn profession and is ordained. His writings on writing, Catholicism, saying the Mass, prayer, Scripture...I could go on....but they all resonated deeply with me. This is a
Jun 28, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is a journal by Merton made before he made his final vows recording everyday experiences and his concerns and joys. It is hard to put a finger on why this is so good. He seems to be experiencing everyone you are even though he is a monk in a totally different world. He seems to be able to explain the things one thinks about ordinary thinks and how God is a part of the world and oneself. It is so simple it is too deep to really grasp; yet it is also so clear that the most difficult ideas are ...more
Jan 09, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: religious
It's pretty much the diary of a monk living in one monastery over the period of about 5 years. Very slow reading, since the entries flow like a normal journal entry would. I caught myself scanning the words without understanding them for pages at a time, because Merton mentions too many things in such a way that you'd have to be him, or at least a monk yourself, to understand what's going on. I didn't hate the book, though, and he talks really intelligently about duty and peace. Mixed in with a ...more
Jul 05, 2009 rated it really liked it
True to its being mostly a journal, this is a "dipper" book for me, one I stop and peer into from time to time, and also a gift from a family friend (who bought it in the 60s -- the cover price is a dollar!). As others have pointed out, this is where The Seven Story Mountain leaves off and Merton really gets to showing us the contemplative life as it's lived in tedium and splendor. I'm heading off on my first silent retreat in a couple of months and I think this is one of the books I'll take with me.
Jason Shuttlesworth
Feb 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
T. Merton's autobiography...hmmm...this is a very very deep fellow, but really-I think if anyone spends as much time in solitude in a monastery they would say pretty much the same things. I spend much time in solitude and seem to come to the exact same conclusions. Much of the book contains Merton talking about the rituals in the Catholic church, of which I know almost nothing about, which is why I gave it the 4 stars. Parts of it are actually funny.
Jul 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I've been a huge fan of Thomas Merton's since I read his autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain. This is an intriguing look at life in a 20th century monastery as told through his journal over the course of four years. Beyond the descriptions of the daily life of a monk, it's full of Merton's insights, wisdom, and struggles. Monks are human too. Merton's honesty and earnestness is refreshing. There are passages from this book that will stick with me for the rest of my life.
Gudrun Mouw
Nov 25, 2016 rated it liked it
I loved bits and pieces, such as a beautiful exhortation on Divine Love, but by p.248 I had already been finding myself eager to finish the book.

For example, writing about the poet Kenneth Patchen's Dark Kingdom, Merton says, ..."it does not make a deep impression and it cannot because it is only poetry."

I could not disagree more that poetry cannot make a deep impression.
May 23, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I always loved this book as an antidote to the triumphant Catholicism of Seven Story Mountain. This book is where the spiritual rubber meets the road - just where is God in the midst of all these annoying people I can't get away from? Final chapter (Fire Watch) is, to my mind, the most gorgeous thing Merton ever wrote.
Matt Moran
Jul 06, 2009 rated it really liked it
Merton's journal in the monastery from 1946-1952. A good follow up to 'Seven Storey Mountain.' Very poetical - some passages lost me, but like all Merton books that I have read, some profound passages are always woven in.

A good book for anyone interested in the monastic or contemplative life.
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Thomas Merton was one of the most influential Catholic authors of the 20th century. A Trappist monk of the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani, in the American state of Kentucky, Merton was an acclaimed Catholic spiritual writer, poet, author and social activist. Merton wrote over 60 books, scores of essays and reviews, and is the ongoing subject of many biographies. Merton was also a proponent of int ...more
“Keeping a journal has taught me that there is not so much new in your life as you sometimes think. When you re-read your journal you find out that your latest discovery is something you already found out five years ago. Still, it is true that one penetrates deeper and deeper into the same ideas and the same experiences.” 137 likes
“I will no longer wound myself with the thoughts and questions that have surrounded me like thorns: that is a penance You do not ask of me.” 48 likes
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