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Seven Storey Mountain > Seven Storey Part Two: Chapters 1 and 2

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message 1: by Leslie (last edited Nov 27, 2015 09:13PM) (new)

Leslie | 359 comments Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!!!!

I was hoping to have this thread up by yesterday, but one errand after another made for slow reading this week.

I'm not sure if it's just because I'm tired, but I was struggling to think of what to say this week. If something more enlightening comes to mind in a few days I'll add it in. LOL.

In these chapters we find Merton exploring philosophy, monasticism, contemplative meditation and the meaning of the sacraments. As a convert, I could really relate to the way in which Merton felt tugged in to the faith.

I can also remember my own experience in college as I tried to understand the different philosophers. Some felt highly educated and no doubt were tapping into understandings that eluded my own, less intelligent mind. Some felt like they just wanted to be heard. And, I had to laugh as I read about the drinking and debating these points till 4 am.

In my college days, my boyfriend was an engineer. The nature of the breed tends to lean towards the nerdy side of things. I can still remember painfully trying to stay awake with my boyfriend as we had some late nights up drinking with his friends who debated in mind numbing detail philosophy, the existence and meaning of black holes, and torque. Somehow I suspect Merton was more fun. :-)

One quote of Merton's that really appealed to me as he traveled down his spiritual journey was this one.

"God has willed that we should all depend on one another for our salvation, and all strive together for our own mutual good and our own common salvation."

This resonates so strongly with me. I wholeheartedly believe in this.

Merton alludes to a girlfriend during this period, but we never get her name or any details on their relationship. I loved hearing about his guy friend stories, adventurers at the cottage and, once again, Merton's close calls with fights. In some ways it feels so strange that this man entered the monastery.

I loved the way the war was woven into the backdrop of his story. Of course we know the ending, but it's interesting to hear someone talk about how it felt as the events unraveled. At times, it seems he is frightened and depressed over the events of the time, then in other passages he feels rather removed from it all, and yet, he also expressed helpless frustration with the situation. It reminds me so much of my own feelings about the radical Islamic terrorist activities in our present time.

One final thought, this section discussed Merton's growing interest in Mysticism. A year or so ago my church had a six week or so discussion on the mystics which was based on a conference. It was held at The Center for Action and Contemplation. One of the participants was in the monastery with Merton and spoke of their time together, Merton's thoughts on this, etc.

If you are interested, here's the link to that conference. It's available in DVD, CD, and MP3 download.

http://store.cac.org/Following-the-My...


message 2: by Mike (new)

Mike It has been over 50 years since I first read the “Seven Story Mountain”; Part II was my favorite then and it has remained my favorite during subsequent reads. It was so fitting for the time period in which I read it, the very early sixties. Many young men were wrestling with the same feelings, concerns and hopes that Thomas Merton expressed. Fortunately, Communism had been exposed for its oppression and did not remain at the same level of interest that Merton experienced. The lists of authors and titles that he references hit myself and many of my friends as if he had been in many of our late night discussions and debates. The thought of taking classes from a teacher, Daniel Walsh, who had studied directly with Etienne Gilson and associated with Jacques Maritain was just outstanding, what an opportunity.

I think that his book had such an impact on young men and drew so many of them to the priesthood because he was so imperfect but still so frantic in his pursuit of his proper place in God’s plan. And if one had already heard the call, this book offered the encouragement to maintain your dreams. If God was calling this rusty and chipped tool to be with Him, surely there was hope for the rest of us. Perhaps we were not breathing deeply enough to hear the faint whispers, many of us needed to slow down and listen. Merton brought his honesty and controversy to the forefront; proclaiming that it was ok if you were broken and in need of repair. It was manly to be intellectually interested, recognize the very deep and exciting traditions we, as Catholics, have to put us in pursuit of the Lord; but always remembering you had to follow through with action.

Merton’s writings contributed to the priestly vocations of hundreds of young men. Large numbers of relatively well known priests list Merton and specifically the “Seven Story Mountain” as major influences during their years of formation. After reading how Merton searched, without any help from family, to find his place most men entering the seminary would look at that as a miracle. Most seminarians have at least some family background in religion.

Today there are a number of religious commentators who question Merton’s standing as a religious leader, they feel he was imperfect, too interested in eastern practices and that he had sinned. Yes, he was all of those things and I am very glad I met him through his writings. He became a Trappist priest, lived as a Trappist, died and was buried a Trappist on the grounds of Gethsemani.

As an aside this group is in the process of reading two authors who had the most significant impact on the Church in the twentieth century, Bishop Sheen and Father Louis, a.k.a. Thomas Merton. They were distinctly cast from a metal forged in the forties and fifties. Hopefully there are other young Catholic authors coming along that will have the same reach and influence in today’s world as these two had in theirs.


message 3: by Doreen (new)

Doreen Petersen | 441 comments Mike wrote: "It has been over 50 years since I first read the “Seven Story Mountain”; Part II was my favorite then and it has remained my favorite during subsequent reads. It was so fitting for the time period ..."

Well said Mike and thanks for posting. God Bless.


message 4: by Leslie (new)

Leslie | 359 comments Mike,

I enjoyed your comments and agree. I think his very humanity is his appeal. It is a very honest account of one man's coming to God. Yes, he had sex with women, he drank, he smoked, he joined the communist party, he was in a gang and got into fights, he was orphaned, he went to college and wrote for the paper, he was a convert, etc. His appeal is definitely that so many of us can relate to at least a few aspects of his life.

I wonder who is out there today for the next generation. I know some would argue Father Robert Barron or Scott Hahn, but I don't think they have the same presence. Certainly their writings are inspiring and educating many. Still, I don't see them pulling people into the church in the same way. Well, I'm saying a prayer for whomever it will be.


message 5: by Galicius (new)

Galicius | 460 comments Thank you for adding your personal life experiences in connection to your reading of this interesting autobiography Leslie and Mike. I will only add that I had no illusions about Communism as I had the misfortune that I was born into a Catholic society in a Communist country where I lived until teenage years until 1960. Our large village of 2000 was a practicing Roman Catholic society with three known party members and some clandestine informers and it was a struggle for the parish to educate its children in their religion but I think they did it well. We the children had to march in a Mayday parade on May 1st. (It was more a humorous affair than sad.) The parish is very vibrant today. But to get back to the reading:

It becomes obvious by the beginning of this chapter that Merton’s first person narrative is coming to us from the Trappist monastery. His reflections on the many people who influenced him shows how far he has progressed in his spiritual journey as when he writes he hopes to see Blake in heaven. (p.189)

Has anyone seen much parallel between Merton’s spiritual journey and St. Augustine’s “Confessions”? To me St. Augustine’s conversion was rather dramatic and sudden after some wayward paths. Merton’s coming to spiritual progress is a more gradual progress. Merton only mentions St. Augustine twice in the first part. His mentor Dan Walsh calls him “Augustinian” though Merton only comes to finally read “Confessions” during the summer of 1939 in upstate New York under a peach tree.

My printed copy has an index but it only lists names of people and places. I paid attention to how frequently he writes about “grace” how he was blessed and sometimes wishes he was when he needed it. He writes about it quite frequently, at least a dozen times in the first two parts.

It becomes obvious by the middle that the title refers to Dante’s “Purgatory”. Merton says it does on page 221:

“I was about to set foot on the shore at the foot of the high, sever circled mountain of a Purgatory steeper and more arduous than I was able to imagine, and I was not at all aware of the climbing I was about to have to do.”

It looks like Merton did not have to work through his teenage and young adult or student years for a living. He mentions doing some work only briefly a couple of times during his years at Columbia. His grandfather Pops paid for his education earlier. The source of his finances is not clear from the time he enters Columbia other than some kind of scholarship. I wonder however if it made a difference or not regarding the direction his life took, whether he would have gone another way if he had to work from the age of 14 and all through the student years part time throughout the school year and full time over the summers in menial physical labor or boring factory work. Would the opportunities to pursue his spiritual life be there also as abundantly or less?


message 6: by Leslie (new)

Leslie | 359 comments Thank you Galicus for sharing your experiences.

Reading his enthusiasm for Blake and Gerald Manley Hopkins made me want to go to the library to read them again. :-)

As for the comparison to St. Augustine, I think it's imperfectly parallel. I don't think he was quite as wild as Augustine and his conversion was much more of a slow process, but he did drink, smoke, was in a gang, got in fights, got a girl pregnant, etc. Another difference, as far as we know, is that Augustine once turned is said to have lived "correctly" whereas Merton continued some of this path even while living in the monastery after writing this book.

As for grace, it's funny but I can remember driving my friends nuts while I was in RCIA by constantly trying to get a good answer about....what is grace? What does that mean? Is it a state of being or a gift? Coming from a Protestant background, it felt very open ended and I very much wanted to understand it, get it if possible, etc. I would imagine other converts have felt similarly.

Earlier in the book it was mentioned that the grandfather had saved well enough for each boy to be covered through school. I think he did get a small scholarship as well and he was drawing cartoons and doing some real publishing beyond the school yearbook and newspaper.

I'm not sure how graduate degrees in English are handled, but many graduate programs are funded by stipends and usually you are forbidden from working elsewhere in order to keep your stipend, so that you will focus on your program.


message 7: by Leslie (last edited Nov 28, 2015 01:17PM) (new)

Leslie | 359 comments Reading a little further, you learn that he is receiving a grant on page 290.


message 8: by Irene (new)

Irene | 909 comments I can't imagine a 6 week catechuminate for someone coming from a background with no religious content. I am so glad for the RCIA process.

One of Merton's appeal, at least for me, is that he does not present an overly sentimental spirituality. Rather, he is obviously well educated and brings his strong intellect to his conversion.


message 9: by Leslie (new)

Leslie | 359 comments Irene wrote: "I can't imagine a 6 week catechuminate for someone coming from a background with no religious content. I am so glad for the RCIA process.

One of Merton's appeal, at least for me, is that he does n..."


I was thinking the same thing. It is pretty quick. When I did it we started in September and went till Easter. I loved every day of it. The next year they changed it to start right after Easter till the next Easter. It's good because the more you read and learn, the more questions you have, etc.


message 10: by Irene (new)

Irene | 909 comments We do a full year catechumenate here. If the Sunday Gospel is the basis for the topic to be studied, you have to hear the entire Gospel proclaimed, if you are going to be able to study the entire body of topics.


message 11: by Mike (new)

Mike Galicius wrote: "Thank you for adding your personal life experiences in connection to your reading of this interesting autobiography Leslie and Mike. I will only add that I had no illusions about Communism as I had..."

Your last paragraph, which wonders how Merton would have turned out if he had to work, has had me thinking about that for a few hours. I don't believe he would have been nearly as well read. As one who had to work multiple jobs to get through school your question has me wondering about how I would have turned out without the need for work.


message 12: by Leslie (last edited Nov 29, 2015 01:51PM) (new)

Leslie | 359 comments Mike wrote: "Galicius wrote: "Thank you for adding your personal life experiences in connection to your reading of this interesting autobiography Leslie and Mike. I will only add that I had no illusions about C..."

That's so funny. I was thinking that same thing as I read about his reading experiences. This year I have broken new records for myself in reading. I didn't get to work much but I've truly loved having this opportunity. And, as I read of his reading while in the RCIA program, I was thinking back to that time in my life.

I started the process, unrelatedly, right after my stepfather died. I had just moved to NC, was starting a new job, etc. His loss was by far the most devastating experience of my life, and I really needed the church....daily. Ironically, things worked out so well. My new job was with a drug company who had hired me to handle a new product hitting the market. Strangely enough, the launch was delayed, almost a year. Honestly I've never understood why they kept me on payroll, but I was paid Monday thru Friday for a full shift to come to work, sit at a desk, and stay ready in case there was word from the company.

At first our days consisted of getting to know each other, lots of chatting and group crossword puzzles. But, we each loved to read.

In short order I started bringing in more and more books on the faith. As a convert, there was this desire to know Everything. I read and read and read and, because everyone was so bored, we all read them together and discussed them which was fun because we each had an entirely different faith background. Those books have helped me immensely over the years and I have always felt so grateful for that time.

I truly think he was having the experiences he was meant to have. And so was I (still am!) :-)

The other thing that I remembered about that time was that, like Merton, I contemplated a religious life, went to daily mass as able, prayed the Divine Office, read the Missal, prayed the rosary, etc. And, I also was driving around exploring different churches, admiring different religious art, etc.


message 13: by Susan Margaret (new)

Susan Margaret (susanmargaretg) | 538 comments There is a lot of good advice sprinkled throughout these two chapters. Bramachari, a unique addition to Merton’s collection of friends, recommends to Merton that he should read “St. Augustine’s Confessions” and “The Imitation of Christ”. These are two books that I have sitting on my own bookshelf that I need to read.

Lax also tells Merton “All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one.” Merton also gives us good advice when he discovers that after he was baptized things became anti-climatic. He was not sure of how to live his life. He tells us that he should have done several things:

1. Receive daily communion
2. Seek spiritual direction
3. Have a prayer life
4. Devotion to Mary
5. Mortification of passions

I like it when I can receive step-by-step instructions. I am the type of person that needs them!


message 14: by Galicius (new)

Galicius | 460 comments Mike wrote: "Galicius wrote: "Thank you for adding your personal life experiences in connection to your reading of this interesting autobiography Leslie and Mike. I will only add that I had no illusions about C..."

Glad to hear we had somewhat similar experiences with the education life Mike.


message 15: by Galicius (new)

Galicius | 460 comments Leslie wrote: "Mike wrote: "Galicius wrote: "Thank you for adding your personal life experiences in connection to your reading of this interesting autobiography Leslie and Mike. I will only add that I had no illu..."
It’s good to hear you put your free time opportunities to good use and beyond Leslie. I looked for jobs that allowed me some time to read/study while in schools. They weren’t good career prospects but I am not sure if I would have gotten more out of those years otherwise.


message 16: by Galicius (last edited Dec 01, 2015 09:01AM) (new)

Galicius | 460 comments Susan Margaret wrote: "There is a lot of good advice sprinkled throughout these two chapters. Bramachari, a unique addition to Merton’s collection of friends, recommends to Merton that he should read “St. Augustine’s Con..."


“Confessions” is a timeless classic and fairly accessible but “The City of God”, St. Augustine’s other major opus, was the second most difficult one for me (after “Summa”).


message 17: by Susan Margaret (new)

Susan Margaret (susanmargaretg) | 538 comments Galicius wrote: "“Confessions” is a timeless classic and fairly accessible but “The City of God”, St. Augustine’s other major opus, was the second most difficult one for me (after “Summa”).
"


Thanks for the tip Galicius. I will definitely tackle "Confessions" first.


message 18: by Susan Margaret (new)

Susan Margaret (susanmargaretg) | 538 comments As I was re-reading parts of chapter one in this section, the first few paragraphs reminded me of C.S. Lewis’ book “Mere Christianity. Partly because these pages required careful reading as does Lewis’ entire book, and also because they both discuss the nature of man and his need for God. Merton says that God gave man a nature that was ordered to supernatural life and also that man left to his own philosophies and devices was doomed to hell. This reminded me of Lewis’ definition of the law of human nature, which states that knowing right from wrong, or moral law, is an instinctive part of the human conscience. According to Lewis, this instinct of knowing right from wrong was given to us by somebody or something and that somebody/something was God. Although these definitions differ somewhat, they both point to the need of God in our lives.

I am wondering if Merton read any of Lewis’s work, especially since “Mere Christianity” (originally titled “The Case for Christianity”) was published five years before Merton’s book. There seemed to be many similarities between the two men. Both were very intellectual, spiritual writers, educated in England (although Merton continued his education in America) and on a journey to discover God. Lewis died in 1963 and Merton in 1968.


message 19: by Jane (new)

Jane | 9 comments I tend to think that Merton was probably not influenced by Lewis, probably they shared the common phenomena of the conversion experience. I love Part two. It is such a beautiful portrait of a seeker. From Hopkins, Blake, Joyce, obscure medieval writings, even Bramachari, Merton leads us along on his intellectual and spiritual machinations until finally before the Blessed Sacrament he makes his claim and plea to the Father regarding priesthood. Thank you to all of you who have enriched these comments by your personal stories. One cannot help but do so when reading a deeply personal, important and influential confession such as this. More than that, it is grace filled and so fascinating.


message 20: by Susan Margaret (last edited Dec 02, 2015 10:26AM) (new)

Susan Margaret (susanmargaretg) | 538 comments Jane wrote: "I tend to think that Merton was probably not influenced by Lewis, probably they shared the common phenomena of the conversion experience. I love Part two. It is such a beautiful portrait of a seeke..."

Jane, I think I agree, it is more than likely their shared conversion. Since I recently read "Mere Christianity" and "The Screwtape Letters", Lewis has lately been on my mind a lot.


message 21: by Irene (new)

Irene | 909 comments I finished the book last night. I haven't seen threads started for the remaining chapters, so I will hold off on posting until I see them. But, I did enjoy the book more and more as we moved closer and closer, even into the monastery.


message 22: by Susan Margaret (new)

Susan Margaret (susanmargaretg) | 538 comments Irene wrote: "I finished the book last night. I haven't seen threads started for the remaining chapters, so I will hold off on posting until I see them. But, I did enjoy the book more and more as we moved closer..."

I posted the thread last night. It is titled Part Three: Chapters 1 & 2. So far it has only one post which is mine.


message 23: by Irene (new)

Irene | 909 comments Thanks, will go look for it.


message 24: by Mike (new)

Mike I found Merton’s reaction of disgust to finding the “Nihil Obstat” and the “Imprimatur” on one of the cover pages of “The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy” to be humorous as well as familiar. He was correct that these designations were telling him that the contents of the book were in keeping with church teachings. Here is the young man that in a few short years will make application to join the priesthood, yet finding a statement of adherence to church teaching to be repulsive. This displays how deeply anti-Catholic sentiment had been drummed into his head.

The familiar part is the changing perception of the two designations. There are authors who actively seek these designations because they are concerned about writing something that would mislead the faithful. However, today there are more and more authors who not only don’t worry about misleading people, they delight in it.


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