Thomas Merton would have been 100 years old today.

MertonSadly, Merton died on 10 December 1968 in Bangkok, Thailand at the tender age of 53.

The thing most of all that touched me about Thomas Merton when I began reading his writings in the early 1990’s was the combination of  deep faith and profound honesty, vulnerability and sincerity Merton demonstrated when he wrote about his own struggles as a man aware of his shortcomings and failures.

Merton maintained a profound balance in his spiritual life between deep trust in Christ and transparent openness about his experience of his own humanness.

On the one hand, he embodied a deep and luminous faith. He understood that,

December 5, 1960Faith is not simply an act of choice, an option for a certain solution to the problem of existence etc. It is a birth to a higher life, by obedience to the giver of life. (Turning Toward the World: The Pivotal Years. The Journals of Thomas Merton Volume 4: 1960-1963. Victor A. Kramer, ed. San Francisco: HarperCollins Publishers, 1996, 72)

Merton experienced deeply at the centre of his being that,

Since we are created in the Word and are sustained at every moment by Him, the uncreated Image of God, in Whom we live and have our being, He is always present in the depths of our souls. (The New Man. London: Burns & Oates, 1961. 99)

But, at the same time Merton understood that  “birth to a higher life” and even the presence of the Divine “in the depths of our soul,” did not remove him from the often difficult and painful realities of this time-bound material realm.

Throughout his life Merton was never afraid to be deeply honest about his own awareness of the struggles he confronted in his being. He set this tone of honesty early in his life, when at the age of 32 he wrote in The Sign of Jonas. )NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers, 1953 on 4 May 1947),

All day I have been waiting for You with my faculties bleeding the poison of unsuppressed activity… I have waited for Your silence and Your peace to stanch and cleanse them, O my Lord.

You will heal my soul when it pleases You, because I have trusted in You.

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.

You have made my soul for Your peace and Your silence, but it is lacerated by the noise of my activity and my desires. My mind is crucified all day by its own hunger for experience, for ideas, for satisfaction. And I do not possess my house in silence.

But I was created for Your peace and You will not despise my longing for the holiness of Your deep silence. O my Lord, You will not leave me forever in this sorrow, because I have trusted in You and I will wait upon Your good pleasure in peace and without complaining any more. This, for Your glory.

I am content that these pages show me to be what I am – noisy, full of the racket of my imperfections and passions, and the wide open wounds left by my sins. Full of my own emptiness. Yet, ruined as my house is, You live there!

I find courage and strength in Thomas Merton’s witness to the possibility of living honestly and authentically in the face of my own failures and shortcomings and yet holding deep faith in the power and presence of God at work in my life.

For Merton the ability to hold this tension between his own fragile humanity and faith in the Divine lay in the ability to accept the reality of life as it is.

Let me seek, then, the gift of silence, and poverty, and solitude, where everything I touch is turned into prayer: where the sky is my prayer, the birds are my prayer, the wind in the trees is my prayer, for God is all in all. / For this to be so I must be really poor. I must seek nothing: but I must be most content with whatever I have from God. (Thoughts In Solitude, 104, 105)

On this 100th Anniversary of the birth of Thomas Merton, I wonder if I can accept my own struggles with the same graciousness and gentleness that seems to have characterized the life of this faithful and profoundly human monk.


for a short primer on reading the works of Thomas Merton go here: