It seems as if Thomas Merton has become the Jimi Hendrix of Christian mystics. After Hendrix’s death, the record labels went into a tizzy as they set about to release (and re-release) just about any Hendrix recording, regardless of its quality. Likewise, almost forty years after Merton’s death, the books are still coming out thick and fast, featuring both recycled material as well as the occasional “never-before-published” gem. Fortunately, Merton’s life and creativity were far less mercurial than Hendrix’s, so at least one can take comfort that all these new releases from his oeuvre will not disappoint by their failure to live up to Merton standards. Indeed, based on what I’ve seen so far, the following three books (all released within the last six months) are all worth owning…
- Cold War Letters is probably the most significant of the new Merton titles. It gathers together a collection of letters Merton wrote during the height of the Cold War, about the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, in which his prophetic views on war and peace are clearly articulated. Merton was struggling with censorship at the time, and had even been ordered not to write on matters concerning war and peace. Hence, the private nature of these letters, at least at the time of their writing. It’s a sad commentary on our world that now, as they finally are published nearly half a century later, their message is as urgent and timely as ever.
- Echoing Silence: Thomas Merton on the Vocation of Writing is one of countless thematic anthologies culled from Merton’s previously published work that seem to be popping into existence these days. In recent years titles have been published gathering together Merton’s writings on Advent, Lent, Nature, and now, Writing. Well, I suppose I have a built on weakness for this title. But it seems to me that anyone who is interested in the balance between writing-as-creative-expression and the life of prayer would find numerous nuggets of wisdom in this anthology.
- A Book of Hours is a lovely, gift-quality hardback that gathers devotional selections from Merton’s work and arranges them into a sort of “daily office,” with four prayer times for each day of the week: dawn, day, dusk, and dark. A bit contrived, maybe, but if nothing else it’s a nice tool for allowing Merton’s writing to function as a tool for nurturing your prayer life.
I hope to eventually post more in-depth reviews of each of these. But for now, follow the links and buy your own copies.