This permitted [Merton] more of an identification with Christ, a oneness where God lived within, and was a true strength. At this point, the old external self was renounced, and with it any selfish desires and illusions preventing one from being a true Christian since God literally took possession of everyday experiences. The old self had truly died, permitting the new self to emerge. Merton's revealing words bring to mind theologian Sally McFague's definition of conversion or transformation and rebirth: "[It] will be a process, usually a painful and lifelong process, fraught with doubt, with ambiguity, with great discomfort, with risk; and certainly it will demand courage to a high degree."
Based on admissions Merton wrote in a letter to friend Miguel Greenberg in the mid-1960s, "Now I am in my fiftieth [fifty-plus-years] skin and trying to get it [sin] off like a tight bathing suit, too wet, too sticky and irritating in the extreme," he would need all the courage he could muster to once and for all lose the bathing suit of sin and march forward with a pure heart toward deciding whether he should choose Margie or God.
Read the first book excerpt from Beneath the Mask of Holiness: Thomas Merton and the Forbidden Love Affair that Set Him Free on the Mainline Protestant Portal at Patheos here.
Mark Shaw, a Theological Studies graduate at San Francisco Theological Seminary, is an attorney turned author with nearly twenty published books. His latest, Beneath the Mask of Holiness: Thomas Merton and the Forbidden Love Affair that Set Him Free, was published November 10, 2009. More about the book and Mark, a resident of Superior, Colorado, is available at www.markshawbooks.net.