Habitat for Humanity fact sheet (frequently asked questions)

(Content from http://www.habitat.org/)

What is Habitat for Humanity International?
• A nonprofit, ecumenical Christian housing ministry.
• We seek to eliminate poverty housing and homelessness from the world and to make decent shelter a matter of conscience and action.
• To accomplish these goals, we invite people of all backgrounds, races and religions to build houses together in partnership with families in need.
• Habitat for Humanity was founded in 1976 by Millard Fuller, along with his wife, Linda.
• Today, we have helped build over 400,000 decent, affordable houses and served more than 2 million people around the world.

Habitat volunteers and homeowners build side-by-side in New Orleans, Louisiana

How does it work?
• Through volunteer labor and donations of money and materials, Habitat builds and rehabilitates simple, decent houses alongside our homeowner (partner) families.
• Habitat is not a giveaway program. In addition to a down payment and monthly mortgage payments, homeowners invest hundreds of hours of their own labor (sweat equity) into building their Habitat house and the houses of others.
• Habitat houses are sold to partner families at no profit and financed with affordable loans.
• The homeowners’ monthly mortgage payments are used to build still more Habitat houses.

How are partner families selected?
• Families in need of decent shelter apply to local Habitat affiliates.
• The affiliate’s family selection committee chooses homeowners based on their level of need, their willingness to become partners in the program and their ability to repay the loan.
• Every affiliate follows a nondiscriminatory policy of family selection.
• Neither race nor religion is a factor in choosing the families who receive Habitat houses.

What are Habitat affiliates?
• Community-level Habitat for Humanity offices that act in partnership with and on behalf of Habitat for Humanity International.
• Each affiliate is an independently run, nonprofit organization.
• Each affiliate coordinates all aspects of Habitat home building in its local area—fundraising; building site selection; partner family selection and support; house construction; and mortgage servicing.

Where does Habitat for Humanity operate?
• Habitat is a worldwide organization, operating in all 50 states of the United States, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and dozens of other countries. Use our search engine to find local affiliates and connect with Habitat in your community.
• Our operational headquarters are located in Americus, Georgia, USA.
• Our administrative headquarters are located in Atlanta, Georgia, USA.

How are donations distributed and used?
• Donations, whether to a local Habitat affiliate or to Habitat for Humanity International, are used as designated by the donor.
• Gifts received by HFHI that are designated to a specific affiliate or building project are forwarded to that affiliate or project.
• Undesignated gifts are used where most needed and for administrative expenses.
• HFHI’s most recent audited financial statement is available online.

Who controls and manages Habitat for Humanity International?
• An ecumenical, international board of directors determines policy and oversees and guides the mission of Habitat for Humanity International.
• Board members are dedicated volunteers who are deeply concerned about the problems of poverty housing around the world.
• The HFHI headquarters office operates with an administrative staff, assisted by a core group of professional and support employees and supplemented by volunteers.
• Each local Habitat affiliate is managed by its own local volunteer board.

How does Habitat work with the government?
• Our Government Relations and Advocacy team works with legislators and housing regulators to increase support for affordable homeownership and eliminate poverty housing.
• We monitor public policies related to housing, community and international development.
• We advocate policy choices that increase access to decent, affordable housing for people around the world.
• We accept government funds for infrastructure, utilities, capacity building or training, and house building. We accept these funds so long as they have no conditions that would violate Habitat’s principles or limit its ability to proclaim its Christian identity.

How does a Habitat for Humanity affiliate get started?
• Habitat affiliates start when concerned citizens of diverse backgrounds come together to address the problem of poverty housing in their community.
• These volunteers research the community’s affordable housing needs and resources and evaluate the potential success of Habitat’s self-help model in their community.
• The group then applies to HFHI to become an official Habitat affiliate.
• If you are interested in eliminating poverty housing in your community, please call (800) HABITAT or (800) 422-4828 . Those calling from outside the United States may contact HFHI headquarters at 01-229-924-6935.

How can I become a volunteer?
• Use our search engine to find your local Habitat for Humanity and their volunteer opportunities.
• Explore our Get Involved section.

How can I get more information?
Through any of the following methods:
• Explore our Contact Us page.
• Write to Habitat for Humanity International, 121 Habitat Street, Americus, GA 31709-3498, USA.
• Call 1 (800) 422-4828 .
• E-mail us with your General Questions.

© 2011 Habitat for Humanity® International. All rights reserved.
“Habitat for Humanity®” and “Habitat®” are registered service marks owned by Habitat for Humanity International.


Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German Lutheran pastor, theologian and martyr

From Wikipedia

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (German pronunciation: [ˈdiːtʁɪç ˈboːnhœfɐ]; February 4, 1906 – April 9, 1945) was a German Lutheran pastor, theologian and martyr. He was also a participant in the German resistance movement against Nazism and a founding member of the Confessing Church. His involvement in plans by members of the Abwehr (the German Military Intelligence Office) to assassinate Adolf Hitler resulted in his arrest in April 1943 and his subsequent execution by hanging in April 1945, 23 days before the Nazis’ surrender. His view of Christianity’s role in the secular world has become very influential.[1]

From Wikiquotes

Time is the most precious gift in our possession, for it is the most irrevocable. … Time lost is time when we have not lived a full human life, time unenriched by experience, creative endeavor, enjoyment, and suffering.

In following Jesus, people are released from the hard yoke of their own laws to be under the gentle yoke of Jesus Christ. … Jesus’ commandment never wishes to destroy life, but rather to preserve, strengthen, and heal life.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (4 February 1906 – 9 April 1945) was a German Lutheran pastor, theologian, participant in the German resistance movement against Nazism and founding member of the Confessing Church.


Jesus is the Christ who was rejected in his suffering. Rejection removed all dignity and honor from his suffering.

Suffering and rejection express in summary form the cross of Jesus. Death on the cross means to suffer and to die as one rejected and cast out.

The cross is not random suffering, but necessary suffering. The cross is not suffering that stems from natural existence; it is the suffering that comes from being Christian. Time is the most precious gift in our possession, for it is the most irrevocable. This is what makes it so disturbing to look back upon the time which we have lost. Time lost is time when we have not lived a full human life, time unenriched by experience, creative endeavor, enjoyment, and suffering. Time lost is time not filled, time left empty. As quoted in LIFE magazine (22 April 1957), p. 152; also in Letters and Papers from Prison (1967), p. 47

Discipleship (1937)
Qutoes from English translations of Nachfolge (1937), also translated as The Cost of Discipleship (1949) Should the church be trying to erect a spiritual reign of terror over people by threatening earthly and eternal punishment on its own authority and commanding everything a person must believe and do to be saved? Should the church’s word bring new tyranny and violent abuse to human souls? It may be that some people yearn for such servitude. But could the church ever serve such a longing?
When holy scripture speaks of following Jesus, it proclaims that people are free from all human rules, from everything which presumes, burdens, or causes worry and torment of conscience. In following Jesus, people are released from the hard yoke of their own laws to be under the gentle yoke of Jesus Christ. … Jesus’ commandment never wishes to destroy life, but rather to preserve, strengthen, and heal life. “Preface”, as translated by Barbara Green and Reihhard Krauss (2001)

Discipleship and the Cross

As translated by Barbara Green and Reihhard Krauss (2001)

God honors some with great suffering and grants them the grace of martyrdom, while other are not tempted beyond their strength. But in every case it is one cross. Jesus Christ has to suffer and be rejected. … Suffering and being rejected are not the same. Even in his suffering Jesus could have been the celebrated Christ. Indeed, the entire compassion and admiration of the world could focus on the suffering. Looked upon as something tragic, the suffering could in itself convey its own value, its own honor and dignity. But Jesus is the Christ who was rejected in his suffering. Rejection removed all dignity and honor from his suffering. It had to be dishonorable suffering. Suffering and rejection express in summary form the cross of Jesus. Death on the cross means to suffer and to die as one rejected and cast out. It was by divine necessity that Jesus had to suffer and be rejected. Any attempt to hinder what is necessary is satanic. Even, or especially, if such an attempt comes from the circle of disciples, because it intends to prevent Christ from being Christ. The fact that it is Peter, the rock of the church, who makes himself guilty doing this just after he has confessed Jesus to be the Christ and has been commissioned by Christ, shows that from its very beginning the church has taken offense at the suffering of Christ. It does not want that kind of Lord, and as Christ’s church it does not want to be forced to accept the law of suffering from its Lord. p. 84

“If any want to become my followers,” Jesus says. Following him is not something that is self-evident, even among the disciples. No one can be forced, no one can be expected to follow him. … “If any want to follow me, they must deny themselves … and take up their cross.” p. 85

The cross is not random suffering, but necessary suffering. The cross is not suffering that stems from natural existence; it is the suffering that comes from being Christian. … A Christianity that no longer took discipleship seriously remade the gospel into only the solace of cheap grace. Moreover, it drew no line between natural and Christian existence. Such a Christianity had to understand the cross as one’s daily misfortune, as the predicament and anxiety of our daily life. Here it has been forgotten that the cross also means being rejected, that the cross includes the shame of suffering. Being shunned, despised, and deserted by people, as in the psalmists unending lament, is an essential feature of the suffering of the cross, which cannot be comprehended by a Christianity that is unable to differentiate between a citizen’s ordinary existence and a Christian existence. The cross is suffering with Christ. p. 86

God honors some with great suffering and grants them the grace of martyrdom, while other are not tempted beyond their strength. But in every case it is one cross.
It is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering that everyone has to experience is the call which summons us away from our attachments to this world. It is the death of the old self in the encounter with Jesus Christ. Those who enter into discipleship enter into Jesus’ death. p. 87

The Cross is not the terrible end of a pious happy life. Instead, it stands at the beginning of community with Jesus Christ. Whenever Christ calls us, his call leads us to death. p. 87
This quote ends with an oft quoted aphorism: Jeder Ruf Christi fährt in den Tod.
Variant translations:
Every call of Christ leads into death.
When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.

Jesus’ call to bear the cross places all who follow him in the community of the forgiveness of sins. Forgiving sins is the Christ-suffering required of his disciples. It is required of all Christians. p. 88

Costly Grace

Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting to-day for costly grace.

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.

Costly grace is the sanctuary of God; it has to be protected from the world, and not thrown to the dogs. As translated by R. H. Fuller, with some revision by Irmgard Booth (1959) Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting to-day for costly grace. Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks’ wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing. Since the cost was infinite, the possibilities of using and spending it are infinite. What would grace be if it were not cheap? Costly Grace, p 43

Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian “conception” of God. An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure remission of sins. The church which holds the correct doctrine of grace has, it is supposed, ipso facto a part of that grace. In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin. Cheap grace therefore amounts to a denial of the living Word of God, in fact, a denial of the Incarnation of the Word of God.
Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything, they say, and so everything can remain as it was before. Costly Grace, p 43

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all he has. It is the pearl of great price to by which the merchant will sell all his goods. p. 45

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.
Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. p. 45

God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.
Costly grace is the sanctuary of God; it has to be protected from the world, and not thrown to the dogs. It is therefore the living word, the Word of God, which he speaks as it pleases him. Grace is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” p. 49


Patient endurance of evil does not mean a recognition of its rights. That is sheer sentimentality, and Jesus will have nothing to do with it. The shameful assault, the deed of violence and the act of exploitation are still evil.

Jesus is no draughtsman of political blueprints, he is the one who vanquished evil through suffering.

Jesus calls those who follow him to share his passion. How can we convince the world by our preaching of the passion when we shrink from that passion in our own lives? As translated by R. H. Fuller, with some revision by Irmgard Booth (1959) The right way to requite evil, according to Jesus, is not to resist it. This saying of Christ removes the Church from the sphere of politics and law. The Church is not to be a national community like the old Israel, but a community of believers without political or national ties. The old Israel had been both — the chosen people of God and a national community, and it was therefore his will that they should meet force with force. But with the Church it is different: it has abandoned political and national status, and therefore it must patiently endure aggression. Otherwise evil will be heaped upon evil. Only thus can fellowship be established and maintained.
At this point it becomes evident that when a Christian meets with injustice, he no longer clings to his rights and defends them at all costs. He is absolutely free from possessions and bound to Christ alone. Again, his witness to this exclusive adherence to Jesus creates the only workable basis for fellowship, and leaves the aggressor for him to deal with.
The only way to overcome evil is to let it run itself to a stand-still because it does not find the resistance it is looking for. Resistance merely creates further evil and adds fuel to the flames. But when evil meets no opposition and encounters no obstacle but only patient endurance, its sting is drawn, and at last it meets an opponent which is more than its match. Of course this can only happen when the last ounce of resistance is abandoned, and the renunciation of revenge is complete. Then evil cannot find its mark, it can breed no further evil, and is left barren. p. 141

By willing endurance we cause suffering to pass. Evil becomes a spent force when we put up no resistance. By refusing to pay back the enemy with his own coin, and preferring to suffer without resistance, the Christian exhibits the sinfulness of contumely and insult. Violence stands condemned by its failure to evoke counter-violence. p. 142

By his willingly renouncing self-defence, the Christian affirms his absolute adherence to Jesus, and his freedom from the tyranny of his own ego. The exclusiveness of this adherence is the only power which can overcome evil. p. 142

Jesus bluntly calls the evil person evil. If I am assailed, I am not to condone or justify aggression. Patient endurance of evil does not mean a recognition of its rights. That is sheer sentimentality, and Jesus will have nothing to do with it. The shameful assault, the deed of violence and the act of exploitation are still evil. … The very fact that the evil which assaults him is unjustifiable makes it imperative that he should not resist it, but play it out and overcome it by patiently enduring the evil person. Suffering willingly endured is stronger than evil, it spells death to evil. p. 142

Jesus is no draughtsman of political blueprints, he is the one who vanquished evil through suffering. It looked as though evil had triumphed on the cross, but the real victory belonged to Jesus. And the cross is the only justification for the precept of non-violence, for it alone can kindle a faith in the victory over evil which will enable men to obey that precept. And only such obedience is blessed with the promise that we shall be partakers of Christ’s victory as well as his sufferings. p. 142

The passion of Christ is the victory of divine love over the powers of evil, and therefore it is the only supportable basis for Christian obedience. Once again, Jesus calls those who follow him to share his passion. How can we convince the world by our preaching of the passion when we shrink from that passion in our own lives? On the cross Jesus fulfilled the law he himself established and thus graciously keeps his disciples in the fellowship of his suffering. p. 142

Letters and Papers from Prison (1967; 1997)

The great masquerade of evil has played havoc with all our ethical concepts.

Who Stands Fast?

The great masquerade of evil has played havoc with all our ethical concepts. For evil to appear disguised as light, charity, historical necessity or social justice is quite bewildering to anyone brought up on out traditional ethical concepts, while for the Christian who bases his life on the Bible, it merely confirms the fundamental wickedness of evil. The “reasonable” people’s failure is obvious. With the best intentions and a naive lack of realism, they think that with a little reason they can bend back into position the framework that has got out of joint. In their lack of vision they want to do justice to all sides, and so the conflicting forces wear them down with nothing achieved. Disappointed by the world’s unreasonableness, they see themselves condemned to ineffectiveness; they step aside in resignation or collapse before the stronger party.
Still more pathetic is the total collapse of moral fanaticism. Fanatics think that their single-minded principles qualify them to do battle with the powers of evil; but like a bull they rush at the red cloak instead of the person who is holding it; he exhausts himself and is beaten. He gets entangled in non-essentials and falls into the trap set by cleverer people. p. 4

Who stands fast? Only the man whose final standard is not his reason, his principles, his conscience, his freedom, or his virtue, but who is ready to sacrifice all this when he is called to obedient and responsible action in faith and in exclusive allegiance to God — the responsible man, who tries to make his whole life an answer to the question and call of God. Where are these responsible people? p. 5

Civil Courage

Civil courage, in fact, can grow only out of the free responsibility of free men. What lies behind the complaint about the dearth of civil courage? In recent years we have seen a great deal of bravery and self-sacrifice, but civil courage hardly anywhere, even among ourselves. To attribute this simply to personal cowardice would be too facile a psychology; its background is quite different. In a long history, we Germans have had to learn the need for and the strength of obedience. In the subordination of all personal wishes and ideas to the tasks to which we have been called, we have seen the meaning and greatness of our lives. We have looked upwards, not in servile fear, but in free trust, seeing in our tasks a call, and in our call a vocation. This readiness to follow a command from “above” rather than our own private opinions and wishes was a sign of legitimate self-distrust. Who would deny that in obedience, in their task and calling, the Germans have again and again shown the utmost bravery and self-sacrifice? But the German has kept his freedom — and what nation has talked more passionately of freedom than the Germans, from Luther to the idealist philosophers? — by seeking deliverance from self-will through service to the community. Calling and freedom were to him two sides of the same thing. But in this he misjudged the world; he did not realize that his submissiveness and self-sacrifice could be exploited for evil ends. When that happened, the exercise of the calling itself became questionable, and all the moral principles of the German were bound to totter. The fact could not be escaped that the Germans still lacked something fundamental: he could not see the need for free and responsible action, even in opposition to the task and his calling; in its place there appeared on the one hand an irresponsible lack of scruple, and on the other a self-tormenting punctiliousness that never led to action. Civil courage, in fact, can grow only out of the free responsibility of free men. Only now are the Germans beginning to discover the meaning of free responsibility. It depends on a God who demands responsible action in a bold venture of faith, and who promises forgiveness and consolation to the man who becomes a sinner in that venture. p. 5

Are we still of any use?

What we shall need is not geniuses, or cynics, or misanthropes, or clever tacticians, but plain, honest, straightforward men. Will our inward power of resistance be strong enough, and our honesty with ourselves remoreseless enough, for us to find our way back to simplicity and straightforwardness? A letter sent out to his closest friends for New Year’s Day 1943, also published as After Ten Years : A Reckoning made at the New Year 1943 We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds: we have been drenched by many storms; we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretence; experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open; intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical. Are we still of any use? What we shall need is not geniuses, or cynics, or misanthropes, or clever tacticians, but plain, honest, straightforward men. Will our inward power of resistance be strong enough, and our honesty with ourselves remoreseless enough, for us to find our way back to simplicity and straightforwardness? p. 16

The view from below
There remains an experience of incomparable value. We have for once learned to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the outcasts, the suspects, the maltreated — in short, from the perspective of those who suffer. Mere waiting and looking on is not Christian behavior. Christians are called to compassion and to action. p. 17

The Friend
Der Freund, published in Widerstand und Ergebung, Briefe und Aufzeichnungen aus der Haft (1952), p. 269

A friend is a gift to a friend not from the heavy soil where blood and race and oaths are mighty and holy, where the earth itself watches over the sacred hallowed and ancient ordinances and defends and avenges them, not from the heavy soil of the earth, but from free choice and the free desire of the heart, which are not in need of an oath or a law.

Not from the heavy soil of the earth, but from the spirit’s choice and free desire, needing no oath of legal bond, is friend bestowed on friend.

The free man, too, will live and grow towards the sun.

The spirit would cast aside all deceit,
open his heart to the spirit he trusts,
and unite with him freely as one.

Man seeks, in his manhood,
not orders, not laws and peremptory dogmas,
but counsel from one who is earnest in goodness
and faithful in friendship,
making man free. Nicht aus dem schweren Boden
wo Blut und Geschlecht und Schwur
mächtig und heilig sind,
wo die Erde selbst
gegen Wahnsinn und
die geweihten heilgen uralten Ordnungen
hütet und schützt und rächt, —
nicht aus dem schweren Boden der Erde,
sondern aus freiem Gefallen
und freiem Verlangen des Geistes,
der nicht des Eides und des Gesetzes bedarf,
wird der Freund dem Freunde geschenkt. Not from the heavy soil
where blood and sex and oath
rule in their hallowed might,
where the earth itself,
guarding the primal consecrated order,
avenges wantonness and madness —
not from the heavy soil of the earth,
but from the spirit’s choice and free desire, needing no oath of legal bond,
is friend bestowed on friend.
Variant translation:
A friend is a gift to a friend
not from the heavy soil where blood and
race and oaths are mighty and holy,
where the earth itself watches over the sacred
hallowed and ancient ordinances
and defends and avenges them,
not from the heavy soil of the earth,
but from free choice and the free desire
of the heart, which are not in need of
an oath or a law. As translated in A New Critique of Theoretical Thought (1953) by Herman Dooyeweerd, Vol. 3, p. 179

Beside the staff of life,
taken and fashioned from the heavy earth,
beside our marriage, work, and war
the free man, too, will live and grow towards the sun.
Not the ripe fruit alone —
blossom is lovely, too.
Does blossom only serve the fruit,
or does fruit only serve the blossom —
who knows?
But both are given to us.
When the spirit touches
man’s heart and brow
with thoughts that are lofty, bold, serene,
so that with clear eyes he will face the world
as a free man may;
when the spirit gives birth to action
by which alone we stand or fall;
when from the sane and resolute action
rises the workd that gives a a man’s life
content and meaning — then would that many,
lonely and actively working,
know of the spirit that grasps and befriends him…
Sickened by vermin
that feed, in the shade of the good,
on envy, greed, and suspicion,
by the snake-like hissing
of venomous tongues
that fear hate and revile
the mystery of free thought
and upright heart
The spirit would cast aside all deceit,
open his heart to the spirit he trusts,
and unite with him freely as one.
Man seeks, in his manhood,
not orders, not laws and peremptory dogmas,
but counsel from one who is earnest in goodness
and faithful in friendship,
making man free.
Distant or near,
in joy or in sorrow,
each in the other
sees his true helper
to brotherly freedom.

Meditations on the Cross (1996)
Das Außerordentliche wird Ereignis : Kreuz und Auferstehung (1996), as edited by Manfred Weber, and translated by Douglas W. Scott (1998)

The Extraordinary is without doubt that visible element over which the Father in heaven is praised. It cannot remain hidden; people must see it.

Before Jesus leads His disciples into suffering, humiliation, disgrace, and disdain, He summons them and shows Himself to them as the Lord in God’s glory.

Encountering the Extraordinary

(first written 1934, revised up to 1937) What is the “extraordinary”? It is the love of Jesus Christ himself, love that goes to the cross in suffering obedience. It is the cross. The peculiar feature of Christian life is precisely this cross, a cross enabling Christians to go beyond the world, as it were, thereby granting them victory over the world. Suffering encountered in the love of the one who is crucified — that is the “extraordinary” in Christian existence.
The Extraordinary is without doubt that visible element over which the Father in heaven is praised. It cannot remain hidden; people must see it. p. 1

The activity will prove to be “peculiar” by leading the active person into Christ’s own passion. This activity itself is perpetual suffering and enduring. In it, Christ is suffered by his disciple. If this is not the case, it is not the activity Jesus intended. In this way, the “extraordinary” is the fulfilling of the law, the keeping of the commandments. p. 1

Back to the Cross

(written in 1936) Before Jesus leads His disciples into suffering, humiliation, disgrace, and disdain, He summons them and shows Himself to them as the Lord in God’s glory. Before the disciples must descend with Jesus into the abyss of human guilt, malice, and hatred, Jesus leads them to a high mountain from which they are to receive help. Before Jesus’ face is beaten and spat upon, before his cloak is torn and splattered with blood, the disciples are to see Him in his divine glory. His face shines like the face of God and light is the garment he wears. p. 3

We want Jesus as the visibly resurrected one, as the splendid, transfigured Jesus. We want his visible power and glory, and we no longer want to return to the cross, to believing against all appearances, to suffering in faith … it is good here… let us make dwellings. …
The disciples are not allowed to do this. God’s glory comes quite near in the radiant cloud of God’s presence, and the Father’s voice says: “This is my beloved son; listen to him!” … There is no abiding in and enjoying his visible glory here. Whoever recognizes the transfigured Jesus, whoever recognizes Jesus as God, must also immediately recognize Him as the crucified human being, and should hear him, obey him. Luther’s vision of Christ: “the crucified Lord!” … Now the disciples are overcome by fear. Now they comprehend what is going on. They were, after all, still in the world, unable to bear such glory. They sinned against God’s glory. p. 3

Quotes about Bonhoeffer

For Bonhoeffer, the foundation of ethical behaviour lay in how the reality of the world and the reality of God were reconciled in the reality of Christ. – Douglas Huff

He was sharply critical of ethical theory and of academic concerns with ethical systems precisely because of their failure to confront evil directly. – Douglas Huff

Cross and resurrection, suffering and the overcoming of death were central themes in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s exegetical and theological work. – Manfred Weber For Bonhoeffer, the foundation of ethical behaviour lay in how the reality of the world and the reality of God were reconciled in the reality of Christ. Both in his thinking and in his life, ethics were centered on the demand for action by responsible men and women in the face of evil. He was sharply critical of ethical theory and of academic concerns with ethical systems precisely because of their failure to confront evil directly. Evil, he asserted, was concrete and specific, and it could be combated only by the specific actions of responsible people in the world. The uncompromising position Bonhoeffer took in his seminal work Ethics, was directly reflected in his stance against Nazism. Douglas Huff, in “Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906—1945)” at The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

An unsystematic theologian in the tradition of Søren Kierkegaard who has spoken to successive generations of religiously questing young people is the Nazi-martyred Dietrich Bonhoeffer. At the age of thirty-nine he was executed for his implication in the abortive March 13, 1943 assassination plot on Adolf Hitler. His fragmentary writings have had an astonishing circulation and ready acceptance in many parts of the world. … Bonhoeffer questioned whether the modern church had so obscured the gospel by adding dogmas, burdensome rules, and irrelevant demands that to make a genuine decision for Christ has become extremely difficult, if not impossible … Discipleship, argued Bonhoeffer, means joy, and is not limited to the spiritual elite but is for everyone. William P. Anderson, in A Journey through Christian Theology (2000), p. 181

Bonhoeffer was disinterested in another world, opposed to setting apart so-called religious activities, such as prayer and church-going, from the everyday activities of earning a living or engaging in politics. … Religion if it is to be vital, must lead to the amelioration of social problems. William P. Anderson, in A Journey through Christian Theology (2000), p. 185

When Bonhoeffer comprehended the implications of Nazi policy towards citizens of Jewish origin, he became a convinced advocate of the need to have Hitler removed from office because he was a grotesque caricature of what a German head of state should be. Indeed, for Bohhoeffer Hitler was the agent of the Antichrist. Clearly, his principles for ultimately endorsing tyrannicide were strictly circumscribed and, as such, very different from any of the past English, American, or French revolutionaries in their situation. John Anthony Moses, in The Reluctant Revolutionary : Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Collision with Prusso-German History (2009), Introcuction, p. xi

Bonhoeffer was highly critical of the lack of intellectual rigor in Western thought … but becomes through his constructive criticism, and ardent advocate of ecumenism as an instrument that could be employed to advocate peace among nations. John Anthony Moses, in The Reluctant Revolutionary : Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Collision with Prusso-German History (2009), Introcuction, p. xix

Bonhoffer offers an insight into friendship. He notes that it is not easy to classify this relationship sociologically, unlike the relationships which derive from, what he refers to as, the divine mandates, namely marriage, work, the state and the church. Because it cannot be classified or defined as such, friendship cannot be protected by the courts or society in general. Rather, friendship develops in freedom, or as Bonhoffer says, friendship appeals to the necessitas of liberty. Friendship is defined by “the binding content between two people.” … The Christian’s service of God entails service of one’s neighbor. The community united in worship is a manifestation of God’s presence. In worship we “rehearse” or “act out” what we are to become as God’s people, namely “One.” Moreover, in a sense we “worship one another,” in that we are aware that each member of the community is an image of the living God. Thomas J. Scirghi, in An Examination of the Problems of Inclusive Language in the Trinitarian Formula of Baptism (2000), p. 127

Cross and resurrection, suffering and the overcoming of death were central themes in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s exegetical and theological work. Again and again during his lifetime … he focused on these themes, trying to disclose their relevance for human life and actions, and to answer the question regarding just what Christian life really is. Manfred Weber, in the Foreword to Meditations on the Cross (1996), p. vii

The Ultimate Questions

“Slam!” your head goes to the wall,
The barrier between you and the ultimate
Fulfillment, the meaning of existence,
Your existence, and the purpose of your life.

You can’t see through, you can’t see in,
The truth, the passageway, the gateway
To your salvation, not of your soul only,
But of your earthly, very human, life,

The body you breathe with,
The heart you feel with,
Desire with, yearn with,
The mind you reason with,

And yes, also the soul that gives
You life, the spark of genius
Imprinted on all of you,
That makes you, you,

That fire, that passion, that inspiration
And identity that tells you that “Hey,
I am me, I am the person who lives
In this body, feels with these emotions,

Exists, strives, fights, enjoys, suffers,
Struggles, connects, rejects, hurts,
And yes, also senses the earth,
Other creatures, other “me’s” all around.

“I am me, who is different from anyone,
Or anything else on this planet, in this
Galaxy, in this universe, or any other universe.”
“But,” you hesitate, “Who am I?”

That is the question that follows you
Every day of your life,
Keeps you up at night,
Haunts you, every step you take,

In every action, every reaction,
Every experience, with every feeling,
Every vision, every nightmare,
Every dream, every desire.

So, what is the answer?
And where, from who, or what,
Can it be found?
It would be nice to say,

All your questions can be answered,
All your doubts relieved, all your yearnings met
With a soothing, comforting
Affirmation of solace and contentment.

From this person, in this century,
At this place, in these words,
You may find truth,
Truth about yourself,

And truth in relation to everything
Else in your life, your experiences,
Your thoughts, your feelings,
Your hurts, your rage, your suffering.

In this religion, the “eternal truth”
Of all of existence is answered.
In this philosophy, the everlasting answer
To all questions is found.

But, is there really any place,
Any person, any time,
That holds the ultimate answer
To the ultimate question?

If there is, then why do members
Of the human race go on dying,
Suffering, doubting, scheming,
Yearning, hurting, losing, killing,

Wasting away into nothing,
From dust to dust,
What meaning is there in life?
What truth can be found in the end?

And if that truth can be found,
Why has it not redeemed the earth
And the heavens, the men and women,
The innocent creatures, and all the rest,

Of the earth? Why do we all continue
To search, to strive, to yearn to escape
This earthly existence, to find, in some
Other dimension, a better life,

Or simply, a release from this plane,
This prison that is being human?
Why do we go on searching?
And when will it all end?


Bling, blang, stop, ching, wing it
Stop fighting so I can slip through,
Please I don’t care about that, just
A bit of slack to go with my treats

Watch, witches will wail over roof
Tops at midnight like clocks in a
Metro town don’t leave don’t cleave
See it real see it true can’t be it me

Wander around the sea and the band
The noise and the hand of something
So ridiculously crazy and comfy if you
Go for that kind of thing, do you?

I’m not one for licking ticks but some
Times people prefer to take trips all
Over continents and things for some
Dastardly reason got me really how so

I don’t know just sayin’ that’s all where
To you get your joy I find it in strange
Places in simple things on quiet blinks
In comfortable sinks and pillows think

a gift

surfing the spam of life is like coming to the realization
that it’s all nothing important, just noise in my ear,
just distraction, just hidden agendas and dogmatic
mumbo jumbo. But does it really mean anything to
me personally. No, I don’t think so. Can I relate to it?

Of course not. It’s not within my paradigm, not my m.o.
I don’t see the world, myself, God, other people the way
that you do, and my values are different, as are my likes
and dislikes. The lens I see through is tainted by many
experiences, some worth the trouble, and some a tragedy.

And some actually are good, they lift me up, bring me to
a higher plane of existence, not necessarily closer to God,
although that is possible, but into a new self-awareness
and appreciation for life and how I interpret it. I see with
new lenses when I am gifted by another person, especially

when it is a gift that I did not merit or deserve. I was not
ambitious to claim it, but in fact it was a surprise. That is
how true gifts are: they are not expected nor asked for.
They come from another dimension inside someone else’s
head who is thinking or feeling on a totally different plane.

And all of a sudden, there it is, in all its glory. Some might
say grace happens, some might say shit happens, and they
both might mean the same thing about the same experience
or gift. Just because it is a gift, even a good gift, doesn’t
mean it will be appreciated, and especially not reciprocated.

The true gift has no expectations, there are no strings attached,
there is nothing owed, no tally of debt or favors, nothing counted.
It is all descended from an invisible cloud, which is why when so
many people receive a real gift, surrounded by all its genuine
mystery, they commonly ascribe it to a god or God. Because it

is a miracle, pure and simple. It is not the way of nature, of the
survival of the fittest, but given unconditionally, for no reason but
one: love. Love is such a mysterious thing, it comes in all sizes,
shapes, shades and colors. It comes from all directions, at all levels,
in all types of relationships. But it is not common. Definitely not.

Love is so foreign to most of us that when it happens we are filled
with disbelief and denial, rejecting the simple reality of the thing
in favor of some mysterious supernnatural power, as if only a
supernatural being has the capacity, the strength, the wisdom,
the knowledge, the power, the generosity…the grace to give it.

Or, we ascribe it to chance, which totally discredits and demeans
the value of the gift and the standing of the giver, as well as the
relationship between those receiving and those giving. That is the
truth of an every day tragedy, but the reality of gifts. They are
unrecognized, unappreciated, taken for granted, and denied, simply
for lack of trust.

Rules, Rules, Rules

Support–we all need it, crave it,
Loooooong for it, constantly,
In this world of struggling souls,
Empty and full of meaninglessness.

But how, and where?
What do we do when we’ve been shut out?
When we’ve been rejected by tradition,
or regulation, or discipline?

I once worked as a instructional assistant
For a local alternative high school.
I was a great tutor, mentor and
instructional assistant, for the most part.

Only one problem–I had no concept of
Following the rules that I never had to deal
with growing up, that were never an issue for me.
Rules that have been enacted because of “concern”

By parent organizations, teacher conferences,
principals and assistant principals, probably
just trying to keep order in the chaos of their
crazy job, but which impinge on the freedoms

of everyone around them: students, teachers,
parents and even themselves.
Rules, rules and more rules.
And the more rules that get enacted,

The more discipline it takes
to enforce those rules–blech!
I was never a disciplinarian.
You have to really, really get under

my skin to make me even care,
let alone say something,
and you have to drive me insane to
make me actually do something.

in today’s school systems,
this is not acceptable.
for the most part,
you are a babysitter first and foremost.

if you can squeeze in a little bit of
learning around that, more power to ya,
but I say all those crazy rules can many
times hold students, and teachers, back.

Thomas Merton, Mystic and Spiritual Master – Wikiquotes

From Wikiquote

Thomas Merton (31 January 1915 – 10 December 1968) 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 U.S. state of Kentucky, Merton was an acclaimed Catholic theologian, poet, author and social activist.

To say that I am made in the image of God is to say that Love is the reason for my existence, for God is love.
Love is my true identity. Selflessness is my true self. Love is my true character. Love is my name.

The biggest human temptation is … to settle for too little.

All problems are resolved and everything is clear. The rock, all matter, all life, is charged with dharmakaya… everything is emptiness and everything is compassion.

This new language of prayer has to come out of something which transcends all our traditions, and comes out of the immediacy of love. To say that I am made in the image of God is to say that Love is the reason for my existence, for God is love.
Love is my true identity. Selflessness is my true self. Love is my true character. Love is my name. Seeds of Contemplation (1949)

Persons are not known by intellect alone, not by principles alone, but only by love. It is when we love the other, the enemy, that we obtain from God the key to an understanding of who he is, and who we are. It is only this realization that can open to us the real nature of our duty, and of right action. To shut out the person and to refuse to consider him as a person, as an other self, we resort to the impersonal “law” and to abstract “nature.” That is to say we block off the reality of the other, we cut the intercommunication of our nature and his nature, and we consider only our own nature with its rights, its claims, it demands. And we justify the evil we do to our brother because he is no longer a brother, he is merely an adversary, an accused. To restore communication, to see our oneness of nature with him, and to respect his personal rights and his integrity, his worthiness of love, we have to see ourselves as similarly accused along with him … and needing, with him, the ineffable gift of grace and mercy to be saved. Then, instead of pushing him down, trying to climb out by using his head as a stepping-stone for ourselves, we help ourselves to rise by helping him to rise. For when we extend our hand to the enemy who is sinking in the abyss, God reaches out to both of us, for it is He first of all who extends our hand to the enemy. It is He who “saves himself” in the enemy, who makes use of us to recover the lost groat which is His image in our enemy. Letter to Dorothy Day (20 December 1961)

The biggest human temptation is … to settle for too little. As quoted in Forbes (4 August 1980)

I am able to approach the Buddhas barefoot and undisturbed, my feet in wet grass, wet sand. Then the silence of the extraordinary faces. The great smiles. Huge and yet subtle. Filled with every possibility, questioning nothing, knowing everything, rejecting nothing, the peace not of emotional resignation but of Madhyamika, of sunyata, that has seen through every question without trying to discredit anyone or anything — without refutation — without establishing some other argument. For the doctrinaire, the mind that needs well-established positions, such peace, such silence, can be frightening. The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton (1975) Part One : Ceylon / November 29 – December 6

Looking at these figures I was suddenly, almost forcibly, jerked clean out of the habitual, half-tied vision of things, and an inner clearness, clarity, as if exploding from the rocks themselves, became evident and obvious. … The thing about this is that there is no puzzle, no problem, and really no “mystery.”
All problems are resolved and everything is clear. The rock, all matter, all life, is charged with dharmakaya… everything is emptiness and everything is compassion. I don’t know when in my life I have ever had such a sense of beauty and spiritual validity running together in one aesthetic illumination. Surely with Mahabalipuram and Polonnaruwa my Asian pilgrimage has come clear and purified itself. I mean, I know and have seen what I was obscurely looking for. I don’t know what else remains but I have now seen and have pierced through the surface and have got beyond the shadow and the disguise.
The whole thing is very much a Zen garden, a span of bareness and openness and evidence, and the great figures, motionless, yet with the lines in full movement, waves of vesture and bodily form, a beautiful and holy vision. The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton (1975) Part One : Ceylon / November 29 – December 6

This new language of prayer has to come out of something which transcends all our traditions, and comes out of the immediacy of love. We have to part now, aware of the love that unites us, the love that unites us in spite of real differences, real emotional friction… The things on the surface are nothing, what is deep is the Real. We are creatures of Love. Let us therefore join hands, as we did before, and I will try to say something that comes out of the depths of our hearts. I ask you to concentrate on the love that is in you, that is in us all. I have no idea what I am going to say. I am going to be silent a minute, and then I will say something…
O God, we are one with You. You have made us one with You. You have taught us that if we are open to one another, You dwell in us. Help us to preserve this openness and to fight for it with all our hearts. Help us to realize that there can be no understanding where there is mutual rejection. O God, in accepting one another wholeheartedly, fully, completely, we accept You, and we thank You, and we adore You, and we love You with our whole being, because our being is Your being, our spirit is rooted in Your spirit. Fill us then with love, and let us be bound together with love as we go our diverse ways, united in this one spirit which makes You present in the world, and which makes You witness to the ultimate reality that is love. Love has overcome. Love is victorious. Amen. Closing statements and prayer from an informal address delivered in Calcutta, India (October 1968), from The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton (1975); quoted in Thomas Merton, Spiritual Master : The Essential Writings (1992), p. 237
The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another. Statement from his final address, during a conference on East-West monastic dialogue, delivered just two hours before his death (10 December 1968), quoted in Religious Education, Vol. 73 (1978), p. 292, and in The Boundless Circle : Caring for Creatures and Creation (1996) by Michael W. Fox

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy if anything can. Letter to Dorothy Day, quoted in Catholic Voices in a World on Fire (2005) by Stephen Hand, p. 180

The Seven Storey Mountain (1948)

Is there any man who has ever gone through a whole lifetime without dressing himself up, in his fancy, in the habit of a monk and enclosing himself in a cell where he sits magnificent in heroic austerity and solitude, while all the young ladies who hitherto were cool to his affections in the world come and beat on the gates of the monastery crying, “Come out, come out!”
There is not a flower that opens, not a seed that falls into the ground, and not an ear of wheat that nods on the end of its stalk in the wind that does not preach and proclaim the greatness and the mercy of God to the whole world. There is not an act of kindness or generosity, not an act of sacrifice done, or a word of peace and gentleness spoken, not a child’s prayer uttered, that does not sing hymns to God before his throne, and in the eyes of men, and before their faces
It is true that the materialistic society, the so-called culture that has evolved under the tender mercies of capitalism, has produced what seems to be the ultimate limit of this worldliness. And nowhere, except perhaps in the analogous society of pagan Rome, has there ever been such a flowering of cheap and petty and disgusting lusts and vanities as in the world of capitalism, where there is no evil that is not fostered and encouraged for the sake of making money. We live in a society whose whole policy is to excite every nerve in the human body and keep it at the highest pitch of artificial tension, to strain every human desire to the limit and to create as many new desires and synthetic passions as possible, in order to cater to them with the products of our factories and printing presses and movie studios and all the rest.
Everybody makes fun of virtue, which by now has, as its primary meaning, an affectation of prudery practiced by hypocrites and the impotent.

The Ascent to Truth (1951)

We drive by night. Nevertheless our reason penetrates the darkness enough to show us a little of the road ahead. It is by the light of reason that we interpret the signposts and make out the landmarks along our way. One might compare the journey of the soul to mystical union, by way of pure faith, to the journey of a car on a dark highway. The only way the driver can keep to the road is by using his headlights. So in the mystical life, reason has its function. The way of faith is necessarily obscure. We drive by night. Nevertheless our reason penetrates the darkness enough to show us a little of the road ahead. It is by the light of reason that we interpret the signposts and make out the landmarks along our way.
Those who misunderstand Saint John of the Cross imagine that the way of nada is like driving by night, without any headlights whatever. This is a dangerous misunderstanding of the saint’s doctrine. Ch. X : Reason in the Life of Contemplation, p. 114

Thoughts in Solitude (1956)

Contradictions have always existed in the soul of [individuals]. But it is only when we prefer analysis to silence that they become a constant and insoluble problem. We are not meant to resolve all contradictions but to live with them and rise above them and see them in the light of exterior and objective values which make them trivial by comparison.

The Secular Journal of Thomas Merton (1959)

There is a logic of language and a logic of mathematics. The former is supple and lifelike, it follows our experience. The latter is abstract and rigid, more ideal. The latter is perfectly necessary, perfectly reliable: the former is only sometimes reliable and hardly ever systematic. But the logic of mathematics achieves necessity at the expense of living truth, it is less real than the other, although more certain. It achieves certainty by a flight from the concrete into abstraction. Doubtless, to an idealist, this would seem to be a more perfect reality. I am not an idealist. The logic of the poet — that is, the logic of language or the experience itself — develops the way a living organism grows: it spreads out towards what it loves, and is heliotropic, like a plant.

Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (1966)

It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race, though it is a race dedicated to many absurdities and one which makes many terrible mistakes: yet, with all that, God Himself gloried in becoming a member of the human race. A member of the human race! To think that such a commonplace realization should suddenly seem like news that one holds the winning ticket in a cosmic sweepstake.

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Thomas Merton, 20th century Catholic writer, Trappist monk, poet, social activist and student of comparative religion

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Thomas Merton, O.C.S.O. (January 31, 1915 – December 10, 1968) was a 20th century Anglo-American Catholic writer. A Trappist monk of the Abbey of Gethsemani, Kentucky, he was a poet, social activist and student of comparative religion. In 1949, he was ordained to the priesthood and given the name Father Louis.[1][2][3]

Merton wrote more than 70 books, mostly on spirituality, social justice and a quiet pacifism, as well as scores of essays and reviews, including his best-selling autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain (1948), which sent scores of disillusioned World War II veterans, students, and even teen-agers flocking to monasteries across the US,[4][5] and was also featured in National Review’s list of the 100 best non-fiction books of the century.[6] Merton was a keen proponent of interfaith understanding. He pioneered dialogue with prominent Asian spiritual figures, including the Dalai Lama, D.T. Suzuki, the Japanese writer on the Zen tradition, and the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh. Merton has also been the subject of several biographies.


Early life

On January 31, 1915, Thomas Merton was born in Prades, France, to Owen Merton, a New Zealand painter active in Europe and the United States, and Ruth Jenkins, an American Quaker and artist.[7] He was baptized in the Church of England, in accordance with his father’s wishes.[8] Owen Merton, a struggling artist, was often absent during his son’s upbringing.

In August 1915, with World War I raging, the Merton family left Prades for the United States. They settled first with Ruth’s parents on Long Island, New York and then near them in Douglaston, New York. In 1917, the family moved into an old house in Flushing, New York where Merton’s brother, John Paul, was born on November 2, 1918.[9] The family was considering returning to France, when Ruth was diagnosed with stomach cancer, from which she died on October 21, 1921, in Bellevue Hospital, New York. Merton was six years old.[10]

In 1922, Merton and his father traveled to Bermuda, having left John Paul with his in-laws, the Jenkins family, in Douglaston.[11] While the trip was short, Merton’s father fell in love with the American novelist Evelyn Scott, then married to Cyril Kay-Scott. Still grieving his mother, Merton never quite hit it off with Evelyn Scott. Her son, Creighton, later said that she was verbally abusive to Merton during their stay.[citation needed]

Happy to get away from the company of Evelyn Scott, in 1923 Merton returned to Douglaston to live with the Jenkins family and his brother John Paul. Owen Merton, Evelyn Scott and her husband Cyril Kay-Scott set sail for Europe, traveling through France, Italy, England and Algeria. Merton later half-jokingly referred to this odd trio as the “Bermuda Triangle”. During the winter of 1924, while in Algeria, Merton’s father became ill and was thought to be near death. In retrospect, the illness could have been an early symptom of the brain tumor that eventually took his life. The news of his father’s illness weighed heavily on Merton. The prospect of losing his sole surviving parent filled him with anxiety.[12]

By March 1925, Owen Merton was well enough to organize a show at the Leicester Galleries in London. He later returned to New York and then took Merton with him to live in Saint-Antonin in France. Merton returned to France with mixed feelings, as he had lived with his grandparents for the last two years and had become attached to them.[13] During their travels, Merton’s father and Evelyn Scott had discussed marriage on occasion. After the trip to New York, his father realized that it could not work, as Merton would not be reconciled to Scott. Unwilling to sacrifice his son for the romance, Owen Merton broke off the relationship.

France 1926

In 1926, when Merton was eleven, his father enrolled him in a boys’ boarding school in Montauban, the Lycée Ingres. The stay brought up feelings of loneliness and depression for Merton, as he felt deserted by his father. During his initial months of schooling, Merton begged his father to remove him. As time passed, however, he gradually became more comfortable with his surroundings there. He made friends with a circle of young and aspiring writers at the Lycée and came to write two novels.[14]

Sundays at the Lycée offered a nearby Catholic Mass, but Merton never attended. He often managed a Sunday visit home. A Protestant preacher would come to teach on Sunday at the Lycée for those who did not attend Mass, but Merton showed no interest. During the Christmas breaks of 1926 and 1927, he spent his time with friends of his father in Murat (a small town in the Auvergne). He admired the devout Catholic couple, whom he saw as good and decent people, but religion only once came up as a topic between them. Merton declared that all religions “lead to God, only in different ways, and every man should go according to his own conscience, and settle things according to his own private way of looking at things.” He wanted them to argue with him, but they did not. As he came to understand later, they realized that his attitude “implied a fundamental and utter lack of faith, and a dependence on my own lights, and attachment to my own opinion”; furthermore, since “I did not believe in anything,… anything I might say I believed would be only empty talk.”[15]

Meanwhile, Owen Merton was off traveling and painting and attending an exhibition of his work in London, but in the summer of 1928 he took Merton out of the Lycée Ingres, informing him that they were headed together to England.[citation needed]

England 1928

Merton and his father moved to the home of Owen’s aunt and uncle in Ealing, West London. Merton was soon enrolled in Ripley Court Preparatory School, another boarding school, this one in Surrey. Merton enjoyed his studies there and benefited from a greater sense of community than had existed at the lycée. On Sundays, all students attended services at the local Anglican church. Merton began routinely praying, but discontinued the practice after leaving the school.

During his holidays, Merton stayed at his great-aunt and uncle’s home, where occasionally his father would visit. During the Easter vacation, 1929, Merton and Owen went to Canterbury. Merton enjoyed the countryside around Canterbury, taking long walks there. When the holiday ended, Owen returned to France, and Merton to Ripley. Towards the end of that year, Thomas Merton learned that his father was ill and living in Ealing. Merton went to see him and together they left for Scotland, where a friend had offered his house for Owen to recover in. Shortly after, Owen was taken to London to the North Middlesex Hospital. Merton soon learned his father had a brain tumor. He took the news badly, but later, when he visited Owen in hospital, the latter seemed to be recovering. This helped ease some of Merton’s anxiety.

In 1930, Merton stayed at Oakham School, a boarding school in Rutland, England. He was successful there. At the end of the first year, his grandparents and John Paul visited him. His grandfather discussed his finances, telling him he would be provided for if Owen died. Merton and the family spent most of that summer visiting the hospital to see his father, who was so ill he could no longer speak. This caused Merton much pain. On 16 January 1931, just as the term at Oakham had restarted, Owen died. Tom Bennett, Owen Merton’s physician and former classmate in New Zealand, became Merton’s legal guardian. He let Merton use his house in London, which was unoccupied, during the Oakham holidays. That year, Merton visited Rome and Florence for a week. He also saw his grandparents in New York during the summer. Upon his return to Oakham, Merton became joint editor of the school magazine, the Oakhamian.

At this period in his life, Merton was a complete agnostic. In 1932, on a walking tour in Germany, he got an infection under a toenail. Unwisely, he ignored it and it developed into a case of blood-poisoning so severe that at one point he thought he was going to die. But “the thought of God, the thought of prayer did not even enter my mind, either that day, or all the rest of the time that I was ill, or that whole year. Or if the thought did come to me, it was only as an occasion for its denial and rejection.” His declared “creed” was “I believe in nothing.”[16]

In September, he learned he had passed the entrance exam for Clare College, Cambridge. On his 18th birthday, tasting new freedom, he went off on his own. He stopped off in Paris, Marseilles, then walked to Hyeres, where he ran out of money and wired Bennett for more. Scoldingly Bennett granted his request, which may have shown Merton he cared. Merton then walked to Saint Tropez, where he took a train to Genoa and then another to Florence. From Florence he left for Rome, a trip that in some ways changed the course of his life.

Rome 1933

Two days after arriving in Rome in February 1933, Merton moved out of his hotel and found a small pensione with views of the Palazzo Barberini and San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, two magnificent pieces of architecture rich with history. In The Seven Storey Mountain, Merton remarks:

I had been in Rome before, on an Easter vacation from school, for about a week. I had seen the Forum and the Colosseum and the Vatican museum and St. Peter’s. But I had not really seen Rome. This time, I started out again, with the misconception common to Anglo-Saxons, that the real Rome is the Rome of the ugly ruins, the hills and the slums of the city.[17]

Merton began going to the churches, not quite knowing why he felt so drawn to them. He did not attend Mass; he was just observing and appreciating them. One day, he happened upon a church near the Roman Forum. In the apse of the church, he saw a great mosaic of Jesus Christ coming in judgement in a dark blue sky and was transfixed. Merton had a hard time leaving the place, though he was unsure why. Merton had officially found the Rome he said he didn’t see on his first visit: Byzantine Christian Rome.

From this point on in his trip he set about visiting the various churches and basilicas in Rome, such as the Lateran Baptistery, Santa Costanza, the Basilica di San Clemente, Santa Prassede and Santa Pudenziana (to name a few). He purchased a Vulgate (Latin Bible), reading the entire New Testament. One night in his pensione, Merton had the sense that Owen was in the room with him for a few moments. This mystical experience led him to see the emptiness he felt in his life, and he said that for the first time in his life he really prayed, asking God to deliver him from his darkness. The Seven Storey Mountain also describes a visit to Tre Fontane, a Trappist monastery in Rome. While visiting the church there, he was at ease, yet when entering the monastery he was overtaken with anxiety. That afternoon, while alone, he remarked to himself: “I should like to become a Trappist monk.” He would eventually become a monk, and although some Trappist monks chose to take an oath of silence, Merton was always very vocal about his beliefs in his writings.[18]

United States 1933

Merton took a boat from Italy to the United States to visit his grandparents in Douglaston for the summer, before entering Clare College. Initially he retained some of the spirit he had had in Rome, continuing to read his Latin Bible. He wanted to find a church to attend, but had still not quite quelled his antipathy towards Catholicism. He went to Zion Episcopal Church in Douglaston, but was irritated by the services there, so he went to Flushing, New York, and attended a Quaker Meeting. Merton appreciated the silence of the atmosphere but couldn’t feel at home with the group. By mid-summer, he had lost nearly all the interest in organized religion that he had found in Rome. At the end of the summer he returned to England.


Cambridge University

In October 1933, Merton entered Clare College as an undergraduate. Merton, now 18, seems to have viewed Clare College as the end-all answer to his life without meaning. In The Seven Storey Mountain, the brief chapter on Cambridge paints a fairly dark, negative picture of his life there but is short on detail.

Some schoolmates of Merton at Oakham, then attending Cambridge with him, remember that Tom drifted away and became isolated at Cambridge. He started drinking excessively, hanging out at the local bars rather than studying. He was also very free with his sexuality at this time, some friends going so far as to call him a womanizer. He also spent freely—far too freely in Bennett’s opinion—and he was summoned for the first of what was to be a series of stern lectures in his guardian’s London consulting rooms. Although details are sketchy—they appear to have been excised from a franker first draft of the autobiography by the Trappist censors—most of Merton’s biographers agree that he fathered a child with one of the women he encountered at Cambridge and there was some kind of legal action pending that was settled discreetly by Bennett. By any account, this child has never been identified.[citation needed]

By this time Bennett had had enough and, in a meeting in April, Merton and his guardian appear to have struck a deal: Merton would return to the States and Bennett would not tell Merton’s grandparents about his indiscretions. In May Merton left Cambridge after completing his exams.

Columbia University

In January 1935 Merton enrolled as a sophomore at Columbia University in Manhattan. He lived with the Jenkins family in Douglaston and took a train to the Columbia campus each day. Merton’s years at Columbia matured him, and it is here that he discovered Catholicism in a real sense. These years were also a time in his life where he realized others were more accepting of him as an individual. In short, at 21 he was an equal among his peers. At that time he established a close and long-lasting friendship with the proto-minimalist painter Ad Reinhardt.

Tom began an 18th Century English literature course during the spring semester taught by Mark Van Doren, a professor with whom he maintained a friendship until death. Van Doren didn’t teach his students, at least not in any traditional sense; he engaged them, sharing his love of literature with all. Merton was also interested in Communism at Columbia, where he briefly joined the Young Communist League; however, the first meeting he attended failed to interest him further and he never went back.

During summer break John Paul returned home from Gettysburg Academy in Pennsylvania. The two brothers spent their summer breaks bonding with each another, claiming later to have seen every movie produced between 1934 and 1937. When the fall semester arrived, John Paul left to enroll at Cornell University while Tom returned to Columbia. He began working for two school papers, a humor magazine called the Jester and the Columbia Review. Also on the Jester’s staff were the poet Robert Lax and the journalist Ed Rice. Lax and Merton became best friends and kept up a lively correspondence until Merton’s death; Rice later founded the Catholic magazine Jubilee, to which Merton frequently contributed essays. Merton also became a member of Alpha Delta Phi that semester and joined the Philolexian Society, the campus literary and debate group.

In October 1935, in protest of Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia, Merton joined a picket of the Casa Italiana. The Casa Italiana, established in 1926, was conceived of by Columbia and the Italian government as a “university within a university”. Merton also joined the local peace movement, having taken “the Oxford Pledge” to not support any government in any war they might undertake.

In 1936 Merton’s grandfather, Samuel Jenkins, died. Merton and his grandfather had grown rather close through the years, and Merton immediately left school for home upon receiving the news. He states that, without thinking, he went to the room where his grandfather’s body was and knelt down to pray over him.

In February 1937, Merton read a book that opened his mind to Catholicism. It was titled The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy by Étienne Gilson, and inside he encountered an explanation of God that he found both logical and pragmatic. Tom purchased this book because he was taking a class on medieval French literature, not seeing the nihil obstat in the book denoting its Catholic origin. This work was pivotal, paving the way for more encounters with Catholicism. Another author Merton began reading at this time was Aldous Huxley, whose book Ends and Means introduced Merton to mysticism. In August of the same year, Tom’s grandmother, Bonnemaman, died.

In January 1938 Merton graduated from Columbia with a B.A. in English. After graduation he continued at Columbia, doing graduate work in English. In June, a friend, Seymour Freedgood, arranged a meeting with Mahanambrata Brahmachari, a Hindu monk in New York visiting from the University of Chicago. Merton was very impressed by the man, seeing that he was profoundly centered in God, and expected him to recommend his beliefs and religion to them in some manner. Instead, Brahmachari recommended that they reconnect with their own spiritual roots and traditions. He suggested Merton read The Confessions of Augustine and The Imitation of Christ. Although Merton was surprised to hear the monk recommending Catholic books, he read them both. He also started to pray again regularly.[19]

For the next few months Merton began to consider Catholicism as something to explore again. Finally, in August 1938, he decided he wanted to attend Mass and went to Corpus Christi Church located near to the Columbia campus on West 121st Street in Morningside Heights. Mass was foreign to him, but he listened attentively. Following this experience, Merton’s reading list became more and more geared toward Catholicism. While doing his graduate work, he was writing his thesis on William Blake, whose spiritual symbolism he was coming to appreciate in new ways.

One evening in September, Merton was reading a book about Gerard Manley Hopkins’ conversion to Catholicism and how he became a priest. Suddenly he could not shake this sense that he, too, should follow such a path. He grabbed his coat and headed quickly over to the Corpus Christi Church rectory, where he met with a Fr. George Barry Ford, expressing his desire to become Catholic. The next few weeks Merton started catechism, learning the basics of his new faith. On November 16, 1938, Thomas Merton was baptized at Corpus Christi Church and received Holy Communion.[20] On February 22, 1939, Merton received his M.A. in English from Columbia University. Merton decided he would pursue his Ph.D. at Columbia and moved from Douglaston to Greenwich Village.

In January 1939 Merton had heard good things from friends of his about a part-time teacher on campus named Daniel Walsh, so he decided to take a course on Thomas Aquinas with Walsh. Through Walsh, Merton was introduced to Jacques Maritain at a lecture on Catholic Action, which took place at a Catholic Book Club meeting the following March. Merton and Walsh developed a lifelong friendship, and it was Walsh who convinced Merton that Thomism was not for him. On May 25, 1939, Merton received Confirmation at Corpus Christi, and took the confirmation name James.



In October 1939, Merton invited friends back to sleep over at his place following a long night out at a jazz club. Over breakfast, Merton told them of his desire to become a priest. Soon after this epiphany, Merton visited Fr. Ford at Corpus Christi to share his feeling. Ford agreed with Merton, but added that he felt Merton was suited for the diocesan priesthood and advised against joining an order.

Soon after, Merton met with his teacher Dan Walsh, whom he trusted to advise him on the matter. Walsh disagreed with Ford’s assessment that Merton was suited to a secular calling. Instead, he felt Merton was spiritually and intellectually more suited for a priestly vocation in a specific order. So they discussed the Jesuits, Cistercians and Franciscans. Since Merton had appreciated what he had read of Saint Francis of Assisi, he felt that might be the direction in which he was being called.

Walsh set up a meeting with a Fr. Edmund Murphy, a friend at the monastery of St. Francis of Assisi on 31st Street. The interview went well and Merton was given an application, as well as Fr. Murphy’s personal invitation to become a Franciscan friar. However, he noted that Merton would not be able to enter the novitiate until August 1940 because that was the only month in which they accepted new postulants. Merton was very excited, yet disappointed that it would be another year before he would fulfill his calling.

By 1940 Merton began to have doubts about whether he was fit to be a Franciscan. He felt he had never truly been upfront about his past with Fr. Murphy or Dan Walsh. It is possible some of this may have concerned his time at Cambridge, though he is never specific in The Seven Storey Mountain about precisely what he felt he was hiding. Merton arranged to see Fr. Murphy and tell him of his past troubles. Fr. Murphy was understanding during the meeting, but told Tom he ought to return the next day once he had time to consider this new information. That next day Fr. Murphy delivered Merton devastating news. He no longer felt Merton was suitable material for a Franciscan vocation as a friar, and even said that the August novitiate was now full. Fr. Murphy seemed uninterested in helping Merton’s cause any further, and Merton believed at once that his calling was finished.

St. Bonaventure University

In early August 1940, the month he would have entered the Franciscan novitiate, Merton went to Olean, New York, to stay with friends, including Robert Lax and Ed Rice, at a cottage where they had vacationed the summer before. This was a tough time for Merton, and he wanted to be in the company of friends. Merton now needed a job. In the vicinity was St. Bonaventure University, a Franciscan university he had learned about through Fr. Edmund. The day after arriving in Olean, Merton went to St. Bonaventure for an interview with then-president Fr. Thomas Plassman. Fortuitously, there was an opening in the English department and Merton was hired on the spot. Merton chose St. Bonaventure because he still harbored a desire to be a friar, and felt that he could at least live among them if not be one of them.

In September 1940, Merton moved into a dormitory on campus. (His old room in Devereux Hall has a sign above the door to this effect.) While Merton’s stay at Bonaventure would prove brief, the time was pivotal for him. While teaching there, his spiritual life blossomed as he went deeper and deeper into his prayer life. He all but gave up drinking, quit smoking, stopped going to movies and became more selective in his reading. In his own way he was undergoing a kind of lay renunciation of worldly pleasures. In April 1941, Merton went to a retreat he had booked for Holy Week at the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani near Bardstown, Kentucky. At once he felt a pull to the place, and could feel his spirits rise during his stay.

Returning to St. Bonaventure with Gethsemani on his mind, Merton returned to teaching. In May 1941 he had an occasion where he used his old Vulgate, purchased in Italy back in 1933, as a kind of oracle. The idea was that he would randomly select a page and blindly point his finger somewhere, seeing if it would render him some sort of sign. On his second try Merton laid his finger on a section of The Gospel of Luke which stated, “Behold, thou shalt be silent.” Immediately Merton thought of the Cistercians. Although he was still unsure of his qualifications for a religious vocation, Merton felt he was being drawn more and more to a specific calling.

In August 1941 Merton attended a talk at the school given by Catherine de Hueck. Hueck had founded the Friendship House in Toronto and its sister house in Harlem, which Merton visited. Appreciative of the mission of Hueck and Friendship House, which was racial harmony and charity, he decided to volunteer there for two weeks.[21] Merton was amazed at how little he had learned of New York during his studies at Columbia. Harlem was such a different place, full of poverty and prostitution. Merton felt especially troubled by the situation of children being raised in the environment there. Friendship House had a profound impact on Merton, and he would speak of it often in his later writing.

In November 1941 Hueck asked if Merton would consider becoming a full-time member of Friendship House, to which Merton responded cordially yet noncommittally. He still felt unfit to serve Christ, and even hinted at such in a letter to Hueck that same month, in which he implied he was not good enough for her organization. In early December Merton let Hueck know that he would definitely not be joining Friendship House, explaining his persistent attraction to the priesthood.

Monastic life

On December 10, 1941 Thomas Merton arrived at the Abbey of Gethsemani and spent three days at the monastery guest house, waiting for acceptance into the Order. The novice master would come to interview Merton, gauging his sincerity and qualifications. In the interim, Merton was put to work polishing floors and scrubbing dishes. On December 13 he was accepted into the monastery as a postulant by Dom Frederic Dunne, Gethsemani’s Father Abbot since 1935. Merton’s first few days did not go smoothly. He had a severe cold from his stay in the guest house, where he sat in front of an open window to prove his sincerity. But Merton devoted himself entirely to adjusting to the austerity, enjoying the change of lifestyle. During his initial weeks at Gethsemani, Merton studied the complicated Cistercian sign language and daily work and worship routine.

In March 1942, during the first Sunday of Lent, Merton was accepted as a novice monk at the monastery. In June, he received a letter from his brother John Paul stating he was soon to leave for war and would be coming to Gethsemani to visit Merton before leaving. On July 17 John Paul arrived in Gethsemani and the two brothers did some catching up. John Paul expressed his desire to become Catholic, and by July 26 was baptized at a church in nearby New Haven, Kentucky, leaving the following day. This would be the last time the two saw each other. John Paul died on April 17, 1943 when his plane’s engines failed over the English Channel. A poem by Merton to John Paul appears at the end of The Seven Storey Mountain.


Merton kept journals throughout his stay at Gethsemani. Initially he had felt writing to be at odds with his vocation, worried it would foster a tendency to individuality. Fortunately his superior, Father Abbot Dom Frederic, saw that Merton had a gifted intellect and talent for writing. In 1943 Merton was tasked to translate religious texts and write biographies on the saints for the monastery. Merton approached his new writing assignment with the same fervor and zeal he displayed in the farmyard.

On March 19, 1944, Merton made his temporary profession of vows and was given the white cowl, black scapular and leather belt. In November 1944 a manuscript Merton had given to friend Robert Lax the previous year was published by James Laughlin at New Directions: a book of poetry titled Thirty Poems. Merton had mixed feelings about the publishing of this work, but Dom Frederic remained resolute over Merton continuing his writing. In 1946 New Directions published another poetry collection by Merton, A Man in the Divided Sea, which, combined with Thirty Poems, attracted some recognition for him. The same year Merton’s manuscript for The Seven Storey Mountain was accepted by Harcourt Brace & Company for publication. The Seven Storey Mountain, Merton’s autobiography, was written during two-hour intervals in the monastery scriptorium as a personal project.

By 1947 Merton was more comfortable in his role as a writer. On March 19 he took his solemn vows, a commitment to live out his life at the monastery. He also began corresponding with a Carthusian at St. Hugh’s Charterhouse in Parkminster, England. Merton had harbored an appreciation for the Carthusian order since coming to Gethsemani in 1941, and would later come to consider leaving the Cistercians for the Order. On July 4 the Catholic journal Commonweal published an essay by Merton titled Poetry and the Contemplative Life.

In 1948 The Seven Storey Mountain was published to critical acclaim, with fan mail to Merton reaching new heights. Merton also published several works for the monastery that year, which were: Guide to Cistercian Life, Cistercian Contemplatives, Figures for an Apocalypse, and The Spirit of Simplicity. That year Saint Mary’s College (Indiana) also published a booklet by Merton, What Is Contemplation? Merton published as well that year a biography, Exile Ends in Glory: The Life of a Trappistine, Mother M. Berchmans, O.C.S.O. Merton’s Father Abbot, Dom Frederic Dunne, died on August 3, 1948 on a trainride to Georgia. Dunne’s passing was painful for Merton, who had come to look on the Abbot as a father figure and spiritual mentor. On August 15 Dunne was replaced by Dom James Fox, a former U.S. Navy officer. In October Merton discussed with the new Abbot his ongoing attraction to the Carthusian Order, to which Fox responded by assuring Merton that he belonged at Gethsemani. Fox permitted Merton to continue his writing, Merton now having gained substantial recognition outside the monastery. On December 21 Merton was ordained as a subdeacon.

On January 5, 1949 Merton took a train to Louisville and applied for U.S. citizenship. Published that year were Seeds of Contemplation, The Tears of Blind Lions, The Waters of Siloe, and the British edition of The Seven Storey Mountain under the title Elected Silence. On March 19 Merton became a deacon in the Order, and on May 26 (Ascension Thursday) he was ordained a priest, saying his first Mass the following day. In June the monastery celebrated its centenary, for which Merton authored the book Gethsemani Magnificat in commemoration. In November Merton started teaching mystical theology to novices at Gethsemani, a duty he greatly enjoyed. By this time Merton was a huge success outside the monastery, The Seven Storey Mountain having sold over 150,000 copies. In subsequent years Merton would author many other books, amassing a wide readership. He would revise Seeds of Contemplation several times, viewing his early edition as error-prone and immature. A person’s place in society, views on social activism, and various approaches toward contemplative prayer and living became constant themes in his writings.

In December a fellow priest at the monastery allowed Merton to take the monastery jeep out on the property for a drive. Merton, having never learned to drive, wound up hitting some trees and running through ditches, flipping the jeep halfway over in the middle of the road. Needless to say, he never used the jeep again.

During his long years at Gethsemani Merton changed from the passionately inward-looking young monk of The Seven Storey Mountain, to a more contemplative writer and poet. Merton became well known for his dialogues with other faiths and his non-violent stand during the race riots and Vietnam War of the 1960s.

By the 1960s, he had arrived at a broadly human viewpoint, one deeply concerned about the world and issues like peace, racial tolerance, and social equality. He had developed a personal radicalism which had political implications but was not based on ideology, rooted above all in non-violence. He regarded his viewpoint as based on “simplicity” and expressed it as a Christian sensibility. In a letter to a Latin-American Catholic writer, Ernesto Cardenal, Merton wrote: “The world is full of great criminals with enormous power, and they are in a death struggle with each other. It is a huge gang battle, using well-meaning lawyers and policemen and clergymen as their front, controlling papers, means of communication, and enrolling everybody in their armies.”[22]

Merton finally achieved the solitude he had long desired while living in a hermitage on the monastery grounds in 1965. Over the years he had occasional battles with some of his abbots about not being allowed out of the monastery despite his international reputation and voluminous correspondence with many well-known figures of the day.

At the end of 1968, the new abbot, the Reverend Flavian Burns, allowed him the freedom to undertake a tour of Asia, during which he met the Dalai Lama in India on three occasions, and also the Tibetan Buddhist Dzogchen master, Chatral Rinpoche, followed by a solitary retreat near Darjeeling. Then in what was to be his final letter he noted, “In my contacts with these new friends, I also feel a consolation in my own faith in Christ and in his dwelling presence. I hope and believe he may be present in the hearts of all of us.”.[23] He also made a visit to Polonnaruwa (in what was then Ceylon), where he had a religious experience while viewing enormous statues of the Buddha. There is speculation that Merton wished to remain in Asia as a hermit.

Personal life and death

According to The Seven Storey Mountain, the youthful Merton loved jazz but by the time he began his first teaching job he had forsaken all but peaceful music. Later in life, whenever he was permitted to leave Gethsemani for medical or monastic reasons, he would catch what live jazz he could, mainly in Louisville or New York.

In April 1966, Merton underwent a surgical procedure to treat debilitating back pain. While recuperating in a Louisville hospital, he fell in love with a student nurse assigned to his care. He wrote poems to her and reflected on the relationship in “A Midsummer Diary for M.” Merton struggled to maintain his vows while being deeply in love with the woman he referred to in his personal diary as “M”. He remained chaste, never consummating the relationship. After ending the relationship, he recommitted himself to his vows.[24]

On December 10, 1968, Merton had gone to attend an interfaith conference between Catholic and non-Christian monks. While stepping out of his bath, he reached out to adjust an electric fan and apparently touched an exposed wire and was accidentally electrocuted.[25] He died 27 years to the day after his entrance into the Abbey of Gethsemani in 1941.[26] His body was flown back to the United States and he is buried at Gethsemani Abbey.

Contact with Buddhism

Merton was first exposed to and became interested in Eastern religions when he read Aldous Huxley’s Ends and Means in 1937, the year before his conversion to Catholicism.[27] Throughout his life, he studied Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, Jainism and Sufism in addition to his academic and monastic studies.[28]

Merton was not interested in what these traditions had to offer as doctrines and institutions, but deeply interested in what each said of the depth of human experience. This is not to say that Merton believed that these religions did not have valuable rituals or practices for him and other Christians, but that, doctrinally, Merton was so committed to Christianity and he felt that practitioners of other faiths were so committed to their own doctrines that any discussion of doctrine would be useless for all involved.

He believed that for the most part, Christianity had forsaken its mystical tradition in favor of Cartesian emphasis on “the reification of concepts, idolization of the reflexive consciousness, flight from being into verbalism, mathematics, and rationalization.”[29] Eastern traditions, for Merton, were mostly untainted by this type of thinking and thus had much to offer in terms of how to think of and understand oneself.

Merton was perhaps most interested in — and, of all of the Eastern traditions, wrote the most about — Zen. Having studied the Desert Fathers and other Christian mystics as part of his monastic vocation, Merton had a deep understanding of what it was those men sought and experienced in their seeking. He found many parallels between the language of these Christian mystics and the language of Zen philosophy.[30]

In 1959, Merton began a dialogue with D.T. Suzuki which was published in Merton’s Zen and the Birds of Appetite as “Wisdom in Emptiness”. This dialogue began with the completion of Merton’s The Wisdom of the Desert. Merton sent a copy to Suzuki with the hope that he would comment on Merton’s view that the Desert Fathers and the early Zen masters had similar experiences. Nearly ten years later, when Zen and the Birds of Appetite was published, Merton wrote in his postface that “any attempt to handle Zen in theological language is bound to miss the point”, calling his final statements “an example of how not to approach Zen.”[31] Merton struggled to reconcile the Western and Christian impulse to catalog and put into words every experience with the ideas of Christian apophatic theology and the unspeakable nature of the Zen experience.

In keeping with Merton’s idea that non-Christian faiths had much to offer Christianity in terms of experience and perspective and little or nothing in terms of doctrine, Merton distinguished between Zen Buddhism, an expression of history and culture, and Zen.[30] What Merton meant by Zen Buddhism was the religion that began in China and spread to Japan as well as the rituals and institutions that accompanied it. By Zen, Merton meant something not bound by culture, religion or belief. In this capacity, Merton was influenced by the book Zen Catholicism.[32] With this idea in mind, Merton’s later writings about Zen may be understood to be coming more and more from within an evolving and broadening tradition of Zen which is not particularly Buddhist but informed by Merton’s monastic training within the Christian tradition.[33]


Merton’s influence has grown since his death and he is widely recognized as an important 20th-century Catholic mystic and thinker. Interest in his work contributed to a rise in spiritual exploration beginning in the 1960s and 1970s in the US. Merton’s letters and diaries reveal the intensity with which their author focused on social justice issues, including the civil rights movement and proliferation of nuclear arms. He had prohibited their publication for 25 years after his death. Publication raised new interest in Merton’s life.

Merton is honored with a feast day on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church (USA) on December 10.

The Abbey of Gethsemani benefited from the royalties of Merton’s writing.[34] In addition, his writings attracted much interest in Catholic practice and thought, and in the Cistercian vocation.

In recognition of Merton’s close association with Bellarmine University, the university established an official repository for Merton’s archives at the Thomas Merton Center on the Bellarmine campus in Louisville, Kentucky.

The Thomas Merton Award, a peace prize, has been awarded since 1972 by the Thomas Merton Center for Peace and Social Justice in Pittsburgh.

An annual lecture in his name is given at his alma mater, Columbia University.

Bishop Morocco/Thomas Merton Catholic Secondary School in downtown Toronto, Canada is named in part after him.

Some of Merton’s manuscripts that include correspondence with his superiors are located in the library of the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, GA.



1.^ Reichardt, Mary R. (2004). Encyclopedia of Catholic Literature, Volume 2. Greenwood Press. p. 450. ISBN 031332803X.
2.^ Thomas Merton Collection – Thomas Merton Center, Bellarmine University.
3.^ “Chronology of Merton’s life” – Thomas Merton Center, Bellarmine University
4.^ “FICTION: 1949 BESTSELLERS: Non Fiction”. TIME. Dec. 19, 1949. Retrieved May 25, 2010.
5.^ “Religion: The Mountain”. TIME. April 11, 1949.
6.^ National Review’s list of the 100 best non-fiction books of the century National Review website
7.^ Seven Storey Mountain, 3-5.
8.^ Seven Storey Mountain, 6.
9.^ Seven Storey Mountain, 7-9.
10.^ Seven Storey Mountain, 15-18.
11.^ Seven Storey Mountain, 20-22.
12.^ Seven Storey Mountain, 30-31.
13.^ Seven Storey Mountain, 31-41.
14.^ Seven Storey Mountain, 57-58
15.^ Seven Storey Mountain, 63-64
16.^ Seven Storey Mountain, 99.
17.^ Seven Storey Mountain, 107.
18.^ Seven Storey Mountain, 114.
19.^ Niebuhr, Gustav (November 1, 1999). “Mahanambrata Brahmachari Is Dead at 95”. New York Times. Retrieved May 25, 2010.
20.^ Thomas Merton’s paradise journey: writings on contemplation, By William Henry Shannon, Thomas Merton, Continuum International Publishing Group, 2000 p. 278
21.^ Pennington, M. Basil (2005). Thomas Merton: I have seen what I was looking for : selected spiritual writings. New City Press. p. 12. ISBN 1565482255.
22.^ Letter, November 17, 1962, quoted in Monica Furlong’s Merton: a Biography, p. 263.
23.^ “Religion: Mystic’s Last Journey”. TIME. August 6, 1973. Retrieved May 25, 2010.
24.^ Learning to Love, p. 110
25.^ “Religion: The Death of Two Extraordinary Christians”. TIME. December 20, 1968. pp. 3, 4. Retrieved May 25, 2010.
26.^ “Monks of Abbey of Gethsemani: Thomas Merton (profile)”. Abbey of Gethsemani.
27.^ Solitary Explorer: Thomas Merton’s Transforming Journey p.100
28.^ Thomas Merton – Contemplative, Mystic, Panentheist
29.^ Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander p.285
30.^ a b Solitary Explorer: Thomas Merton’s Transforming Journey p.105
31.^ Zen and the Birds of Appitite p.139
32.^ Solitary Explorer: Thomas Merton’s Transforming Journey p.106
33.^ Solitary Explorer: Thomas Merton’s Transforming Journey p.112
34.^ Robert Giroux (October 11, 1998). “Thomas Merton’s Durable Mountain”. New York Times.

Additional reading

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Thomas Merton

2008 – Graham, Terry, The Strange Subject – Thomas Merton’s Views on Sufism, 2008, SUFI: a journal of Sufism, Issue 30
2007 – Deignan, Kathleen, A Book of Hours: At Prayer With Thomas Merton (2007), Sorin Books, ISBN 1-93349-505-7
2006 – Weis, Monica, Paul M. Pearson, Kathleen P. Deignan, Beyond the Shadow and the Disguise: Three Essays on Thomas Merton (2006), The Thomas Merton Society of Great Britain and Ireland, ISBN 0-95515-711-0
2003 – Merton, Thomas, Kathleen Deignan Ed., John Giuliani, Thomas Berry, When The Trees Say Nothing (2003), Sorin Books, ISBN 1-89373-260-6
2002 – Shannon, William H., Christine M. Bochen, Patrick F. O’Connell The Thomas Merton Encyclopedia (2002), Orbis Books, ISBN 1-57075-426-8, 556 p.
1997 – Merton, Thomas, “Learning to Love”, The Journals of Thomas Merton, Volume Six 1966-1967(1997), ISBN 0-06-065485-6. (see notes for page numbers)
1992 – Shannon, William H., Silent Lamp: The Thomas Merton Story (1992), The Crossroad Publishing Company, ISBN 0-8245-1281-2 biography
1991 – Forest, Jim, Living With Wisdom: A Life of Thomas Merton (1991), Orbis Books, ISBN 0-88344-755-X, 226 p. illustrated biography.
1984 – Mott, Michael, The Seven Mountains of Thomas Merton (1984), Harvest Books 1993: ISBN 0-15-680681-9, 710 p. authorized biography.
1978 – Merton, Thomas, The Seven Storey Mountain (1978), A Harvest/HBJ Book, ISBN 0-15-680679-7. (see notes for pages)

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Thomas Merton, Mystic and Spiritual Master, from The Merton Institute

(From http://www.mertoninstitute.org/)

“Thomas Merton’s remarkable and enduring popularity indicates that he touches the hearts of people searching for answers to life’s important questions. For many, he is a constant spiritual companion; for others, his writings provide guidance through life’s difficult moments. He takes people into deep places within themselves and offers insight to the paradoxes of life. He shares how to be contemplative in a world of action while offering no quick fixes, no ten easy steps to a successful spiritual life.

At the core of Thomas Merton’s spiritual writings is the search for the “true self” and our need for relationship with God, other people, and all of creation. He finds that when we are apart from God, we experience alienation and desolation. Merton believes that we must discover God as the center of our being. It is in this center that all things tend and where all of our activity must be directed.

Merton’s writings were prophetic; they highlight the major issues that confronted society in his time and still confront society today. They illustrate the growing alienation of humanity. Whether it is war, social and racial injustice, violence, or religious intolerance, the source of the problem is that man “has become alienated from his inner self which is the image of God.”

The degree of humanity’s alienation is reflected in the unrelenting violence of our time. Wars and acts of nations around the globe caused the death of more than 500 million people in the 20th century. Closer to home, schoolchildren kill their fellow students in schools, and incidences of racial and domestic violence and child abuse occur with appalling frequency. The violence surrounds us. We must change direction or perish. This requires a social conversion, a turning away from destructive behavior and a turning toward a relational way of being. The first step in this turning is a transformation of consciousness. Thomas Merton is a preeminent guide in this first step and throughout the journey.

There is in the world today a thirst for God. People are seeking a reversal of the trends toward consumerism and materialism, prejudice and violence. They are discovering that what one does must be a means of both self-fulfillment and service to others.

Throughout history, the role of spiritual master has been recognized and valued. Thomas Merton is a spiritual master whose influence crosses generations and religious affiliations. His message offers us bracing and brotherly advice on how we can be conscious and attentive to God in order to hear the answers to the difficult questions in our lives.

Thomas Merton’s message and life helps us build a new paradigm for living, one that integrates the contemplative in each of us with our external activities. His message is a source of deep change in a culture of superficial solutions, a window through which we see the possibilities for a peaceful and just world.”

-The Merton Institute

“Every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul. For just as the wind carries thousands of winged seeds, so each moment brings with it germs of spiritual vitality that come to rest imperceptibly in the minds and wills of men. Most of these unnumbered seeds perish and are lost, because men are not prepared to receive them: for such seeds as these cannot spring up anywhere except in the good soil of freedom, spontaneity, and love.”

“The ever-changing reality in the midst of which we live should awaken us to the possibility of an uninterrupted dialogue with God.”

Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation

Freaking Out

freaking out is not a new thing for me,
but sobbing my eyes out is.
last night I did both.
what a weird experience.

being bipolar is usually manageable,
but when your doctor goes changing your
meds too much you end up in a mess.
last time I had a major change,

many years ago, with a different doctor,
I ended up suicidal and
admitting myself to the mental clinic.
now THAT’s not a fun experience either.

at first you think you’re on vacation,
then you go to group therapy and
doctors start giving you a hard time
because you write weird stuff on paper–

NEVER keep a journal in there!
They will read it without asking,
and they will misinterpret it
and then grill you for hours,

and if you mention anyone’s name
in there, any one you like or don’t like,
that’s even worse.
at that time I was into free writing

in a very “out there” way (worse than now),
with dangerous and scary thoughts
that scared some nosey, suspicious
people in there even more.

they start overanalyzing everything
you write and accusing you of having
plans to carry out every fantasy you
have about anything, ANYTHING!

They forbid you to be alone with
people you are attracted to,
even if you just wrote something down
but have explained to them

in no uncertain terms,
over and over, that you have no
intention of carrying any of
your wild fantasies out.

after that experience I learned
my lesson: keep all wild fantasies
to yourself when around anyone
who might be the least bit

judgmental or who has any
power over you whatsoever.
when you enter a mental hospital
they won’t admit you without

you signing your rights away,
giving them complete control
over you and the ability
to keep you locked into

their clinic until the doctor
assigned to you deems it
okay to let you loose on
the public again.

the first time I went to
a mental hospital,
my psychiatrist told me
I was just scared of my own

thoughts, but was in fact
no danger to anyone,
including myself,
because I had a good

value system and knew
right and wrong and
respected that.
so, next time I had a

problem, they would not
take me back, no matter what.
that doctor saw to it,
that I would never be allowed

back in that clinic again, I guess.
weird. WEIRD, I tell you.
They only want people who
don’t want to help themselves

so they can force them into
doing what they don’t want
to do, not the people who really
are moral and want to get better.

is that what our health care
system has come to?
was I not worth their time
because they needed the bed

for someone who they could
lock up for a longer amount
of time and who would fight
them tooth and nail instead

of be reasonable and rational?
do they want to help people, or
just control people?
Enough said.