Monday, December 20, 2010

Advent Books to Ponder

Advent for the Christian is the 4-week season of waiting that precedes the celebration of Jesus the Savior’s coming into the world.  Unfortunately, it is greatly overshadowed by the frenetic frenzy of a commercialized Christmas in our American culture today.  To remind us of the spiritual significance of Christmas, the Incarnation, I offer two small books with thoughts to ponder:

First, The Reed of God,  by Caryll Houselander –a classic.
It is not a new book, and even if you have read it, it bears re-reading.  The author uses simple symbols for the theme of waiting:  the reed on the river bank, empty and waiting for the breath of someone to create a gentle melody; the empty nest, awaiting the arrival of a new-born bird; and the chalice, empty and waiting for the sacramental presence of Jesus.

Mary of Nazareth, after her acceptance of the unbelievable honor of becoming the Mother of God’s own Son, enters upon a time of expectant waiting.  Sensing that this privileged role will include both joy and sorrow, she empties herself of self, intent only in providing a welcome home for Jesus, the Savior, and doing the will of God.

An attitude of expectant waiting to celebrate the awesome event of God’s taking on a human form and becoming our brother and Redeemer, is not only the role of Mary, but also of every Christian.  Receptive to God’s coming, we may also experience the joy of a personal re-birth.


The second book is Advent and Psychic Birth, by Mariann Burke

This author, a Jungian therapist, a graduate student of scripture and theology and a member of a religious order, speaks of Advent from an entirely different perspective.  She presents a background of the Advent season by describing ancient myths and practices during the winter solstice, with celebrations of the return of the sun.  They spoke of the sun as “the new child”, whose arrival was preceded by a period of expectant waiting. 

Various cultures in a variety of ways expressed the themes of anticipation, longing and hope, synonymous with our Advent themes and reflected in the Scripture readings of the season’s liturgy.  Themes of darkness and light, of death and re-birth and even of fear of the new and unknown, were used.  Regarding the theme of fear, some of our Advent Scripture could invoke that also, for example those containing such predictions as “The powers of the heavens will be shaken”, and even the Baptist’s stern command to repent

These themes are transformed into joy as Mary is chosen to bear the very Son of God, along with images of dew, streams of clear water, freshness and new life.  Psychological language is used to depict the “re-birth” of God into the world and a psychic birth in ourselves. Colors were chosen for various myths and celebrations.  It is interesting that the color assigned to “re-birth” is red. So besides inheriting themes for Advent from days gone by, it appears that we have also inherited our favorite Christmas color from the past.  The book is quite fascinating, and if you can find time in these last days for reading, I think you would enjoy it.

Monday, December 6, 2010

"Let in the Light, Facing the Hard Stuff With Hope” by Patricia M. Livingston

This small book presents powerful lessons for life.  With stories from her own experience and from the lives of others, Ms. Livingston shows that a “mess” can become a “blessing;” that what seems to be a disaster can often become a blessing in disguise.  She uses light as a metaphor for things spiritual:  Just as the light of the sun brought life into existence at the creation of the universe (according to the well-known physicist Brian Swimme), so the divine light can dispel the darkness in our soul and bring us new life.
And we can be a light for others by our prayer and goodness.
The author says that as photosynthesis in the physical world enables plant forms to capture sunlight and ensure their survival, so in opening ourselves to the light of God’s goodness we become filled with trust and hope that serves us well in times of pain and darkness.  And, she says, when we remain in darkness, our sufferings can always be united with the redemptive Passion of the Lord Jesus.

You will find this book easy and pleasant to read, besides being a source of valuable insights for living.  You would enjoy it.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Holy Longing, The Search for a Christian Spirituality, by Ronald Rolheiser, O.M.I.

Fr. Rolheiser begins by saying that the word spirituality is greatly misunderstood. Many of us think of it only as related to praying, reading spiritual books or going to church. But he says that it has a much broader meaning. It channels our basic desire, longing, “eros.”  We all have a spirituality, and it dictates the way we live.

Christian spirituality must include private prayer;  private morality;  mellowness of heart and spirit;  and involvement with a faith community (church). The Incarnation must be central, with Christ as the basis, the heart. It requires that we harness our desire. Rolheiser says we never attain perfect peace in this life, as desire is always stronger than satisfaction.

The author lists some spiritualities within the Christian category:  that of Church; the Paschal Mystery; Justice and Peace-Making; and Sexuality.  He explains everything by using stories and real-life experiences.  His definitions, explanations and interpretations are at times surprising and unique.  The book ends with a chapter on the necessity of sustaining ourselves in the spiritual life.  It is meant for all who have an interest in the life of the spirit.  It is not easy reading, but is worth the effort.

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, by Kim Edwards

This stunning and heart-rending novel begins on a winter’s night in 1964.  David and Norah, married barely a year and very deeply in love are expecting their first child.  Because of a blizzard, David is forced to take charge of the delivery, and immediately after the birth of a baby boy, he is shocked to see a twin sister.  On seeing her, he tells his wife that the twin was very tiny and was dead at birth.

Norah, although pleased with their first-born son and loves and trusts her husband, somehow suspects that he has not told her the truth, as she was not allowed to see the tiny twin..  She lavishes all her love and attention on their son, but throughout the years she is haunted and saddened by the thought of the missing daughter and of a possible deception. Her trust in the husband she still loves has been badly shaken.

Gradually both Norah and David become totally absorbed in their own careers and hobbies and friends, and they slowly drift apart.  Their family secrets and mutual coldness also affects their son, who shares in their pain.  The story has a bitter-sweet ending, with a touch of redemptive love.  It is masterfully written, and I know you would enjoy it.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Care for Creation, A Franciscan Spirituality of the Earth, by Ilia Delio, Keith Douglas Warner and Pamela Wood.

The book begins with a quote from Thomas Berry:  “The human community and the natural world will go into the future as a single sacred community or we will both perish in the desert.”  It is a very recent book, published in 2008.  It is small, but powerful, composed of Four basic parts:  Creation and the Incarnation; Creation as a Family;  Creation and Contemplation and Creation and Conversion.  Each part has three short chapters, and it also includes Methods of Reflective Action, Guided Prayer Experiences, and directions for Calculating Your Individual Carbon Emissions.

Unlike most of the newer books, it does not include the stipulation that no part of it may be reproduced in any form without the express permission of the publisher.  Therefore I presume that direct quotes are allowed.  So I will use some in this review.

The very first page begins with, “Earth, with all its creatures, is in crisis, and responding to this crisis will require every possible resource of our human community.” --“Life is amazing.  All life is utterly dependent upon our planet for everything it needs.”  -“In our solar system, only Earth provides the conditions necessary for life.” -  “In Earth’s ecosystem, plants are the primary producers.  Members of the animal kingdom are consumers.”  -   “Today we are changing creation as never before through various technologies.”  - “Francis of Assisi was at home in the cosmos.”  -  “The life of Francis shows us that right relation in creation is not easy.”  -  “Francis teaches us that God is incarnate in all of creation…”  -  “Do unto the earth as you would want done unto you.” – “Francis recognized the Incarnate Word of God in all creatures.” -  “To love God we must also love what God loves.”  -   “Francis came to realize that it is Christ who sanctifies creation and  transforms it into the sacrament of God.  The intimate link between creation and Incarnation revealed to Francis that the whole of creation is the place to encounter God.  He discovered himself to be a member of the large diverse family of creation.”  -  “To Francis’ approach to life, is the recognition that we are not separate, isolated entities, but are inter-related to all of creation.”  (With these quotes you can see something of the Franciscan spirituality of the earth.)

Grim statements to consider:  “It would take five earths full of resources to supply the entire human family with an American lifestyle. (!)  -  “Roughly 1.2 billion people could be sustained at our standard of living.  But…we share the planet with more than six billion other humans.   We…are taking more than our share of the earth’s goods, and throwing away too much waste.”  -  “Consuming resources beyond the earth’s capacity to regenerate them is a form of stealing from future generations or other places.

These are all the quotes I will offer.  But I will mention that the final chapter of this book is entitled “The Spirituality of Conversion.”  It does appear that some conversion is in order.  (If you think I have quoted out of context, perhaps I have.    To have an accurate view of this book, it would be best to read it in full. It’s only 216 pages.)

Evening Thoughts, “Reflecting on Earth as Sacred Community” by Thomas Berry, edited by Mary Evelyn Tucker

“Among the contemporary voices for the earth, none resonates like that of the noted cultural historian Thomas Berry.” (book jacket)  In these essays and countless earlier writings, he shares with us his wisdom gained from years of study of the universe, the earth, and of the creatures that called it their home for billions of years.  He claims that after the arrival of the humans, “the newcomers” he calls us, peace and harmony on the planet continued for many more billions of years.  But beginning with the technological era of the 1900’s and accelerating rapidly to the present, the greed and over-consumption of the human community, especially in the western parts of the world, Europe and the Americas, the riches of the earth are gradually becoming depleted.

The title of this book (Evening Thoughts,) could very well refer to the possible end of the earth as we know it, unless a concerted global effort is made by the human race to save our planet, and also to the evening of his own life.  Born in 1915, he would have been in his late 90’s by the time the book was published, in 2006. During his long life he made an amazing contribution to society, telling us repeatedly and most eloquently of the beauty and riches of nature, and the crisis the earth is now in, the gravest in the history of the world.  Fr. Barry died recently, and despite his valiant efforts to speak the truth of the earth’s precarious situation, the devastation of our planet continues. It is true that a growing number of people all over the world are beginning to recognize the crisis we are in, but unless drastic measures are made to bring the earth back to health, it may be too late.  (Thomas Berry still hoped something will be done.  Read his earlier book, The Great Work.) He is by no means the only ecologist with the message that it was primarily humankind that caused the earth crisis, and it is up to all of us to correct it.  Most of his  books end with a lengthy bibliography and list of other resources.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

"The Dream of the Earth" by Thomas Berry

Thomas Berry is a Catholic priest, monk, ecologist and a gifted writer.  This book consists of 16 essays on the universe, the earth, and the creatures that live on “this privileged planet,” as he calls it.  They include the topics of creative energy, technology, spirituality and other aspects of earth study, set in the broad context of  “a fantastic universe,” with its great swirling galaxies, its super novas…our solar system.  He gives the history of the universe, of the earth, and of the creatures that lived in it, including humans, whom he calls “the latest arrivals,” after 25 billion years of history of the universe, and after 4.4 billion years of the history of the earth.

Fr. Berry traces the journey of humankind through its many cultures, civilizations and relationships with the earth from the beginning to modern times, which he says is now undergoing the greatest crisis the world has ever known.  Earth scientists say we are losing 10,000 species each year, and this rate of loss is increasing.

Considering the humans in our part of the world, Berry expresses the greatest admiration for the Indians who populated the Americas, claiming that everything was safe and secure until the invasion of the white man.  He speaks admirably of the Indian’s ability  to interact creatively with the earth.  He also claims that they could very well help shape the future of this continent, and that we have more to learn from them than they have to learn from us.  Some of their tribal chiefs were among the greatest leaders we have ever known.

The scope of this book is so vast…covering many billions of years.  It is impossible to do it justice in a brief report such as this.  Read it, and see how marvelous it is!

"The Great Work: Our Way Into The Future" by Thomas Berry

Fr. Berry is called “the leading spokesperson for the earth,” that his great ecological insight at this moment in history illuminates the path we need to take in the areas of ethics, politics, economics and education if both we and the earth are to survive.  Quite a sobering statement!  Berry speaks of the challenging future that lies ahead of us as we begin the 21st century.

The author says that we have lost contact with the universe, and that living with the earth in a cooperative manner instead of depleting its riches and selfishly dominating and exploiting it, is the work of everyone on earth…beginning now and continuing into the future.  He says we are entering into an era more crucial than at any other time in the history of the universe, that living here now is both a privilege and an awesome responsibility to which we must respond with all means available.  The manner of humans living on the earth with the other creatures and riches of our planet must be re-invented in order to avoid total destruction….a process that is well underway.  We must no longer consider ourselves the center of the universe, nor can we allow politics or corporations to dictate our actions.

As is all of Berry’s books, he ends with a lengthy bibliography of sources, more than enough to last a lifetime for the serious student of care for Mother Earth.  The entire book is a profound and eloquent call to action, not to be taken lightly.  Read it if you possibly can!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Henri Nouwen, Writings Selected, by Robert A. Jonas

 For any reader who does not know Henri Nouwen, one of the most popular spiritual writers of our day, this small book would be an excellent one to begin with.  In the first 79 pages the author, who is a close friend and a psychotherapist, gives a detailed biographical sketch of Henri Nouwen, not only his life and career, but with insights into him as an extraordinary person, deeply spiritual and also plagued with inner turmoil.

Henri Nouwen was born in Holland in 1932.  As a child he was unique, restless and active, always “on the go.” Even at an early age he was entranced by the Roman Catholic Mass, especially the Eucharist.  Jesus became his life-long mentor and model.  He studied in Jesuit schools and later in a Dutch seminary, where he studied the usual theology and Scripture and also psychology, at his request.  After his ordination he spent two years at the Meninger Institute in Topeka, Kansas, exploring human psychology.  He then returned to Holland, obtained a doctorate in theology, taught for a time in a Dutch university and went back to the U.S., where he was a professor at Notre Dame, Harvard and Yale.  He was a gifted teacher, and his lectures and seminars were always given to a packed audience.

Nouwen was also interested in social justice.  He mourned the death of Jack and Robeet Kennedy, attended the funeral of Martin Luther King, marched with the Blacks in Atlanta, and with Buddhist monks in protest of the Vietnam War.  In the 1970’s he felt called to Latin America, where he lived for two years in a poor barrio in Lima, Peru, later spent some time in Mexico and in Nicaragua, where he spoke with the Sandinistas.

He lived intensely, kept close contact with countless friends (including a family of trapeze performers he met in Europe), sent gifts and answered every letter he received.  His love for people, his need for friendship and sharing of ideas, and his inability to say no to any request kept him at a dizzying pace, often with 18 hour days.  He often suffered from exhaustion and felt spiritually drained.  In 1988 he spent 7 months of recuperation     in Winnipeg after a severe emotional collapse.

Besides being a popular speaker, Nouwen was a gifted writer, authoring some thirty books, plus essays, journals and countless letters.  Despite his lofty education and many years of teaching on the university level, he wrote in a simple style, heart to heart, avoiding theological terms or vocabulary beyond the scope of the majority of adults, around the themes of blessedness, brokenness, death and resurrection.  His readers included people of all faiths. In a recent survey asking 3,400 Protestant church leaders who had most influenced them, he ranked second, ahead of Billy Graham.  His own study included Hindu and Zen sources besides Sacred Scripture and Catholic documents.  Most of his books are small, with the exception of his masterpiece, The Return of the Prodigal Son,  which he wrote after contemplating for hours the massive original painting done by Rembrandt of the same title, in an art museum in Russia. The book is as remarkable as the painting.

After a frenetic but fruitful life, and after disregarding a warning to slow down, he died of a massive heart attack in 1997 in Canada, at age 65.  Not having learned to pace his activities or to say no to any request, he literally worked himself to death. 

I invite you to do yourself a favor, and read this book or any others by Henri Nouwen. You will find him spiritually enriching and inspiring.   

"When the Trees Say Nothing: Writings on Nature" by Thomas Merton

In this small book we see Thomas Merton very much akin to St. Francis in his love of creation.  For 169 pages he expresses poetically his love of trees, mountains, birds, flowers…everything in nature.  He says that he and these creatures form an ecological balance.  Merton also speaks of “non-ecology.”  Examples include the destructive un-balance of nature caused by poisons, bombs, fallout, exploitation – with contaminated water, ruined land, chemicals in the soil and machinery ravaging the ground.

He says also that wealth is poison, that there is no misery that can compare with that of those who live with total success of technology, that the greatest poverty is among the prosperous.  Speaking to people in Third World countries where they have nothing, he asks if they imagine that they would no longer in need if they were to become as prosperous as those living in the United States.  He answers “No,” that there they would be in even greater need.

Merton does not extol poverty as a basic virtue, as does Francis, and he says that for himself he needs to live alone, in the silence of the forest, where the dark warmth of the world is his love, that he needs to be alone at “the resurrection of the day,” at the moment when the affairs of governments, of cities, of war departments seem of little worth.

So Merton’s idea of poverty and his insistence of needing to be alone in the enjoyment of nature differ radically from Francis’ extolling of “Lady Poverty,” and his love for brotherhood.  But it is very interesting to see to what extent Merton’s ideas are quite “Franciscan.”

This book paints a new picture of Thomas Merton and his spirituality.  I think you would enjoy it.

"The Shattered Lantern, Rediscovering a Felt Presence of God," by Ronald Rolheiser

The title of this book is taken from an ancient tale of a mad man who comes to a town, goes into the town square, faces the crowd of townspeople, shatters the lighted lantern and shouts loudly, “God is dead!  And we have killed Him!

The majority of us, followers of one of the world’s great  religions that believe in the one God…Jewish, Islam and Christianity…know that God is not dead but very much alive, in the universe, in heaven on earth, all around us and within us.  But the problem, says the author, is that at times we cannot find God.

Those of us who live in the western part of the word, particularly in Europe and the U.S.,  have several traits, Rolheiser claims, that militate against our finding God.  He lists these as narcissism, pragmatism, unbridled restlessness, and the loss of the ancient instinct for astonishment.  We are too caught up in ourselves, in our own welfare, needs and wants, too full of ourselves to have room for any other, even God.

We are too caught up with busy-ness, efficiency, sensibleness and practicality. We see what is good and true as what works.  Science alone is trustworthy and believable.  We all believe there is an atom, although none of us has seen it.  We cannot see God, and therefore we secretly doubt that God exists, even though we say we are believers.  We are a restless people, not restful.  We are greedy for experience of all kinds, are dissatisfied if our expectations are not fully met, see all tension as tragic. We are impatient. We feel as always behind schedule, that our work is never done. We have lost the wonder of a child, who sees beauty as more important than usefulness

Rolheiser says the only way to find God is to be a contemplative.  We can theologize, know about, speak of God, but we do not speak to God nor listen to God, nor truly know God as a person, the One who is of the most importance in our lives.  In the course of history there have been many contemplatives…St. John of the Cross, St Francis, St. Therese, and countless others.  On reading this book and following Rolheiser as he enfleshes his convictions, we can ask ourselves if all this can be ours, if we can find God as others have.  We may well be inspired to search, to try.  It could change our lives!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

"Handbook for the Soul," edited by Richard Carlson and Benjamin Shield

This book is “a magnificent gathering of warmth and wisdom to nourish your soul.”  It consists of thirty essays written by highly educated persons, the majority of them physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists or educators.  Included among them are Angeles Arrien, Matthew Fox, Robert Fulghum, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and a Jewish Rabbi.  They all share spiritual insights according to their understanding of the soul.  With some of them, their concept of “the soul” is quite different from what I have learned: for example, speaking of “soul music”.  

Here are some of their reflections:  “I believe that each of us was put on this earth to fulfill the potential for humanity, and the soul is the part of us that makes us human.”  -  “It is amazing that our souls, our eternal essences, are contained within these temporal bodies.”  -  “Another way I nurture my soul is to keep a daily journal.”  - “To nourish the soul means to be kinder, more compassionate and more loving.”  -  “There is nothing to do but to be.  To nourish the soul is to rest in being.” -  “A relationship with God – or a higher power – is vital to nourishing and tending the soul.”  -  “Our task here is to become more God-like, to realize the divine and spiritual nature of our soul.”  -  “I believe we are a part of a universal soul…we are all connected.  We all have God within us.”  -  “When our channel to the soul is open, we live in a more harmonious reality.”  -    “Nourishing my soul makes a difference.”  -  “Through suffering and pain, I’ve learned more about my soul and heart than I ever dreamed possible.”  -  “For anyone trying to get in touch with the soul … it’s an alive journey.”

Reading this book left me with some questions:  Can we really nourish our soul as we do our body? -  Is the soul of a saint somehow “grander” than the soul of a sinner?  - Does the soul develop and grow along with the body?  On reading it, you may have other or similar questions.  I think you will find the book very enriching and thought-provoking.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

"Walking With God in a Fragile World," edited by James Langford and LeRoy Rouner

In 13 essays written by renowned persons and authors, reflections are shared on how we might walk with God in a world that seems more fragile and shattered since the tragedy of September 11, 2001. They all agree that indeed the world and human life, especially here in the U.S., now seems more precarious and fragile than ever before. Several of the authors had friends or family members who lost their lives that day, and they spoke of the horror and grief they experienced. Each story is unique, and some compare the tragedy to the Passion of Christ. Some Moslems living in New York also grieved, both for the loss of friends and family members, but also for fear that such an attack would cast a reflection on the Islam faith, which they love and see as basically one of peace and brotherhood.

Kathleen McManus, a Dominican theologian, pointed out that the Twin towers and the Pentagon were symbols of U.S. power; and from her experience as a missionary in Central America, she cited the misuse of that power in our supporting the military regime that caused fear, poverty and death for thousands of vulnerable people there; and other U.S. foreign policies that have at times also been tainted with injustice. We are not universally loved. But she sees that Ground Zero can become a symbol of hope because of the heroism and concern for humanity that was shown that day in efforts to rescue survivors. She also admired the great reverence in the months-long process of sifting through the rubble and finding memorabilia and even human body parts and respectfully attempting to restore them to those who loved the victims. She sees the hope that future American interaction with our world neighbors will follow a similar path of respect and reverence, especially for the most vulnerable.

This small book is well worth reading.

"Oneness, Great Principles Shared by All Religions," by Jeffrey Moses

In this small but precious book, the author presents 64 religious principles that he claims are held to by most world religions, showing the unity there is among those who believe in God. In the introduction the Dalai Lama says that all the major world religions have a similar aim and the same potential to be a great help to humankind. Each of them contains such qualities as generosity, love, compassion and respect for others. The book consists of 64 small segments, each of them beginning with a religious principle such as "The Golden Rule", "Love Thy Neighbor," "There is One God," "The World is Our Family", "Preserve the Earth", "Speak Truth", "Be Slow to Anger"...and 57 others.

Following each religious principle there are several sayings, taken from the sacred scriptures of the different world religions, including Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, Confusianism, Sikhism, Taoism, Bahai and others, even from "African Wisdom" and several tribes of Native Americans. It is interesting to see how similar, and in some cases almost identical, these sayings are. Jeffrey Moses spent over twenty years in researchng them all, and in the Annotations at the end of the book he gives the specific source for the sayings.

Oneness is both an inspiration and an eye-opener. It is short and easy to read. Try it and see!

Merton: A Biography, by Monica Furlong

Thomas Merton was born in France in 1915. His parents, Owen and Ruth, were well-educated and talented, especially in music and art. "Tom", to his family and friends, was intelligent, active and unusually observant, even at two years, and from the beginning he loved books. There was no religion in the family, nor stability, as they moved several times between France, the U.S. and England. Tom’s mother was devoted but severe. She died when Tom was six. His father was often away from home, and he died when Tom was l5. Tom and his younger brother lived with grandparents and foster parents. A few years later, his beloved grandfather also died, leaving Tom feeling abandoned, lonely and sad...feelings that plagued him the rest of his life. The boys’ early education was in France and England.

At age 18 Tom moved to the U.S and eventually studied at Cambridge and Columbia. Besides learning, he and his friends spent time in drunken parties, with girls; and Tom fathered a child. He met a good friend at Columbia, a Catholic, and Tom was drawn to that faith. He was baptized a Catholic at age 27, and reformed his life. He decided that he wanted to be a priest, and to enter a religious order. He chose the Franciscans, but after he confessed his unruly past life, he was not accepted. This was a bitter blow, and he assumed that neither could he ever become a priest. He worked in Harlem and other needy areas, and eventually decided that he would be a Trappist monk. After a retreat at Gethsemani, he was convinced that this was his calling. He promptly sold all his goods except several books, and asked to enter the Trappists. He was accepted, but he found the strict silence, long hours of manual work and short hours of sleep...and no time to write... almost unbearable. But somehow he continued to write, poetry and even a few books. Due to his attempts to reconcile his need to write with the rigorous life of a Trappist, he suffered several breakdowns, physical and spiritual.

To have more solitude and time for himself he asked to be a hermit, while continuing the life at Gethsemani. His request was granted, and he then lived in a small hermitage near the abbey. He knew he was a writer, had to write, and when he published his famous autobiograpghy, The Seven Storey Mountain, he became almost immediately famous, as was Gethsemani itself. Tons of correspondence came to him from all over the world, plus invitations to speak, and a steady stream of visitors including his college friends and people from all over the world. The Abott realized that he was a remarkable man and a gifted writer, so Merton was given more time to pursue his passion. He was also allowed to attend meetings and conferences on his many interests...and he continued to write a prodigious amount of books, essays on Peace and Justice and eastern religions, and also letters to his friends around the world. In 1968 he was asked to speak at a conference in Bangkok, on Marxism and the monastic life, and again he was allowed to do so.

His journey to the east began that fall, and on the way he visited famous places and people, including the Dalai Lama, Buddhist monks and many other friends. He arrived in Bangkok on December 7, and gave his address on Dec.10. As he left the podium he said something about now disappearing, and went to his room. Shortly after, a loud cry was heard, and those who went to investigate, found him lying on his back with an electric fan on his chest, still running, He was dead. His sudden death was a terrific shock to those who had just heard him speak, to his fellow monks at Gethsemani, and to his beloved novices who had been in his care for several years. He was 53 years old. Had he lived longer, he would no doubt have written much more, but what he already had done was far more than most people could have done in a hundred years! Also, his longing to be a monk and hermit, plus the continuation of the monastic life at Gethsemani, would have been an insurmountable problem. To condense a lengthy biography, especially that of such an extraordinary person as was Thomas Merton, is next to impossible. I invite you to read the book. You will not regret it.