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The Environmental Vision of Thomas Merton

The Environmental Vision of Thomas Merton

Monica Weis
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    The Environmental Vision of Thomas Merton
    Book Description:

    Nature was always vital in Thomas Merton's life, from the long hours he spent as a child watching his father paint landscapes in the fresh air, to his final years of solitude in the hermitage at Our Lady of Gethsemani, where he contemplated and wrote about the beauty of his surroundings. Throughout his life, Merton's study of the natural world shaped his spirituality in profound ways, and he was one of the first writers to raise concern about ecological issues that have become critical in recent years.

    In The Environmental Vision of Thomas Merton, author Monica Weis suggests that Merton's interest in nature, which developed significantly during his years at the Abbey of Gethsemani, laid the foundation for his growing environmental consciousness. Tracing Merton's awareness of the natural world from his childhood to the final years of his life, Weis explores his deepening sense of place and desire for solitude, his love and responsibility for all living things, and his evolving ecological awareness.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-3015-6
    Subjects: Biological Sciences, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)
    James Conner

    Caeli enarrant gloriam Dei”: “The heavens proclaim the glory of God; and the firmament shows forth His handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). Thomas Merton chanted these words from the psalms almost every week for the twenty-seven years of his monastic life. These, along with many other expressions found in the psalms, served to deepen Merton’s awareness of creation as a manifestation of God in the world. Long before he entered the monastery, however, Merton showed a profound perception of creation and its message to all who are attuned. In this book Monica Weis shows us something of Merton’s own inner life in...

  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xv-xv)
  7. [Map]
    (pp. xvi-xvi)
  8. Introduction: Dancing with the Raven
    (pp. 1-8)

    Nature was always important in Thomas Merton’s life—from his infancy in Prades, France, when he learned words like chrysanthemum, hollyhock, foxglove, chickadee, and kingfisher from his mother’s careful coaching, to long hours in the fresh air watching his artist father create landscapes, to his final years of solitude in the hermitage at Our Lady of Gethsemani, the Trappist monastery in Kentucky. In all these places Merton was intrigued by nature and allowed it to shape his spirituality and consciousness.

    In contemporary society, attention to nature—its beauty, its integrity, and our interdependence with it—is a fairly common concept....

  9. Chapter 1 Encountering Rachel Carson: Environmentalist and Provocateur
    (pp. 9-21)

    January 1963: the United States was celebrating the six-month anniversary of the opening of its first Walmart superstore, yet still grieving the August 1962 death of Marilyn Monroe. The first black student registered at the University of Mississippi was beginning his second semester of study, and the Cuban missile crisis of October continued to be debated in smoke-filled men’s clubs. George Wallace was inaugurated as governor of Alabama, defiantly proclaiming, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever!” The singer Patsy Cline had only a few weeks to live before her tragic death in a plane crash. The first disco had...

  10. Chapter 2 Learning to See: Becoming Awake
    (pp. 22-47)

    It’s all about seeing—not merely looking, butseeing. Seeing with new eyes. Awakening to one’s surroundings and cultivating awareness of both external and internal movements of grace. Yet the development from looking to seeing does not happen automatically; it requires conscious effort and focus—sometimes even training—and often results in a transformation of consciousness. Writers, prophets, and poets through the centuries have challenged us to develop the habit of seeing and the art of attention so that transformation might occur. Indeed, all major religions exhort their followers to engage in a process of becoming awake.

    Buddhism, for example,...

  11. Chapter 3 “Spots of Time”: Moments of Awakening
    (pp. 48-65)

    Though we credit Merton’s study of the visionary William Blake with significant influence on his ability to appreciate art and to see differently, other literary influences on Merton’s thinking and spiritual practice warrant examination, namely his academic encounter with William Wordsworth. Although he never engaged in a sustained inquiry into Wordsworth’s writing, Merton’s 1938 college class notes and later his St. Bonaventure lecture notes bear testimony to an ongoing fascination with this British Romantic poet. Elsewhere I have written more extensively about the biographical and literary resonance between Merton and Wordsworth.¹ Suffice it here to acknowledge that Merton had a...

  12. Chapter 4 Seeing Differently: Recognizing the Holy in the Ordinary
    (pp. 66-92)

    Though it is exciting and perhaps even clever to identify spots of time in a writer’s life and thus infer or speculate on how singular events play a significant role in artistic or spiritual development, not everyone is a celebrity subject to such scrutiny. Yet all of usdohave the opportunity to develop a new way ofseeing, even to develop a habit of awareness that prepares us for contemplation and that allows us to reflect on ordinary events and times in our lives that subtly influence our thinking and recognition of the Divine. Certainly the Christian liturgical calendar,...

  13. Chapter 5 Merging Inner and Outer Landscapes: Prayer, Poetry, and Photography
    (pp. 93-125)

    Becoming awake. Identifying spots of time. Recognizing the holy in the ordinary. These are all important attitudes for developing one’s consciousness. Yet my query from chapter 2 remains: if one is awake, can one become more awake? Readers of Merton’s journals will, I suspect, answer with an emphatic “yes” because we discover Merton not just dallying in and with nature, but allowing the outside world, that is, the landscape and its inhabitants, to become integral to his prayer. Such integration represents a shift from intellectual knowing to more pervasive experiential knowing. Merton is aware of the value of this kind...

  14. Chapter 6 Merton’s Evolving Ecological Consciousness
    (pp. 126-156)

    Merton biographers, as well as multiple Merton scholars, have clearly documented the late 1950s and early 1960s as Merton’s “turning toward the world.” His moment of epiphany in March 1958 while crossing the busy intersection of Fourth and Walnut streets in Louisville attests to the beginning of this turning. No longer does Merton believe he can “hide” in the monastery to work out his personal salvation; no longer does he regard a monastic vocation as something separate and apart from the world; Merton now understands in a new experiential way thatcontemptus mundi(rejection of the world) is a flawed...

  15. Afterword. Woodland Deer: An Ecological Journey in Miniature
    (pp. 157-166)

    I hesitate to say more about the influence of nature on Thomas Merton’s spirituality, but there is one creature that singularly intrigued Merton in his weeks and months at the hermitage: deer. In fact, if we examine closely his frequent interaction with this mysterious woodland creature, we can notice that the changes in Merton’s attitude to them—from mere curiosity to compassion and a feeling of responsibility for their well-being—mirror the trajectory of his monastic life and his increasing sense of responsibility for environmental integrity.

    By my count, there are twenty-two references to deer in Merton’s journals between 1963...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 167-176)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 177-184)
  18. Permissions
    (pp. 185-186)
  19. Index
    (pp. 187-200)