Merton: Love and Solitude

mertonleanralpheugenemeatyardCatholic monk, author, and mystic Thomas Merton reflects here on the relationship between love and solitude. Our culture has put these two in opposition to each other–to be alone is to be loveless, to be loved is to never be lonely. Merton understand the connection quite differently.

All I know is that here I am, and the valley is very quiet, the sun is going down, there is no human being around, and as darkness falls I could easily be a completely forgotten person, as if I did not exist for the world at all. (Though there is one who remembers and whom I remember.) The day could easily come when I would be just as invisible as if I never existed, and still be living up here on this hill. … And I know that I would be perfectly content to be so.
Who knows anything at all about solitude if he has not been in love, and in love in his solitude? Love and solitude must test each other in the one who means to live alone: they must become one and the same thing in him, or he will only be half a person. Unless I have you with me always, in some very quiet and perfect way, I will never be able to live fruitfully alone. –Thomas Merton

From Learning to Love, edited by Christine M. Bochen (Harper SanFrancisco, 1997, p. 314-315)

Merton versus The Bomb

thom41Catholic monk, mystic, writer, and justice advocate was very concerned about the rise of atomic weapons. In 1962 he wrote a book called Peace in the Post-Christian Era addressing the immorality of nuclear weapons. He was forbidden from publishing it by his order’s abbot. It wasn’t published until 2004 and has a wonderful foreword by Jim Forest.

Below is an excerpt from Merton to French Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain on the topic.

[To Jacques Maritain, Feb, 1963] I do not want to bother you with a multitude of things of mine, but I am putting into the mail a mimeographed copy of my “unpublishable” book on “Peace in the Post Christian Era.” Unpublishable because forbidden by our upright and upstanding Abbot General who does not want to leave Christian civilization without the bomb to crown its history of honor. He says that my defense of peace “fausserait le message de la vie contemplative” [would falsify the message of the contemplative life]. The fact that a monk should be concerned about this issue is thought-by “good monks”-to be scandalous. A hateful distraction, withdrawing one’s mind from Baby Jesus in the Crib. Strange to say, no one seems concerned at the fact that the crib is directly under the bomb.–Thomas Merton

From The Courage for Truth: Letters to Writers, edited by Christine M. Bochen (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1993, p. 36)