Thursday, June 6, 2013

Book Review: Thomas Merton Selected Essays

For those who enjoy the writings of Thomas Merton the new anthology edited by Patrick F. O' Connell is a must read. Recently published by Orbis Books, Thomas Merton: Selected Essays is a sampling of the numerous essays which Merton wrote. Patrick F. O'Connell is a professor of English and theology at Gannon University in Erie, PA as well as the founding member and former president of the International Thomas Merton Society. 

I first encountered Thomas Merton in college. While browsing the theology shelves in a used bookstore I came across a small blue book called Contemplative Prayer. I read it so much the pages became well worn. After reading that book I read some of his other books and then his biography. Merton was certainly prolific writing not only monographs but also many book reviews and essays as well. This new collection is a sampling of thirty three of his essays which range from topics such as the theology of paradise to a loving tribute to Gandhi as well as the role of contemplation in the modern world and the relationship between Christianity and Zen. 

The word "essay" comes from the French word "essayer" which means to try or to attempt, particularly to attempt at exploring some topic or issue. These essays reveal Merton's attempt at exploring the many important issues of his day. Each of the essays includes a short introduction, explaining where the essay was first published and if it was previously anthologized and where it appeared. 

What is nice about this book is that you can read one or two of the essays and then take some time to reflect upon them and then move on. In that way they are like Zen koans, a statement is read and then you go away thinking about it for a while. Merton had that unique gift of getting right at the topic at hand without including too much minutae, he wanted to get at the hear of the matter. It's amazing that while these essays were written over forty years ago they are still very appropos to our day and age. 

Thomas Merton: Selected Essays also includes a short introduction by Brother Patrick Hart, Merton's former secretary as well as an appendix of his essays in chronological order for those who wish to explore more of Merton's writings. 

For more information about this book click here