Merton in Advent, 1948

Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain was probably the first or second spiritual book I ever read, way back in my college days. I’m not a Merton fan(atic) like some people I know. You readers who read me carefully know I’m not such a fanboy type. At least I try not to be.

I was speaking with a priest friend recently, and his observation is that we (that I) look for accompaniment. Not everything Thomas Merton wrote touches or pings me, but this entry from 13 December 1948 in The Sign of Jonas did:

What do you think, you dope, after having been a Trappist for seven years? I think, Where did the time go? I caught myself wondering, Have I changed? Not that it matters. I have and I haven’t. I’m balder. Somehow I have more of an interior life but I’d have a hard time trying to say how. But i know some of the things that account for it: solemn profession–theology–and minor forms of tribulation here and there concerning writing, singing, contemplation. What graces all these little crosses have been. They are the very best thing in our life here. It seems they are so small. They do their work.

That struck a harmony with something I read recently from the early Jesuit, Pierre Favre:

Seek grace for the smallest things, and you will also find grace to accomplish, to believe in, and to hope for the greatest things.

It is interesting that the Jesuits, known for thinking, dreaming, and building big, would have in their roots such attention to the small things. Also the worldly and expansive mind of Thomas Merton would find such a home, though a restless one, with the stable Trappists.

With these companions, I was reflecting further on my own restlessness. Would I prefer a journey to the moon or to the deserts of Mars than a plea from the young miss who missed her bus and needed a ride home today? Would I prefer fame and glory as a performing stage musician than figuring out how to integrate young players of the clarinet and alto sax into Christmas Eve?

Letting God’s grace do good work in by the small things. This is something I might have missed in my younger days.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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