Separation: Merton’s theme. He found no need to be among men, men who sought violence, whether they realized it or not. He, Merton, needed to evolve into the man he was, an evolution which swung him right into his death, a death that like all others had nothing unfortunate about it. Merton’s life had simply run its course and God’s will had been done that day in Asia. His early want to teach, a want not at all unique to himself, was quieted by his conversion into the monastic life.
Shortly after this conversion, “The Seven Storey Mountain” was finished and Merton was only truly beginning his public life, that of an inspiring writer. But Merton’s inspiration has little to do with harrowing ordeals that led him to a life with God; Merton’s writings inspire mostly already-practicing Christians. His words beat the heart of the quiet Christian more than just about any Christian writer of the 20th Century. When living as a monk, Merton found some time to dabble in writing and one hopes his repeated publication had nothing to do with monastic novelty.
I don’t care to speculate how many people have encountered his texts over the years but enough have read him in order for him to be considered inspirational. One friend in particular recommended Merton to me upon learning I am a Catholic. I remember the experience well: he asked of my spiritual devotion, I told, and he wrote a list (since lost) of books worth reading. As far as I remember, “The Seven Storey Mountain” was one of maybe two or three that I would read on the list of about seven. The others were lost like so many others on the shelves of bookstores and libraries: impetuses for curiosity but victims of time constraints. Too many books exist, which isn’t to say they shouldn’t exist (because they should!) but it’s to say I’ll never have an issue being interested in titles at the library. But Merton spoke to me in particular. Where my spiritual life would be today without him and his name on that small piece of paper is a matter of speculation, but I don’t believe it would be nearly as strong as it is today. He has opened the mind of the modern Catholic.
The freedom of the artist must be a reality, not something conceived by the peanut gallery. True freedom must relieve itself of the constraints of the audience. His enemies, it seems Merton is saying, are sometimes his biggest fans, the people who expect him to be a certain something. “Echoing Silence” is essentially a collection of letters and clippings from Merton’s books and each one offers something. What is being offered, of course varies. Merton, in this book is writing for all: past, present, and future. He is representing those who have written before him, conversing with those writing with him, and preaching for all yet to come, and I am among this last group.
Merton seemed to wrestle with his thoughts, which to me is all the more encouraging. One reads declarations often. Most text is a declaration of some sort, but how often do we see the thought process? We find it here in “Echoing Silence.”