The Seven Storey Book

September 28, 2009 at 10:34 pm (Uncategorized) (, , )

Caveat lector

Caveat lector

Around about the time that I began this little blogging endeavor, I also decided that my reading was tending a little too much to the “Shopaholic” and not enough to the substantive. (Not that there’s anything wrong with chick lit – who hates that term? raise your hand! – but there just isn’t enough time in my day for reading, and to only read that stuff…well, it’s like only eating moose tracks ice cream. It’s awfully good, but you can’t live on it. Incidentally, my mother says that she started getting up before five when she had small children, just so she would have enough time to read…I am neither disciplined nor well-rested enough to do the same.) Anyway, the book I picked to reacquaint myself with my intellect? Thomas Merton’s spiritual memoir The Seven Storey Mountain. Just a little light reading.

I didn’t know very much about Merton before I read the book. I knew, randomly, that he died of electrocution in Thailand, and I had this notion, which despite (because of?) the wonders of Google I can’t confirm, that he said something along the lines of, “if ‘thank you’ is the only prayer you say in your life, it’s enough,” which really really really predisposed me to adore him. (The “thank you” thing, not the electrocution, der.)

After reading the book, I sort of doubt that he can possibly have said anything of the kind. In terms of spirituality, nothing was ever enough for this guy. So here’s the Cliff Notes of Merton’s life: he was an American/French/English kid that became a monk after his desperately sinful youth. But the problem is that, and maybe this is just because I’m so inured to immorality living in our sinful age, he just doesn’t seem to have been that bad, so him becoming a monk doesn’t seem like a huge stretch. Evidently he fathered a child out of wedlock (gasp!) as a very young man, but he doesn’t even get to talk about that, since the Abbott or somebody of his order forbade it.

And he’s so extreme. Just being a priest isn’t enough, he has to be a cloistered monk with a vow of silence. He spends some money on himself and he berates himself up and down Fifth Avenue for not giving all of his money to the poor. He’s a little hard to take.

But then there are passages like this:

“What is ‘grace’? It is God’s own life, shared by us. God’s life is Love. Deus caritas est. By grace we are able to share in the infinitely selfless love of Him Who is such pure actuality that He needs nothing and therefore cannot conceivably exploit anything for selfish ends. Indeed, outside of Him there is nothing, and whatever exists exists by His free gift of its being, so that one of the notions that is absolutely contradictory to the perfection of God is selfishness. It is metaphysically impossible for God to be selfish, because the existence of everything that is depends upon His gift, depends upon his unselfishness.” (Harcourt, 186)

Pardon the expression, but holy crap! And it only gets better. Read on, Macduff.

“When a ray of light strikes a crystal, it gives a new quality to the crystal. And when God’s infinitely disinterested love plays upon a human soul, the same kind of thing takes place. And that is the life called sanctifying grace.” (Id.)

I mean, I could quote entire great swathes of the book – when Merton’s writing about God and faith and man’s relationship to all of that crazy stuff, it is just so beautiful and powerful and shocking and fantastic. And maybe he’s not really all that extreme. In Sunday’s gospel, Jesus says “If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off,” which is not exactly sky-blue-pink and fluffy clouds kind of religion.

Anway, thus concludeth the Seven Storey book review.

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