Jim Forest became a close personal friend of Thomas Merton in the early 1960s. A founder of the Catholic Peace Fellowship of Reconciliation, he is the author of many books including Praying with Icons, The Ladder of the Beatitudes, and The Road to Emmaus: Pilgrimage as a Way of Life. He is one of our Living Spiritual Teachers.
Forest has revised this 1991 pictorial biography of the Trappist monk. What sets it apart from other works is the amount of time, space, and detail given to Merton's early life, time in New York City, conversion, and labor on his classic autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain. Of the latter, Forest states that it remains "an electrifying challenge to the idea that human happiness consists mainly of a proper diet, a good job, money in the bank, a comfortable address, and an active sex life."
Although during the years Merton lived at the Abbey of Gethsemani he was an essayist, social critic, ecumenical pioneer, poet, photographer, artist, and correspondent, he was primarily a monk, according to the author. Forest examines his quest for solitude, his place and different roles in the community, and his unique devotional life. Given his dedication to the peace movement, the author is especially cogent on Merton's role as a prophetic voice for nonviolence and social justice.
Living with Wisdom contains many fine quotations from Merton's writings which shed light on his multiple interests and concerns. Here's a sampler:
• "We seek no light but faith and hear no voice but that of faith. We must always walk in darkness. We must travel in silence. We must fly by night."
The Ascent to Truth
• "The Christian life and especially the contemplative life is a continual discovery of Christ in new and unexpected places."
The Sign of Jonas
• "A tree gives glory to God first of all by being a tree. For in being what God means it to be, it is obeying Him. It 'consents,' so to speak, to His creative love. It is expressing an idea which is in God and which is not distinct from the essence of God, and therefore a tree imitates God by being a tree."
New Seeds of Contemplation
• "The solitary is necessarily a man who does what he wants to do. In fact he has nothing else to do. That is why his vocation is both dangerous and despised."
Thoughts in Solitude
• "Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone we find it with another. We do not discover the secret of our lives merely by study and calculation in our own isolated meditations. The meaning of our life is a secret that has to be revealed to us in love, by the one we love."
Love and Living