Thomas Merton, the well-known Trappist monk and celebrated American writer, was a pioneer in ecumenicism. It started at Gethsemani in 1958. He began a dialogue with members of other Christian denominations — Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian — and gradually expanded into other religions — Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism. He describes his approach:

"If I can unite in myself the thought and devotion of Eastern and Western Christendom, the Greek and the Latin Fathers, the Russians with the Spanish mystics, I can prepare in myself the reunion of divided Christians. From that secret and unspoken unity in myself can eventually come a visible and manifest unity of all Christians. . . . We must contain all the divided worlds in ourselves and transcend them in Christ."

William Apel, professor of religious studies at Linfield College in McMInnville, Oregon, has put together a fascinating and illuminating collection of Merton's letters written during the last decade of his life to Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, and Buddhist friends. He was "convinced that God was calling forth a new kind of person — someone who could honestly, and with spiritual integrity, embrace the truth and wisdom of more than one religious tradition." These interfaith letters are examples of the vocation of unity, a noble goal for twenty-first century spiritual seekers of all persuasions.

The correspondence reprinted in this paperback includes letters between Thomas Merton and Abdul Aziz, a Muslim and Sufi scholar; with Amiya Chakravarty, an Indian philosopher and poet; John Wu, a master of Chinese wisdom; Abraham Joshua Heschel, a professor of Jewish ethics and mysticism; D. T. Suzuki, a Zen master; Glenn Hinson, a young Baptist professor of church history; Thich Nhat Hanh, the Buddhist teacher and peace activist; June J. Yungblut, a Quaker; and Dona Luisa Coomarswamy, an interfaith pioneer. Along the way, we are introduced to spiritual qualities that are central to interfaith dialogue: hospitality, openness, listening, love, wisdom, holiness, compassion, courage, and unity. This is a gem — a keeper for all those on the interfaith path.