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.