Robert Waldron has written three books on Thomas Merton, and he conducts retreats in New England on the teachings of this Trappist monk. In this paperback, he looks at Merton's "way of prayer." Waldron says that Christian mystic Simone Weil could be Merton's soul mate. Both she and Merton were born in France, were precocious readers and later gifted writers, were poets, and felt compassion for the world's suffering.
It was Simone Weil who stated: "Absolutely unmixed attention is prayer." Merton, as a spiritual master, embodied this definition since he prayed while reading, studying, cleaning out his hermitage, walking in the woods, or communicating with his friends through countless letters. Waldron also appreciates Weil's practice of watching and waiting "Looking is what saves us." He points out Merton's fascination with the visual arts, calligraphy, and photography. Of the latter, Waldron notes: "One of the perennially wise quotes to have influenced Merton's life is William Blake's 'Everything that is/Is holy.' What Merton chose to photograph is proof that nothing was unworthy of his eye, for no matter how small or hidden a thing, it is holy and by our bestowing our attention upon it, we are sanctified."
A final area of interplay between Weil and Merton was their mutual appreciation for beauty. She wrote: "The beauty of the world is Christ's tender smile for us coming through matter. He is really present in the universal beauty. The love of beauty proceeds from God dwelling in our souls and goes out to God present in the universe. It is also like a sacrament." Near the end of his life, Merton was swept away by the exquisite beauty of the reclining Buddhas of Polonnaruwa. He wrote: " I don't know when in my life I have ever had such a sense of beauty and spiritual validity running together in one aesthetic illumination."