New World Library, 2016
Reviewed by Ian Mowll
This book is primarily about Thomas Merton (31 January 1915 – 10 December 1968), who was a Trappist monk in the USA. But the book is about more than this; it is also about Creation Spirituality (as articulated by Matthew Fox) and Meister Eckhart, a Christian mystic of the Middle Ages who influenced both Thomas Merton and Matthew Fox.
Thomas Merton was described by Pope Francis as “….above all a man of prayer, a thinker who challenged the certainties of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church. He was also a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions.”
For his time Merton was quite radical; he openly challenged the Vietnam war, defended the rights of indigenous people, was against racial injustice and had a desire for America to develop an ecological conscience. He was also quite critical of some aspects of his religious order – something that resonated with Matthew Fox, who had issues with his Dominican order. As well as calling for a complete overhaul of the priesthood and its meaning, Thomas Merton also offered solutions. However, it was his up to date vision for a better world that drew people to his teachings and his prolific writings.
I found the discussion of Merton’s spirituality in the book very interesting. He lived a somewhat amoral life until his conversion to Christianity at the age of 26; after entering the Trappist community, he lived a very disciplined existence. Matthew Fox writes: “There he found, some might say, the ‘missing mother’ of his childhood in Mother Church and the ‘missing father’ in his father abbot”.
Merton drew a great deal from the Desert Father and, according to Matthew Fox, the Cosmic Christ theology was important to him; that means recognising the Christ (or Buddha nature or Image of God) in everything, which is a step towards honouring the Earth and all living beings.
This book is a good way not only to understand Thomas Merton but also to see the strands of Creation Spirituality in Eckhart, Merton and Fox.