The Environmental Vision of Thomas Merton

The Environmental Vision of Thomas Merton

The Environmental Vision of Thomas Merton

The Environmental Vision of Thomas Merton

Synopsis

Nature was always vital in Thomas Merton's life, from the long hours he spent as a child watching his father paint landscapes in the fresh air, to his final years of solitude in the hermitage at Our Lady of Gethsemani, where he contemplated and wrote about the beauty of his surroundings. Throughout his life, Merton's study of the natural world shaped his spirituality in profound ways, and he was one of the first writers to raise concern about ecological issues that have become critical in recent years. In The Environmental Vision of Thomas Merton, author Monica Weis suggests that Merton's interest in nature, which developed significantly during his years at the Abbey of Gethsemani, laid the foundation for his growing environmental consciousness. Tracing Merton's awareness of the natural world from his childhood to the final years of his life, Weis explores his deepening sense of place and desire for solitude, his love and responsibility for all living things, and his evolving ecological awareness.

Excerpt

Caeli Enarrant Gloriam Dei”: “The heavens proclaim the glory of God; and the firmament shows forth His handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). Thomas Merton chanted these words from the psalms almost every week for the twenty-seven years of his monastic life. These, along with many other expressions found in the psalms, served to deepen Merton’s awareness of creation as a manifestation of God in the world. Long before he entered the monastery, however, Merton showed a profound perception of creation and its message to all who are attuned. in this book Monica Weis shows us something of Merton’s own inner life in relation to creation and how this developed beginning early in his life. She does this in such a way as to demonstrate that this is important not only for Merton and his own development, but for each one of us as we likewise strive to take part in the dance of creation.

Merton shows that it will be impossible to take part in this dance so long as we view creation and other people simply as objects; doing so removes the seer from direct contact with the reality he or she sees. Merton illustrates this by contrasting the way a child views a tree—a vision “which is utterly simple, uncolored by prejudice, and ‘new’”— with the lumberman’s vision “entirely conditioned by profit motives and considerations of business.” He says that “this exaggeration of the subject-object relationship by material interest and technical speculation is one of the main obstacles to contemplation” (IE 20–21). This reveals the extent to which his love and appreciation of nature and creation are a profound part of his own contemplative experience.

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