Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

The Celebrity Monk Who Taught Us to Stop and Think

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

The Celebrity Monk Who Taught Us to Stop and Think

Article excerpt


IAM one of those people who reaches for the radio the moment I wake up.

Sometimes I fall asleep to The World Tonight as well. I fear something awful will have happened in the intervening hours that I must know about without delay. Thankfully, it rarely does.

What's more (and the editor will love this), I can't settle to a day's work until I have read The Journal. I need to know who is making the news and what has happened in town. I need to be well informed.

I smiled about my neurotic habit over the weekend at Shepherds Dene where I was part of a group following "in the footsteps of Thomas Merton". Merton lived most of his life in a monastery and was eventually to live a solitary life as a hermit in a hut in the surrounding woods.

Merton's advice to anyone who wanted to experience a quieter and contemplative life was "to do everything you can to avoid the noise and business of man" and "to be glad if you can keep beyond the reach of their radios". Goodness knows what he might have said about iPads and MP3 players.

He thought that nine tenths of the news was 'pseudo news' or manufactured headlines. Merton found out about important events in due course when they had become 'slightly stale'. "I eat the same tragedies as others," he wrote, "but in the form of tasteless crusts."

When his letters were published posthumously, it became apparent that he had been a consummate correspondent of world leaders and a forthright opponent of the Vietnam war.

Merton had to fight hard to escape noise and business. He had a tragic childhood trailing around the world with his father, who was an itinerant artist. He had a stormy adolescence in an English public school and dropped out of university. In the space of a few years, he converted to Catholicism, become ordained and entered a monastery. He chose a particularly austere life as a Trappist monk in Kentucky.

Shortly after entering the monastery, Merton wrote a best-selling autobiography of his early life 'The Seven Storey Mountain' and spawned a huge fan club. The book was admired by the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Evelyn Waugh but, by his own admission, it did not show him in a good light. …

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