How interesting that the Pope in his address to Congress singled out Thomas Merton as one of his “favourite Catholic troublemakers”.
In her impressionable youth Gert was transfixed by Thomas Merton’s autobiography Elected Silence in which he recounts his journey from cool Sartre-inspired youth to a Trappist monastery. Working as a clerk in an insurance company (that’s a long story) where she was singled out by her manager to all visitors with the comment,“You have to have a degree to work here”, Gert filled the long empty hours with visions of herself as a non-speaking nun in a fetching get-up, secretly hoping God wouldn’t finger her as he did Thomas Merton – he didn’t, or presumably Gert wouldn’t be here talking to you today. Or perhaps she would: from his beginnings as a Trappist monk speaking only rarely, and then to members of his community, Merton became a public figure, well known for his anti-war stance during the Vietnam war. He became increasingly interested in eastern religions and died in Bangkok during an interfaith conference between Christian and non-Christian monks.
Elected Silence is also published as The Seven-Storey Mountain. With William James’ Varieties of Religious Experience, it’s essential reading for anyone interested in the magnetic pull of religion as against the cooler workings of the rational mind.