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Mystics$
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William Harmless

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780195300383

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195300383.001.0001

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Mystic as Fire Watcher: Thomas Merton

Mystic as Fire Watcher: Thomas Merton

Chapter:
(p.19) 2 Mystic as Fire Watcher: Thomas Merton
Source:
Mystics
Author(s):

S.J. William Harmless

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195300383.003.0002

This chapter looks at a recent mystic, the American monk Thomas Merton (1915–1968). He was arguably the most popular spiritual writer of the twentieth century and is best known for his autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain. Merton combined a passion for contemplation with a sharp-edged social conscience and an openness to the world's great spiritual traditions, especially Zen Buddhism. In many ways, Merton is an emblem for this whole book. This chapter explores mystical elements in Thomas Merton's life and writings. It begins with an extended biographical sketch followed with an analysis of a few elements of Merton's mystical theology. The figures and trends that interested Merton and shaped his spirituality include the early Cistercians, the apophatic tradition, the desert fathers, and interreligious dialogue. For Merton, the journey to God is a journey through an ordinary, everyday landscape, but changed somehow, charged with the presence of God.

Keywords:   Thomas Merton, Bramachari, Cistercians, apophatic tradition, contemplation, fire watcher

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