Merton on Success

In my younger days, Cardinal John Henry Newman (now Blessed) was one of the more significant personalities attracting me to the Catholic faith. Another was Thomas Merton. You may be surprised. Anyway, there it is. I still like to read his material. One of his poems especially enthralls me. It has the line in it:

The seed sleeps by the sleeping stone,
but the seed has life where the stone has none.

The same poem has in it the metaphor of his hermits caravan (his “trailer”) being like Elijah’s firey chariot – “faster and faster it stands still”. Or something like that. I don’t have the text in front of me. His Seven Storey Mountain, which was a best seller, is still a good read, as is his “Seeds of Contemplation”, which is my favourite work. He went all Buddhisty later in life, but God got him in time.

Anyway, why Merton this morning? Because my wife is doing a Spiritual Direction course and asked me to buy her “Merton’s Palace of Nowhere” by James Finley (first published in 1978). Like an early Chrissy Present, it arrived from the Book Depository this morning (don’t you just love those guys? No offence, Mary, we love you and the Central Catholic Bookshop too!).

I flicked the book open and read these lines from Merton:

A few years ago a man who was compiling a book on Success wrote and asked me to contribute a statement on how I got to be a success. I replied indigantnly that I was not able to consider myself a success in any terms that had a meaning to me. I swore I had spent my life strenuously avoiding success. If it happened that I had once written a best-seller this was a pure accident, due to inattention and naivete, and I would take very good care never to do the same thing again. If I had a message to my contemporaries, I said, it was surely this: be anything you like, be madmen, drunks, and bastards of every shape and form, but at all costs avoid one thing: success. I heard no more from him, and I am not aware that my reply was published with the other testimonials.

That’s why I love Merton. He may not have been a saint or a doctor of the church, but like the rest of us, well, like me, he was “peccator inter peccatores et insanus inter insanos”, and knew it.

About Schütz

I am a PhD candidate & sessional academic at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne, Australia. After almost 10 years in ministry as a Lutheran pastor, I was received into the Catholic Church in 2003. I worked for the Archdiocese of Melbourne for 18 years in Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations. I have been editor of Gesher for the Council of Christians & Jews and am guest editor of the historical journal “Footprints”. I have a passion for pilgrimage and pioneered the MacKillop Woods Way.
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5 Responses to Merton on Success

  1. Stephen K says:

    David, I don’t profess to having your knowledge of Thomas Merton, although I have read Elected Silence, and the Waters of Siloh and one or two others. I must register a mild protest at your comment that you thought he had gone a bit “Buddhisty” but that “God had got him in time”. I ask, in relation to the former, what is wrong with that? and, in relation to the latter, how mean! Siddhartha Gautama was a great sage and saint. On this site it wouldn’t be prudent for me to assert his equivalence to Jesus, so I won’t, but for all intents and purposes, a Christian like Thomas Merton, immersed in monastic catholic tradition, who probed the depths of wisdom to be found in Buddhism, can only be said to be enriching or expanding his spiritual insights and horizons. There must have been something which drew him into its orbit: otherwise one risks devaluing anything else he ever wrote or understood. Raimon Panikkar and Bede Griffiths are others in recent memory. Are we, too, open to similar journeys? is the question.

  2. Marco says:

    I am re-reading Merton’s journals (from start to finish!). They are always good value.

  3. Marco says:

    Should add: I also purchased some of his talks (during his time as Novice Master) on CD.

    • Schütz says:

      I didn’t know that any thing like this was available.

      BTW, good to hear rom you. Nothing was happening on your blog, which is why I have removed it from the sidebar. Wondered whether you were still out there.

  4. Marco says:

    Here is a little taste of the Merton talks.

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