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The Seven Storey Mountain (1948)

av Thomas Merton

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3,768462,348 (3.96)86
A fiftieth-anniversary edition of the 1948 spiritual autobiography of Thomas Merton, a young man whose search for peace and faith led him to join the religious order of the Trappist monks.

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I found this autobiographical work to be absorbing and very readable; unfortunately, I didn’t get it quite finished before it had to be returned to the library.

We’re told of Merton’s childhood, his parents and brother John Paul.

Merton’s mother died young and his father died slowly of a brain tumour.

Merton was interested in literature, philosophy, religion, mostly the latter.

He seems much obsessed with “the misery and corruption of my own soul” and several times throughout the book refers to his “mortal” sins.

I had no idea what mortal sins were, as opposed to other sins such as venial sins. But on consulting the net I find that a mortal sin is “a grave action that is committed in full knowledge of íts gravity”. Merton doesn’t specify what in fact he means, but one gets the impression he has led a dissipated life.

Most of the book seems to deal with Merton’s development from having a strong aversion to the Catholic Church to having a strong attraction to Catholicism and desire to become a monk; and then there is whether to become a Trappist or Carthusian monk, or whatever. He doesn’t really explain much about the difference between the various sorts of monks, but seems to assume we know what he’s talking about.

He becomes a Catholic, and then he wants to enter a monastery and be a priest.

But should he become a Jesuit, Benedictine or Franciscan, Cistercian or a Trappist? In the Trappist monasteries they fast more than half the year and never eat meat or fish, unless they got ill, But Merton feels he needs meat for his health (in my view, a strange belief).

He goes to mass and communion (what’s the difference?), then another mass in another church. He says the Rosary and does the Stations of the Cross (with no explanation of what these are).

In the Church of St. Francis at Havana he has an awareness, a realization of God made present by the words of Consecration “in a way that made Him belong to me”.

He is “suddenly illuminated by being blinded by the manifestation of God’s presence”.

He thinks “Heaven is right here in front of me”. It lasts only a moment but leaves “a breathless joy and a clean peace and happiness that stayed for hours”.

All these things were happening with Merton in 1939 at the beginning of the Second World War.

He then has a crisis and feels he no longer has a vocation “to the cloister”.

He decides to join up, to go to war, but was it moral to do so? He asks to be a non-combatant objector; but he fails the medical examination due to not having enough teeth!

Though I am not a Catholic nor interested in Catholicism, or in religion at all, I found the book inspiring and in a way fascinating, but some of the religious rituals, services, whatever, I found incomprehensible because Merton seemed to take for granted that the reader had knowledge of such matters, or else didn’t care that he or she didn’t.

Merton found out that “the only way to live was to live in a world that was charged with the presence and reality of God”.

“The life of the soul is not knowledge, it is love, since love is the act of the supreme faculty, the will, but which man is formally united to the final end of his strivings – by which man becomes one with God.”

He is much absorbed by William Blake and Gerald Manley Hopkins and the latter’s life as a Jesuit, and reads James Joyce’s Ulysses (the incomprehensible book) and his Portrait of the Artist. Merton was fascinated by pictures of priests and Catholic life that came up here and there in Joyce’s books.

This is an inspiring book by a gifted author. ( )
  IonaS | Sep 25, 2020 |
[Disclaimer: I only read about 200+ pages of this small-print, 490+ page book. So while I didn't make it halfway, for most other Christian books, it would have been nearly completed ----- So in this case, I'm calling this book "read enough to warrant a review"]

So, did I like The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton? I knew quite a bit about the Trappist monk popularized in the 50s and 60s before I started on his autobiography, but did I actually care about his most famous and popular book itself? Well ... not enough to finish it.

I had no problem with him talking about his life -- after all, that's what an autobiography is all about -- my issue is mainly about his writing style, his background after reading this and his approach to storytelling. In the over two-hundred pages I read (which took him from being a baby until he was at Columbia University) I felt like the whole affair could have been done in about 75-100 pages at most. Merton is a detailed writer, but goes overboard at times with his descriptions. Early on he's detailing his visit to a remote European town by train, and instead of just saying something like, "My father and I arrived at mid-day," he goes into pages of talks about Mary and Christian this-and-that and as a reader, I'm like, "Whoa! What's happening! Save the sermons until you're in the monk-phase!"

I also question the clarity and fine details one can recall decades earlier, especially about time as a kid. I've always been convinced humans don't even start paying attention to the real-world until they become teenagers (thinking, "Hey, who is this president dude?" and "Wow these two pizza places charge different prices."), and only start thinking like actual adults as they hit their mid-twenties, after they've been an adult for several years. So in that respect, I very much doubt a 10 or 15 year old Merton gave much thought to anything at the time and certainly didn't retain much of anything, as would be expected of a 10 or 15 year old. Merton may have looked back at his visits to certain towns and remembered key things (like the way a certain building appeared) but I am willing to bet most of the historical details he goes on-and-on about were filled-in after the fact, as an adult, accompanied with heavy research for the book. In that respect, the detail seems inauthentic.

The other thing that stuck out to me was the sheer luck in his upbringing. My grandmother on my mom's side didn't even having running water in her Tennessee house in the 60s, and 40 years earlier Merton was being whisked away around the world with his painter father, living with wealthy artists and free spirits ... and even after his father died, he kept being allowed to go to rich, elite school after rich, elite school. From the way he talked about things as a teenager and even Columbia student, he didn't like much of anything, and didn't value his privileged lifestyle in the early 1900s. Any other kid back then in London or New York would have been grateful to find work at a hot, unsafe garment or food factory. That information also kept me from continuing on, because it's not like he struggled at all (aside from losing parents at a young age, obviously, but he still had a sibling, extended family, etc.).

So if typical readers can't even relate to the obviously lucky author, why are they going to really care what he has to say later in life? It's easy to be some highly educated/esteemed man of the cloth (who just so happens to be asked to write a book which is raved about by critics [who are mostly Ivy league alumni also]) when you were bathed and clothed in luxury from a toddler onwards. If even one of Merton's wealthy parents had lived into his adult years, I very much doubt he would have become a monk -- it was clear in the book his financial luck was running out by the time he came to New York and got into Columbia (so after that he would have had to pursue a career and make his own money it seems), so I suspect whatever his dead painter father left him is what he lived on until his mid-twenties.

I almost feel like reading a book by one of his poor/working class Trappist brothers would have been far more enlightening, certainly would have been more to-the-point and wouldn't have been as self-indulgent (and tone-deaf) in details about upbringing. I likely will never read another Merton book either. ( )
  scottcc | Jul 12, 2020 |
This is a long spiritual journey from time before and after Merton is drawn to things Christian and from there to things Catholic. It is made longer still with a prospect of a vocation and to that of knowing his vocation and it being denied of which Merton was so convinced. The long journey reaches its culminating point with taking vows in a Trappist monastery - "the four walls of my new freedom." The delight to me of this book was Merton's description of the spiritual side of his journey, his interpretation of the world around him, his failings - but also his perspective of men and women pursuing a life full of meaning and purpose. ( )
  allenkeith | May 17, 2020 |
The Seven Storey Mountain tells of the growing restlessness of a brilliant and passionate young man, who at the age of twenty-six, takes vows in one of the most demanding Catholic orders—the Trappist monks. At the Abbey of Gethsemani, "the four walls of my new freedom," Thomas Merton struggles to withdraw from the world, but only after he has fully immersed himself in it. At the abbey, he wrote this extraordinary testament, a unique spiritual autobiography that has been recognized as one of the most influential religious works of our time. Translated into more than twenty languages, it has touched millions of lives.
  PSZC | Apr 23, 2020 |
Still to be reviewed
  WandsworthFriends | Nov 3, 2019 |
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Författarens namnRollTyp av författareVerk?Status
Thomas Mertonprimär författarealla utgåvorberäknat
Avati, JamesOmslagmedförfattarevissa utgåvorbekräftat
Evelyn WaughInledningmedförfattarevissa utgåvorbekräftat
Giroux, RobertInledningmedförfattarevissa utgåvorbekräftat
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"For I tell you that God is able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham."


English Translation:
"for Christ, the true king"

from phrase:
Ad te ergo nunc mihi sermo dirigitur, quisquis abrenuntians propriis voluntatibus, Domino Christo vero Regi militaturus oboedientiæ fortissima atque præclara arma sumis.

To thee, therefore, my speech is now directed, who, giving up thine own will, takest up the strong and most excellent arms of obedience, to do battle for Christ the Lord, the true King.
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On the last day of January 1915, under the sign of the Water Bearer, in a year of a great war, and down in the shadow of some French mountains on the borders of Spain, I came into the world.
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A fiftieth-anniversary edition of the 1948 spiritual autobiography of Thomas Merton, a young man whose search for peace and faith led him to join the religious order of the Trappist monks.

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