Book Review: Thoughts in Solitude by Thomas Merton
by Peter Menkin 1/20/2009 / Book Reviews
Moving book about a man's love for God
Moved by this slim volume by Thomas Merton, I found "Thoughts in Solitude" to be worth a second read three years after the initial purchase and first reading. Call this an accidental second reading, and a good accident for I had not planned on revisiting the title. To my pleasure, the book is good if not better the second time around. For I was moved by the love this man holds for God, or held, since he is now many years dead. In this book, he lives, and he is as well as a man of God who sought God, but a writer who has the writer's gift of telling us some of the journey of getting closer to God. Or as he might say, God allowing someone to get closer to Him. That is good news.
Readable, and certainly quick going but the kind of book one goes through "easily," it is a book that allows for reflection. I wondered about humility, and I wondered how in the world could something like humility be available to a layman, especially one who has neither the desire for nor the means of holding and having solitude as did Thomas Merton.
I think Thomas Merton held solitude, as one embraces something, as one would embrace God. As a man or woman comes to Christ. Intangible as that may sound, the writer brings the reader to come with him on the inner journey and the journey of desire to be with God in quiet and solitude. Not alone, but in a solitude that is like a solidarity with the Almighty. This is the having solitude that I mention. Or so I understand it by the book.
But I did not come to the book, after reading a while, to admire Thomas Merton. Of course, I do. I did not come to the book to get secrets about God, but Thomas Merton says there are secrets available to those who read the scriptures. There is both the telling and the untelling of a relationship with God that explains to the reader, through inference and through his reflections, that solitude brings people to mystery. I want to believe that there is mystery in the relationship with Christ, that in God we find and feel things (called religious experience) that are not available to us other ways. Thomas Merton writes of religious experience in this book, and he does it very well.
I'm sure you have heard that this is the second of his books that critics cite as one of his two best. The other is, "The Seven Story Mountain." I read that book as the first of his books I read. I am glad I did. Here I stop a moment to tell you I am not doing justice to his writing, for in both books he is a spiritual master. Here he writes of the spiritual life, and for me it is the beginnings of thought on considering spiritual life:
"Spiritual life is not mental life. It is not thought alone. Nor is it, of course, a life of sensation, a life of feeling--'feeling" and experiencing the things of the spirit, and the things of God.
Nor does the spiritual life exclude thought and feeling. It needs both."
I like how he explains this explanation, saying, "Everything must be elevated and transformed by the action of God, in love and faith."
The end of the book is like a prayer, and the entire book has a prayer quality to it. The chapters are short. They are like arrows of writing. There is a warmth to the writing, and an inviting quality is evident because Thomas Merton wants his reader to know what it is to love God, and to recognize this is what a man or woman may have in his or her lifetime.
As I come to the end of this review, it is important to remark that a reader can take his affection, even his passionate humility tempered in a life of solitude, and find ways of understanding and coming closer to God. I grant his is a holy life, an easy thing to say, and I want to close with this quote:
"The solitary life is a life in which we cast our care upon the Lord and delight only in the help that comes from Him. Whatever He does is our joy. We reproduce His goodness in us by our gratitude. (Or--our gratitude is the reflection of His mercy. It is what makes us like Him.)
Peter Menkin, Epiphany
Peter Menkin, an aspiring poet, lives in Mill Valley, CA USA where he writes poetry. He is an Oblate of Immaculate Heart Hermitage, Big Sur, CA and that means he is a Camaldoli Benedictine. He is 64 years of age as of 2010.