Practicing Our Civic Values: Cultivating PeaceThe Significance of the Writing of Thomas Merton: Building Bridges Between Faiths to Instill Peace
by Maryann DiEdwardo Ed.D.
Merton’s writings signify peace through faith and the Benedictine gifts that contemplatives hold as principles to live. As a Benedictine Oblate and Civic minded citizen, I also hold peace firmly as a human right.
Further, I note that Merton’s autobiography, Seven Storey Mountain, which I have read and re-read throughout my life, was a common and often important part of my upbringing as a young adult. In fact, the Trappist Monk, Merton, builds bridges between faiths to instill peace.
Both cultivating civic values and seeking peace form my paper. Practicing Our Civic Values: Cultivating Peace searches for concrete steps that we can take such as journaling about 20th century writing for the purpose of peace to seek to define the Significance of the Writing of Thomas Merton. Clearly, civic values are the bridge between the faiths of Merton. He is a sage who has transcended; he is still with us in his many writings.
I practice civic values in honoring scholarship in the field of peace and in habitual study. My own healing and transformation occurs with readings of his autobiography during different difficult periods of my own life. However, undertaking a project has also changed me through the peace that I gain by close readings of Seven Storey Mountain. My initial purpose in transformation motivates me to volunteer at soup kitchen, read scholarly works by and about Merton, and reflect in a journal as contemplative form of study to define aspects of peacefulness. Extended scholarship grows in the area of current films such as The Abbey of Gethsemani, The Hermitage. Additionally, I extend scholarly concentration, writing, journaling, and speaking about Thomas Merton’s prose elegy “Raids on the Unspeakable” from his 1966 collection of contemplative essays. He celebrates her “dry-eyed irony that could keep looking the South in the face without bleeding or even sobbing” (George Kilcourse). His words honor the late writers Flannery O’Conner. “ A Comparison of Thomas Merton’s prose elegy ‘Raids on the Unspeakable’ from his 1966 collection of contemplative essays and A Prayer Journal by Flannery O’Connor, published in 2013 by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, New York, USA is transformation. A Prayer Journal by Flannery O’Connor was published in 2013 by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, New York, USA.The poetics of her work are essential for insights into her purpose about the writing she hoped to perform: “I do not want this to be a metaphysical exercise but something in praise of God” (52). O’Connor writes with language that is written for God alone. A Christian, she uses beautiful intrapersonal expression. The book has dated and undated entries. For instance, I appreciate those pages which show her handwritten entries. Poetics of O’Connor are based on her writings to The Lord. On page 67, the hand written darker inked portion where she tells her soulful decision that the journal is not quite a “direct medium for prayer” astounds us. Flannery O’Connor continues to write that “Prayer is not even as premeditated as this—it is of the moment and this to too slow for the moment” in a humanity that reaches our souls (11/4 entry). 37 pages of printed text to represent the actual journal; original text is included at the back of the volume, in O’Connor’s own hand. I argue that my study of A Prayer Journal by Flannery O’Connor to study of language of trauma, preceded my current study of the value to O’Conner as a civil rights leader. Perhaps, Merton’s acknowledgement of the strength of O’Conner’s writing as civil rights literary textual signs. Page 3, the first undated entry which contains the language of the author as a “self shadow” which she says “will grow so large that it blocks the whole moon” (O’Connor 3). To understand we compare the passage to the work of Jacques Derrida who refers to “reverse metaphorization of concepts.” The reversal is such that there can be no final separation between the linguistic-metaphorical and the philosophical realms.
By seeking to find connections in the works of Merton, I eventually return to my own journaling and my prayer journaling as well, to reconstruct my own writing as a peaceful endeavor. In a Letter June 2017 to Mother Laura of Trinity Episcopal Church, I express my appreciation for the Benedictine project as a summer of transformation. I write: “I am studying the works of Thomas Merton this summer. The writing has become a reflection of his wonderful faith. I humbly read and journal. But the writing of the project which I am trying is secondary to the growth that I am receiving. So the Benedictine ways that Merton writes about, especially in his later works, profoundly humble me; the Benedictine virtues of simplicity listening obedience and others come to be the most important aspect. The goals of the project have moved to practicing these virtues.I write in solemnity and scholarship in the field of Poetry and in habitual study of themes about God. As a poet, I engage in planning poems for growth of the soul, faith, and love. My research involved the different dimensions of Christian spirituality, and in particular Benedictine spirituality, which I relate to civic values and cultural contexts. I use interdisciplinary and hermeneutical study of traditional resources (historical) and contemporary forms of spiritual life (anthropological).
Why did I select Thomas Merton?
According to the website of the Canadian Thomas Merton Society:
Thomas Merton was born in Prades, France, to artists, Ruth and Owen Merton. His early years were spent in the south of France; later, he went to
private school in England and then to Cambridge. Both of his parents were deceased by the time Merton was a young teen and he eventually
moved to his grandparents’ home in the United States to finish his education at Columbia University in New York City. While a student there, he
completed a thesis on William Blake who was to remain a lifelong influence on Merton’s thought and writings…At the Abbey of Gethsemani, near
Louisville, Kentucky, Merton undertook the life of a scholar and man of letters, in addition to his formation as a
Cistercian monk. The more than 50 books, 2000 poems, and numerous essays, reviews, and lectures that have been recorded and published, now
form the canon of Merton’s writings. His importance as a writer in the American literary tradition is becoming clear. His influence as a religious
thinker and social critic is taking its place alongside such luminaries as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Flannery O’Connor, and Martin Luther King. His
explorations of the religions of the east initiated Merton’s entrance into inter-religious dialogue that puts him in the pioneering forefront of worldwide
ecumenical movements. Merton died suddenly, electrocuted by a malfunctioning fan, while he was attending his first international monastic
conference near Bangkok, Thailand, in 1968″ (Canadian Merton Society).
Part Two Presentations
I. Lehigh University English 011 Sample Lesson (current)
The presentation is in the classroom to demonstrate life story writing, journaling, and formal study of civic values in a setting to promote and sustain peace. I attend meetings with our Lehigh Community on Inclusion. My study emulates the goals of our concentrations on human rights.
II. The Benedictine Oblate meeting on September 10, 2017.
III. SAGE at Penn State University. December 10, 2017.
IV. The Thomas Merton Society at the College English Association Conference. April 2017. St. Petersburg, FL.
Canadian Merton Society. Homepage. Available. 2017. http://merton.ca/biography.html
Derrida, J. and Moore, F.C.T. White Mythology: Metaphor in the text of Philosophy. The John’s Hopkins. University Press. Accessed 2016-May 11. http://users.clas.ufl.edu/burt/derridawhitemyth.pdf
DiEdwardo, Maryann. American Women Writers, Poetics, and the Nature of Gender Study. England: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2017.
Kilcourse, George. Thomas Merton Society Homepage. “Thomas Merton and Racism: ‘Letters to a White Liberal’ Reconsidered.” http://thomasmertonsociety.org/kilcour.htm
The Abbey of Gethsemani, The Hermitage. Video. 2017. http://www.monks.org/index.php/15-may-a-new-short-movie-featuring-the-hermitage