Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton


I picked up this book because I'd heard many good things about it. It sure didn't disappoint.

Well, this is an autobiography of a Trappist monk, Thomas Merton, who entered his vocation at the young age of 26 after a lifetime of worldly pursuits. It is quite a tomb at 462 pages but I suppose this is comparable to other autobiographies out there.

What most surprised me was how engaging the book was. Unlike other autobiographies that had me bored by page 3 (Richard Branson's "Losing my Virginity" being one), I followed Merton as he rambled on about his childhood, his youth, and then his time at Cambridge and then Columbia. He is quite a masterful writer in that sense, because he kept me reading. He had certainly travelled quite a bit by the time he entered university.

But I suppose part of the draw was wanting to find out how and why he left the world to become a Trappist monk, one of the more exacting vocations among the Catholic orders. In fact, he felt the same way too, first signing up with the Franciscans instead who rejected him eventually. This book shows how when God calls someone, that someone would have his soul tugged toward that particular vocation. At least that's what happened for Thomas Merton. That was how he was first converted from being a pagan (in his own words), to a Catholic and from subsequently to the priesthood. It seemed not so much the work of the people around him, although they played a part in it, but more the work of God himself that led him to his final path.

I loved this passage near the end of the book which made me feel like this is what life is supposed to be about. This was when he was on his way to the monastery, hoping that they would accept him, while at the same time aware of the possibility of being drafted into the army (World War 2 was happening at that time):

"I was free. I had recovered my liberty. I belonged to God, not to myself: and to belong to Him is to be free, free of all the anxieties and worries and sorrows that belong to this earth, and the love of the things that are in it. What was the difference between one place and another, one habit and another, if your life belonged to God, and if you placed yourself completely in His hands? The only thing that mattered was the fact of the sacrifice, the essential dedication of one's self, one's will, the rest was only accidental."

This is impacted me so much. It is brilliant and made me realise in a flash that life can be so simple. Often we over-think and ruminate on the complexities of life when all we have to do is to place yourself in God's hands.

Well, I must say I wouldn't recommend this book for all, especially for those hard-pressed for time. His life is really quite interesting and I can understand why it was a best-seller in its time, just after the war when everyone was searching for something greater than themselves. For those interested in Thomas Merton, this would be a good book for you to find out more about him. For the average person, do pick it up if you'd like to find out why someone would convert to the Catholic faith in his adult life, not having much contact with it all throughout his life. I must say it was quite a good read, as long as it was.


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