The Seven Storey Mountain
An Autobiography of Faith
Back Cover:"The Seven Storey Mountain is one of the most famous books ever written about a man's search for faith and peace. While still in his early twenties, Merton, an intensely passionate and brilliant man, found that nothing in his worldly life assuaged a growing restlessness. His curiosity about spiritual matters led him first to baptism as a Catholic and ultimately to entry into a Trappist monastery--'the four walls of my new freedom.' There he wrote this extraordinary testament, a unique spiritual autobiography of a man who withdrew from the world only after he had fully immersed himself in it. In the half century since its original publication, The Seven Storey Mountain 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."
I discovered "The Seven Storey Mountain" a couple years ago when researching Catholic conversion stories for my first Nano book "Floating on the Surface" in which I converted my main character to Catholic. I had came across several interesting books including Thomas Merton's and truthfully, even though I have been Catholic all my life, had never heard of him. I didn't get around to reading it until now.
It is definitely an interesting study of his life, especially since it is written from his perspective after he became a Trappist monk. When he first joined the Trappist, his desire was to leave his old life behind, including his life as a writer and forget all about it. However, the abbot encouraged Thomas not only to keep writing poems and stories, but to write the story of his life.
His parents, who were both artists, did not raise him with an particular religious upbringing. His 'pop' (grandfather) disliked 'catholic' and 'Jews' so essentially he was raised with a fear of Catholics and did everything he could to avoid them and the church. Merton was a young man who liked women, drinking, partying, and was very much into materialistic things. But he was restless as well because something was missing in his life. He was deeply introspective and kept searching for truth, dabbling in many lines of thought including communism.
Merton's spiritual awakening was greatly influenced by several things. While he was in college he purchased a book called The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy not realizing it was Catholic philosophy. He decided to read it instead of tossing it away.
"I discovered a entirely new concept of God--a concept which showed me at once that the belief of Catholics was by no means the vague and rather superstitious hangover from an unscientific age that I had believed it to be. On the contrary, here was a notion of God that was at the same time deep, precise, simple, and accurate and, what is more, charged with implications which I could not even begin to appreciate, but which I could at least dimly estimate, even with my own lack of philosophical training." pg 189After reading this book, he read as many catholic books as he could find. Within a year and a half of reading this book, Thomas decided to convert. While working on his Thesis which was based on the Poems of William Blake, his poetry and religious ideas:
"As Blake worked himself into my system, I became more and more conscious of the necessity of a vital faith, and the total unreality and unsubstantiality of the dead, selfish rationalism which had been freezing my mind and will for the last seven years. By the time the summer was over, I was to become conscious of the fact that the only way to live was to live in a world that was charged with the presence and reality of God." pg 208One night while reading a book about Gerard Hopkins and his decision to become Catholic, Merton was struck with a strong conviction to become Catholic. Months after his baptism, he desired to become a priest. It is amusing as he learns about the Jesuits, the Franciscans, the Dominicans, and the Benedictines and systematically eliminates each one because one has too many rules or they have to sleep in a common dormitory or they aren't allowed to eat meat. He initially disliked the idea of becoming a Trappist monk because among other things:
"Dan said, 'Do you think you would like that kind of life?"Once he learned to listen to God's will and not his own, did he find the happiness he sought. Three years after his baptism he entered into the Trappist life at the Our Lady of Gethsemani Monastery in Kentucky. But it doesn't end there as he talks about life in the Monastery and his growth in God and faith. Merton's story is truly inspirational and educational as we follow his life, his search for happiness and his spiritual awakening. Highly recommended.
"Oh no,' I said, 'not a chance! That's not for me! I'd never be able to stand it, It would kill me in a week. Besides, I have to have meat. I can't get along without meat, I need it for my health." pg 289