I first read The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton in 2009 or 2010. Living in Kentucky at the time and being fairly new to the Catholic faith, it was hard not to be curious about Merton. After all, Merton had entered the Trappist monastery in Kentucky in 1941 and lived there until his untimely death in 1968. I plodded through the book, alternately fascinated by and bored with Merton. When I finished, I put it on my bookshelf and promptly forgot about it.
When we were packing for our move to Australia, I gave some of my books to our parish, my husband sold a few on eBay, and my favorites were packed in boxes to make the trip to Australia. Somehow, Merton’s book found its way into the trans-Pacific bound boxes.
Four months after packing those boxes, our belongings arrived at our new home in Australia. Unpacking was like Christmas morning! It was so good to see that our antique dining room table had arrived unscathed and to have my good pots and pans again! We unpacked and considered ourselves truly at home again. Merton sat on the bookshelf with my other books, unnoticed and forgotten.
But it seems Merton had not forgotten me. A few more months went by (where does the time go, really?) and I decided to read The Seven Storey Mountain again. After all, surely I had missed the point entirely the first time I read the book, right? After all, I am certainly no scholar and there are thousands and thousands of people who see Merton as a visionary, a beautiful writer, someone whose words and ideas are worth remembering. With that second reading, I think I got Merton a little more. I saw his life from a different viewpoint, realized that he had been searching his whole life for what he seemed to find nestled in the hills of central Kentucky in that monastery. Of course, like a lot of us, he doesn’t always know what it is that he’s looking for and the fact that he seemed to find it in that monastery doesn’t really become apparent in his autobiography. You have to read his later writings to realize how much he grows and changes. So Merton resonated with me more with that second reading and the book returned to the bookshelf with some dog-eared pages. As we sometimes do when we read the lives of the saints (though Merton is not technically a saint by the Church’s process), I found a bit of myself in some of those pages.
Now, more months later, I have pulled Merton off the bookshelf again for a third reading. The cover of the book is a bit curled, Merton in the same pose on the cover in his monastic habit, the pages are still dog-eared, and the paper has turned a satisfying shade of sepia. Merton and I are here in the early spring weather of northern Victoria, windows open, birds singing, hot coffee steaming.
I wonder what he will say this time.