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Thomas Merton and the Noonday Demon

Thomas Merton and the Noonday Demon
by Donald Grayson
Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2015
320 pages
Reviewed by Greg Richardson

There are books we read because we want to know what the author has to say. Some books are full of facts or figures, information we need to cram into our memory. There are books we read because we want to find out how the story ends. Some books are filled with fascinating characters and dramatic adventures. There are books that steal our sleep, keeping us awake and reading into the night.

We read, looking for books that contribute to, and change, our lives. Thomas Merton and the Noonday Demon is a book about two things that have changed my life. The first is Thomas Merton, a monk in twentieth century America. Born in France, Thomas Merton became a Trappist monk at the Gethsemani monastery in the United States in 1941. A prolific writer, Merton wrote The Seven Storey Mountain—a  spiritual autobiography which describes his call to monastic life, as well as volumes of journals, correspondence, poetry, photography, spirituality, social commentary, and books on contemplative life. “My life must have meaning. This meaning springs from a creative and intelligent harmony between my will and the will of God—a clarification by right action. But what is right action? What is the will of God?” (211).

Merton's writings have reached across the years to inspire several generations of people, including me, who desire to explore spirituality and contemplative life with clarity and authenticity. One powerful aspect of Merton's monastic life was a growing desire for silence and solitude.”After more than a decade at Gesthemani, he was drawn to request permission to transfer from the Trappist order to an order of hermits, the Camaldolese. Thomas Merton and the Noonday Demon includes the text of his correspondence with the Trappists and the Camaldolese seeking a transfer. It is a powerful tool for spiritual directors working with people who are exploring God’s call and the balance of risk and stability in their lives.

The book explores many aspects of discerning God’s call in the context of Merton’s struggle and through his own words. While Merton’s discerning is clearly within the Christian, Roman Catholic tradition, he raises and explores questions which are true for people from a wide variety of spiritual traditions.

In addition to the correspondence, Donald Grayson includes extensive background notes and explanatory narrative. The Camaldolese order is the second aspect of Thomas Merton and the Noonday Demon that has changed my life. One part of Merton’s story is the establishment of a Camaldolese presence in North America, New Camaldoli in Big Sur, California. Retreats at New Camaldoli and time with the Camaldolese monks there are part of Thomas Merton’s legacy in my life. And other seekers.

Greg Richardson is a spiritual director and leadership coach in Pasadena, California, USA. He is also a lay oblate with New Camaldoli Monastery near Big Sur, California.

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