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The Environmental Vision of Thomas Merton

Monica Weis

Publication Year: 2011

Nature was always vital in Thomas Merton’s life, from the long hours he spent as a child watching his father paint landscapes in the fresh air, to his final years of solitude in the hermitage at Our Lady of Gethsemani, where he contemplated and wrote about the beauty of his surroundings. Throughout his life, Merton’s study of the natural world shaped his spirituality in profound ways, and he was one of the first writers to raise concern about ecological issues that have become critical in recent years. In The Environmental Vision of Thomas Merton, author Monica Weis suggests that Merton’s interest in nature, which developed significantly during his years at the Abbey of Gethsemani, laid the foundation for his growing environmental consciousness. Tracing Merton’s awareness of the natural world from his childhood to the final years of his life, Weis explores his deepening sense of place and desire for solitude, his love and responsibility for all living things, and his evolving ecological awareness.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Series: Culture of the Land

Front cover

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Series page

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TItle page

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Copyright page

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List of illustrations

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p. viii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

Caeli enarrant gloriam Dei ”: “The heavens proclaim the glory of God; and the firmament shows forth His handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). week for the twenty-seven years of his monastic life. These, along with many other expressions found in the psalms, served to deepen Merton’s awareness of creation as a manifestation of God in the world. ...

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pp. xiii-xiv

It is often said that we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us. This wisdom applies in particular to the genesis of this book. There are many shoulders upon which I stand. Some years ago William H. Shannon nudged me to explore the ways in which nature influenced Thomas Merton; not long after that, in a talk at Nazareth ...


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pp. xv-xvi

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Introduction: Dancing with the Raven

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pp. 1-8

Nature was always important in Thomas Merton’s life—from his infancy in Prades, France, when he learned words like chrysanthemum, hollyhock, foxglove, chickadee, and kingfisher from his mother’s careful coaching, to long hours in the fresh air watching his artist father create landscapes, to his final years of solitude in the hermitage at Our ...

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Chapter 1. Encountering Rachel Carson: Environmentalist and Provocateur

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pp. 26-38

January 1963: the United States was celebrating the six-month anniversary of the opening of its first Walmart superstore, yet still grieving the August 1962 death of Marilyn Monroe. The first black student registered at the University of Mississippi was beginning his second semester of study, and the Cuban missile crisis of October continued ...

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Chapter 2. Learning to See: Becoming Awake

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pp. 22-47

It’s all about seeing—not merely looking, but seeing. Seeing with new eyes. Awakening to one’s surroundings and cultivating awareness of both external and internal movements of grace. Yet the development from looking to seeing does not happen automatically; it requires conscious effort and focus—sometimes even training—and often results in ...

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Chapter 3. “Spots of Time”: Moments of Awakening

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pp. 48-65

Though we credit Merton’s study of the visionary William Blake with significant influence on his ability to appreciate art and to see differently, other literary influences on Merton’s thinking and spiritual practice warrant examination, namely his academic encounter with William Wordsworth. Although he never engaged in a sustained inquiry into ...

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Chapter 4. Seeing Differently: Recognizing the Holy in the Ordinary

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pp. 66-93

Though it is exciting and perhaps even clever to identify spots of time in a writer’s life and thus infer or speculate on how singular events play a significant role in artistic or spiritual development, not everyone is a celebrity subject to such scrutiny. Yet all of us do have the opportunity to develop a new way of seeing, even to develop a habit of awareness ...

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Chapter 5. Merging Inner and Outer Landscapes: Prayer, Poetry, and Photography

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pp. 93-125

Becoming awake. Identifying spots of time. Recognizing the holy in the ordinary. These are all important attitudes for developing one’s consciousness. Yet my query from chapter 2 remains: if one is awake, can one become more awake? Readers of Merton’s journals will, I suspect, answer with an emphatic “yes” because we discover Merton not ...

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Chapter 6. Merton’s Evolving Ecological Consciousness

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pp. 126-156

Merton biographers, as well as multiple Merton scholars, have clearly documented the late 1950s and early 1960s as Merton’s “turning toward the world.” His moment of epiphany in March 1958 while crossing the busy intersection of Fourth and Walnut streets in Louisville attests to the beginning of this turning. No longer does Merton ...

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Afterword. Woodland Deer: An Ecological Journey in Miniature

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pp. 157-166

I hesitate to say more about the influence of nature on Thomas Merton’s spirituality, but there is one creature that singularly intrigued Merton in his weeks and months at the hermitage: deer. In fact, if we examine closely his frequent interaction with this mysterious woodland creature, we can notice that the changes in Merton’s attitude to ...


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pp. 167-176


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pp. 177-184


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pp. 185-186


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pp. 187-197

E-ISBN-13: 9780813130156
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813130040

Page Count: 216
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Culture of the Land