If you’re interested in continuing your journey with Thomas Merton, here are a few suggestions on what to read next.
You have a rich banquet of books to choose from, as Merton wrote some one hundred works, if one includes smaller booklets as well as his full-fledged books. (That’s an amazing output for someone who for most of his life had just a few hours a day to write.)
The Seven Storey Mountain is Merton’s best-known book, an autobiography that describes his journey to becoming a monk. It’s one of the most influential spiritual works of the past century and continues to sell briskly around the world. Written when he was in his late 20s and early 30s, it’s the work of an enthusiastic, idealistic convert, sometimes dogmatic in a way that Merton would later come to regret. But well worth reading, nevertheless.
The Sign of Jonas covers a six-year period beginning shortly before the publication of The Seven Storey Mountain. Written in journal form, it is an intimate, informal, and engaging account of Merton’s life in the monastery and his ruminations about a life of faith.
New Seeds of Contemplation is one of Merton’s most highly regarded works, a series of reflections on the contemplative life. The “new” refers to the fact that it is an expanded and revised version of an earlier text. It represents Merton’s mature thinking, making this a book to read slowly and savor.
If you’re interested in reading about Merton’s exploration of Asian religions, try Zen and the Birds of Appetite or The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton (New Directions Books).
William H. Shannon’s Thomas Merton: An Introduction gives an accessible and knowledgeable overview of Merton’s life, works, and legacy.
Whatever you choose to read, I think you’ll find Thomas Merton to be a wise companion on your journey.
In his words: “For me to write is love; it is to inquire and to praise, or to confess or to appeal,” wrote Merton in an unpublished journal. “Not to assure myself that I am (“I write, therefore I am”), but simply to pay my debt to life, to the world, to other men. To speak with an open heart and say what seems to me to have meaning.”
Lori Erickson is one of America’s top travel writers specializing in spiritual journeys. She’s the author of the Near the Exit: Travels With the Not-So-Grim Reaper and Holy Rover: Journeys in Search of Mystery, Miracles, and God. Her website Spiritual Travels features holy sites around the world.