"Take and Read" is a weekly NCRonline blog that features a different contributor's reflections on a specific book that changed their lives. Good books, as blog co-editors Congregation of St. Agnes Sr. Dianne Bergant and Michael Daley say, "can inspire, affirm, challenge, change, even disturb."
I discovered Thomas Merton in the midst of a laboratory. I was a doctoral student in pharmacology at New Jersey Medical School working on a model of moto-neuron disease known as ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) and remember standing in the middle of the lab one day, procrastinating by thumbing through TIME magazine. I enjoyed reading the book review section and was struck by a new biography of a monk named Thomas Merton. I had never heard of Merton, but the summary of the book was intriguing. I went home that evening and reread the book review. The highlights of his life were fascinating: an intellectual from Columbia University whose cultural and literary life was relinquished for one of solitude and silence in a Trappist monastery. I was drawn to Merton like a magnet. I bought Monica Furlong's biography and read it in a single evening. I then went and purchased Merton's Seven Story Mountain and after finishing this book knew that I wanted to follow Merton's path. The rest, as they say, is history.
What drew me to Merton (and still does) was his deep inner search for truth and light, his inner yearning for God. I encountered his New Seeds of Contemplation while teaching a graduate spirituality course at Washington Theological Union. This book, in particular, encapsulated his spirituality for me — not in a biographical sense — but his profound soulful depth which at times seem to touch infinity. In fact, it is the opening chapters of this book that I return to again and again because they are, to me, like the opening chapters of Genesis, revealing the truth of creation and our capacity for God.