I’ve been reading really early Thomas Merton for the first time in a while. This is the Merton I fell in love with in The Seven Storey Mountain. I’m reading the first volume of his published journals, Run to the Mountain: The Story of a Vocation (The Journals of Thomas Merton, Volume 1: 1939-1941). Here are that zest for life, intellect (and yes, some condescension), and drive to love God. Merton didn’t manufacture connections between his life and Augustine’s Confessions.
Ever present is the desire to become pure love, the knowledge that to become a saint is no more and no less than wanting to become a saint. Because God also wants it, God will accomplish it. Even if there was some prideful ambition at the outset, it quickly dissolved. For him, sainthood was not about being special, not even about being perfect, but rather it was about love. That’s why he wrote so often of the lives of the saints in these journals. That’s surely why he and others around him assumed the Franciscans would be a good home for him. Strange to think that if Merton lived today, the Franciscans would have been happy to take him, and who knows who Merton would have become apart from the Cistercians at Gethsemani?
Later Merton, much of the time a model for the non-judging way, had little but judgment for his younger self. Merton in 1939 was judging 16-year-old Merton, and Merton in the 50s and 60s was often annoyed by Seven Storey Mountain Merton. But I love early Merton, and I find him to be of much greater help in desiring God and desiring love alone than later Merton is. It has me wondering if, assuming that this is a less mature stage in Merton, it is still a necessary stage, not only for him but for anyone on the path of love. Do you have to hold the laughable ambition and child-like trust that you too can become a saint in order to even begin the journey on that way? I’m running to the mountain in that belief.