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Thomas Merton The Exquisite Risk of Love
The Chronicle of a Monastic Romance
by Robert Waldron
Publisher:DLT (Darton, Longman and Todd Ltd)
Robert Waldron describes the six month romance between Thomas Merton, the renowned 51 year old writer on spiritual matters and the 25 year old woman who nursed him through spinal surgery in 1966 and whom he calls only M. Waldron honours that discretion, though other websites identify M as Margie Smith. The focus of this book is on Merton's Eighteen Poems, helpfully unpacked by Waldron as love poems. He also draws on Merton's unexpurgated journal, Learning to Love, Volume 6, 1966-1967. And the risk? Merton was bound to take chances in his phone calls to M and their clandestine meetings. His global fame rested on his being a monk, yet here he was defying the monastic rule, to which he had committed himself. Still, this experience of love, says Waldron, brought about "a tremendous sea change" in Merton's writing. Prior to it, Merton himself admits that what he wrote was "to dogmatic, too much a list of things one had to obey and do". But his love poems after meeting M show Merton, "at his best, at his most vulnerable, at his most human (Waldron's words). "Although he is caught in an emotional dilemma, which is in many ways tearing him apart, he is paradoxically becoming a more whole human being." It really couldn't last and Merton finally reached an agreement with his Abbot to end the relationship. I found this book riveting in what it says about a side of Thomas Merton's life that I knew nothing about, and in explaining what his poems meant. Did love conquer all? It may have led to a new depth of wholeness in Merton, but Waldron concludes by saying, "in the 'sacred game of love', the winner is not M, not Merton, but Abbot James Fox, who was the true winner in what Merton, perhaps cynically, came to call the crap game of love."
Reviewer: Barry Vendy (05/07/13)