Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Thomas Merton's Curriculum Vitae

Once in a while I walk up to the Merton Center here at Bellarmine University to chat with the director and the assistant director, and it seems like each time I do there's a different Mertonian treasure I've never seen before.  One time I walked into the office of Paul Pearson, the director, to find stacks of paintings leaning against a wall. "Oh, those are painting by Owen Merton [Thomas' father] that we've acquired over the years," Paul replied when I asked him about the paintings. "The place where they're stored is being worked on right now, so they needed to be stored here for a few days."  Another time Paul showed me a cross that Pope Paul VI gave to Merton, which the Center had just received from Br. Patrick Hart.  And on another occasion, Paul showed me the collection of relics that Merton carried with him to Asia on his final trip.  The place is full of treasures.

Not too long ago I took a group of students up to the Merton Center as part of a graduate class I was teaching on Merton's life and thought.  Paul showed us Merton's final journal notebook - I found the abrupt end and the empty pages after December 10, 1968 jarring - and also played us a couple of recordings of Merton.  Some people are aware that the monastery recorded hundreds of hours of the talks Merton gave to the novices; I've had the opportunity to listen to a few of these.  But the Center also has many hours of other recordings Merton made, specifically of ones he made at the hermitage when he would dictate things for a monk at the Abbey to type up.

Paul played us a segment of one of these recordings, and he's given me permission to share it here.  Sometimes Merton filled up these tapes playfully; on one recording Merton played selections of Kansas City jazz for his typist to listen to.  In the recording I've embedded below, Merton reads out a mock curriculum vitae which gives a glimpse into Merton's sense of humour and into the self-criticism that is so prevalent in his personal journals.  "Autobiography in 1948," Merton reads, "created a general hallucination followed by too many pious books."

Thought many of you would enjoy hearing this.

Picture of Merton above used with permission of the Merton Legacy Trust
The recording of Merton is used with permission and is copyright of the Merton Center and the Merton Legacy Trust