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A Vow of Conversation: Journals, 1964-1965 – Thomas Merton

July 17, 2015

VOCFor a man who took a vow of silence, Merton said lots of memorable and profound things, mainly through his prodigious writing. He became very popular in the 1960s because of resistance to the Vietnam war. He’d been a soldier who’d sired a child as soldiers did frequently but then went on his way. Remorse led to his postulancy and he worked up to taking his vows.

The title of this book is a play on words. The vows undertaken are called ‘conversio mourum’.

This book collects his thoughts between 1964 and 1965 when he was seeking permission to live alone in his hermitage at the Abbey of Gethsemani. He was torn between the contemplative life and his writing. He ponders Sartre in saying one must chose to live or to narrate.

Quotations:

“I am aware of the need for constant self-revision and growth, leaving behind the renunciation of yesterday and yet in continuity with all my yesterdays. For to cling to the past is to lose one’s continuity with the past, since this means clinging to what is no longer there.”

“Then it becomes necessary in such a situation to write antipoetry.  For what appears to be poetry and what appears to be communication is actually a common plot to repudiate poetry and refuse communication.  The pretense has to be attacked with the anti-poem.  The anti-poem is positive communication of resistance against the sham rituals of conventional communications.”

“…I am aware of the need for constant self-revision and growth, leaving behind the renunciation of yesterday and yet in continuity with all my yesterdays. For to cling to the past is to lose one’s continuity with the past, since this means clinging to what is no longer there.

My ideas are always changing, always moving around one centre, and I am always seeing that centre from somewhere else. Hence I will always be accused of inconsistency. But I will no longer be there to hear the accusation…”

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