Follow the Ecstasy: The Hermitage Years of Thomas Merton
ebook, 192 pages
Shortly after Thomas Merton's tragic (and to some suspicious) death in 1968, John Howard Griffin was invited to write a biography of America's most famous monk, a monk who strangely had become a best-selling theologian, the author of some 70 books. The result was Follow the Ecstasy: The Hermitage Years of Thomas Merton (1983) in which Griffin examines the final years of Merton's life, including the time Merton was allowed to live as a hermit at the Trappist Abbey of Gethsemani. The Thomas Merton presented here is and is not the same Merton who wrote The Seven Storey Mountain. His spiritual awareness had grown to encompass both political involvement and the practice of Zen meditation. Griffin also describes Merton's romantic but nonsexual relationship with a young nurse who tended him following back surgery. This all-too-human story was related at Merton's implicit request (and with the permission of the young woman) lest he be seen as more saintly than he was. In some ways, it was a final act of tremendous humility.
Both Merton and Griffin were converts to Catholicism, and they had become fast friends during Griffin's occasional retreats to Gethsemani. As Robert Bonazzi writes in his Foreword to Follow the Ecstasy, "With natural humility and intense spirituality, they taught each other by example and silence."Merton and Griffin were both photographers as well as writers. Griffin wrote about Merton's painting and photography in A Hidden Wholeness: The Visual World of Thomas Merton (1970). They also shared a fascination with the French theologian Jacques Maritain, as well as French modernists Pierre Reverdy, George Braque, and Albert Camus. Griffin fell ill before he could finish his biography of Merton, and the mantle of official biographer passed to Michael Mott, author of The Seven Mountains of Thomas Merton, an essential compendium of the monk's life. Yet Follow the Ecstasy gets closer to the man — a portrait made by one who shared not only personal histories and interests with Merton, but an "intuitive perspective of solitude."
- I first read this book when I was actually living in Merton's
hermitage in 1985. It still waits on my shelf -- filled with highlighted
and rich memories, bits of brutal truth, and ecstasies that he has
taught me to follow. I return to it regularly, as if visiting a holy
shrine to my soul -- and his.
— Richard Rohr, Director of The Center for Action and Contemplation
- Follow the Ecstasy provides the best narrative account of Thomas Merton's last four years. The creative, productive, and authentic spirit of these hermitage years emerges in Griffin's amicable telling, giving meaning and life to Merton's declaration that "I am in a state of ecstasy over the human race."
— Robert E. Daggy, Former Director of The Thomas Merton Center
- John Howard Griffin, the best-selling author of Black Like Me, takes
us inside the world of Thomas Merton. Follow the Ecstasy reveals an
intimate look at the last, critical years of Merton's life. This period
coincided with the monk's long-sought permission to withdraw
to a hermitage on the grounds of the Abbey of Gethsemani. The
retreat to greater solitude, ironically, plunged Merton even more
deeply into the life and turmoil of his times. In an extraordinary
burst of spiritual and creative energy, he investigated the religions
of the East, wrestled with the social and political issue of racism,
war and peace, and experienced anew the wonder and anguish of
human love. As Griffin writes of Merton, throughout these last
years, "he never wavered from his true vocation: to be always
leaping over the cliffs of the spiritual life."
— Robert Ellsberg, author of All Saints and Editor/Publisher of Orbis Books
About This Author
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John Howard Griffin