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Follow the Ecstasy: The Hermitage Years of Thomas Merton book coverFollow the Ecstasy: The Hermitage Years of Thomas Merton

by John Howard Griffin


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ebook, 192 pages

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ePub ISBN: 978-1-60940-141-2
Kindle ISBN: 978-1-60940-142-9
Library PDF ISBN: 978-1-60940-143-6

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."

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