The Accidental Green Life

How Christian Piety Can Grace the Earth

Thomas Merton is well known for his journey into solitude. He lived the quiet life of a monk and later moved to a hermitage, where he could be more fully alone. Upon reading his journals, one immediately notices a rhythm to what might otherwise seem like meandering entries on literature, philosophy, spirituality, and so forth: many of the entries are punctuated by frequent observations of his natural surroundings.

Thus his solitude exudes a sort of gentle presence and activity. "Yesterday there were small deer tracks in the snow of the path," he writes. "Tonight the half moon is shining." Or as he observed one day, "This morning toward the end of my meditation the rain was pouring down on the roof of the hermitage with great force and the woods resounded with tons of water falling out of the sky."

Day after small day, Merton's journals—written in solitude—put flesh on the Psalmist's ancient song, "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge …. Their voice goes out into all the earth" (Psalm 19:1-2, 4).

We're not surprised, then, to find that Merton eventually hears promise in the birds' heralding of spring. This promise "grows more and more definite" and causes him to reflect, "I look up at the morning star: in all this God takes His joy, and in me also, since I am His creation and His son, His redeemed, and member of His Christ."

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