Saturday, 18 February 2017

Thomas Merton: A Book of Hours

Kathleen Deignan (editor), Thomas Merton: A Book of Hours, 2007 Sorin Books, Notre Dame, IN

I had never even heard of Thomas Merton when I was a Protestant. So far I have yet to read any of his books, though I am looking forward to having a look when I can get around to it. As I am a sucker for prayer books, especially those containing a daily office, I bought this.

This is not quite what I expected. I was expected that it would follow the tradition of a Medieval Book of Hours, with Psalms and Scripture readings, interspersed with meditations from the writings of Thomas Merton. However, while it follows the structure of a daily office, with Psalms, canticles, readings and collects, the material is entirely taken from Thomas Merton's writings. Given that Merton was a monk who prayed the Psalms daily, I have my doubts that he would have approved the replacement of inspired Scripture with his own words.

Some of Merton's words are very beautiful and inspiring. However, a lot of the time his profound thoughts leave me scratching my head, confused as to what he is actually saying. There is a time for reading opaque and challenging spiritual writings, but I do not think morning and evening prayer is that time. A daily office is all about routine, consistency and simplicity. When one has just cleaned one's teeth and needs to set off for work in twenty minutes one is better off reading the Psalms. There are people of a poetical and mystical temperament who will relish this book. This may be the book they want; but it is not necessarily the book they need.

One thing I did really appreciate was the emphasis on Sophia, divine wisdom in the Saturday office. This fits nicely with the tradition of Marian devotion on Saturday. When one has time on one's hands, it may be worth using this book of hours for a few days.

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