Thomas Merton was a troubadour of contemplative life from America's Gesthemane Abbey. His books, including the famous autobiography 'Seven Storey Mountain' have made him one of the greatest spiritual writers from America. While this reviewer has read nearly a dozen of his sage works, 'Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander' is among his most colorful and engaging. Journal-like in its presentation and conception, Merton reflects upon the headlines of the Black Movement, Kennedy's assassination, and the Cuban Missile crisis with great depth and insight. The wisdom he provides doesn't date the topics he covers. 'Conjectures' would be fine as a historical document, but his commentary provides more than an antidote for history repeating itself. There are also trappings--no pun intended--of his little anecdotes of the monk's life. His observations of new candidates and the liturgical calendar hold simple truths that we can embrace with the variety of seasons.
I would hope every Catholic, and every non-Catholic, would embrace this book. It straddles the value of Eastern spirituality and widens the scope of Catholic experience. While many conservatives embrace G.K. Chesterton and Peter Kreeft as beacons of light and truth, Thomas Merton expands the scope and splendour of that truth without contradiction. Personally, I loved the part where Merton talked about medeival "Passion" plays demonizing Jews. He railed against the practice, and I read it just when the controversy about 'Passion of the Christ' was brewing, just before its release. I could see why there was so much trepidation after reading his historical perspective.
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