A Brief Review of
LIVING WITH WISDOM: A LIFE OF THOMAS MERTON
by Jim Forest.
Reviewed by Brent Aldrich.
I have for several years appreciated the writings of Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk who lived at the Abbey of Gethsemani outside Louisville, Kentucky, particularly for the clarity with which he describes the reality or ‘resplendence’ of the immanent kingdom of God, as well as his commitment to the nonviolence of Christ. Although having read a number of his essays and poems, the extent of my own knowledge of Merton’s life came almost exclusively through his autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, written twenty years before his death in 1968, and so limited up to a certain point; Jim Forest’s biography of Merton Living With Wisdom: A Life of Thomas Merton has been recently revised and reprinted for a comprehensive overview of Merton’s life. This biography was written by a friend, and as such seems thorough and honest about all of Merton’s life, drawing heavily on texts by Merton, but also on conversation with Merton and many others close to him. I am reminded of Ernesto Cardenal’s poem “Trip to New York” in which he visits the Thomas Merton Center and many of Merton’s friends, recalling that, “after his death / you saw that each friend of his believed he was Merton’s closest friend. /… – and each one really was.”
Living With Wisdom is full of photographs that correspond to the chronological narrative of Merton’s life, as well as many passages from his writing, sometimes as frequent as Forest’s words, which presents a well-rounded vision of both Merton’s life and context, as well as his body of writing. Thomas Merton’s life as a monastic, along with his many books is well worth consideration by the church, and Forest’s biography is a generous supplement to Merton’s work.