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The Poetic Contemplation of Thomas Merton
Poetry is the earliest recorded literary art form. Its intense and musical language allows for strong emotional impact and easy memorization, and thus it has resonated for centuries with the human soul. Our most ancient literary work, The Epic of Gilgamesh, is a poem which recounts one man’s clamorous quest for eternal life, and the early monumental works of Western civilization are the grandiose epics of Homer, the Iliad and the Odyssey.
Perhaps most importantly for Christians, the Bible—itself an ancient literary work—is brimming with poetry. As a result, we see that God has affirmed the use of figurative poetic language such as metaphor, simile, parallelism, hyperbole, and synecdoche to communicate spiritual truth. Poetry also has a long legacy of use in the spiritual life and practice of the post-biblical global church.
But what practical role can poetry play in Christian spiritual formation today? There is perhaps no better real-life spokesperson for the value of poetry to our spiritual lives than the twentieth-century Trappist monk Thomas Merton. Himself a poet, Merton advocates the role of poetry as an invaluable aid to spiritual practice. Merton was particularly convinced that poetry is a helpful aid with regard to the spiritual practice of contemplation. In this essay, I will explore the relationships between poetry, contemplation, and love in Merton’s writing and then propose potential applications of this theopoetic style of contemplation to our daily lives and methods of pastoral care.
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Paperback: Random House, 1971.
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Malcolm Gladwell Reviews
Chris Anderson’s FREE
in the NEW YORKER.http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2009/07/06/090706crbo_books_gladwell?currentPage=1
At a hearing on Capitol Hill in May, James Moroney, the publisher of the Dallas Morning News, told Congress about negotiations he’d just had with the online retailer Amazon. The idea was to license his newspaper’s content to the Kindle, Amazon’s new electronic reader. “They want seventy per cent of the subscription revenue,” Moroney testified. “I get thirty per cent, they get seventy per cent. On top of that, they have said we get the right to republish your intellectual property to any portable device.” The idea was that if a Kindle subscription to the Dallas Morning News cost ten dollars a month, seven dollars of that belonged to Amazon, the provider of the gadget on which the news was read, and just three dollars belonged to the newspaper, the provider of an expensive and ever-changing variety of editorial content. The people at Amazon valued the newspaper’s contribution so little, in fact, that they felt they ought then to be able to license it to anyone else they wanted. Another witness at the hearing, Arianna Huffington, of the Huffington Post, said that she thought the Kindle could provide a business model to save the beleaguered newspaper industry. Moroney disagreed. “I get thirty per cent and they get the right to license my content to any portable device—not just ones made by Amazon?” He was incredulous. “That, to me, is not a model.”
Had James Moroney read Chris Anderson’s new book, “Free: The Future of a Radical Price” (Hyperion; $26.99), Amazon’s offer might not have seemed quite so surprising. Anderson is the editor of Wired and the author of the 2006 best-seller “The Long Tail,” and “Free” is essentially an extended elaboration of Stewart Brand’s famous declaration that “information wants to be free.” The digital age, Anderson argues, is exerting an inexorable downward pressure on the prices of all things “made of ideas.”
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FREE: THE FUTURE OF A RADICAL PRICE
Hardcover: Hyperion, 2009.
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BOOKS AND CULTURE
celebrates Wallace Stegner’s Centenary.http://www.christianitytoday.com/bc/2009/mayjun/wisemanoftheamericanwest.html
The centennial of Wallace Stegner’s birth (1909- 2009) is upon us. Two books and a documentary film provide valuable glimpses of his major importance as a writer and environmental activist. They also correct mistaken notions about Stegner.
Stegner sometimes suffered from misidentification. Some depicted him as a literary blood brother to Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour. Others portrayed him as a hidebound traditionalist unable to adjust to the modern West. Late in his career, a handful of misguided critics went so far as to charge Stegner with plagiarism.
These critics and naysayers miss Stegner’s major contributions as a novelist, historian, and biographer of the American West. He was also a highly respected professor of literature and a leading teacher of creative writing at Stanford University, as well as an internationally known advocate of conservation. Nearly all of his works and most of his ecological writings dealt with the West beyond the Mississippi.
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