A Book of Hours Hardcover – Mar 1 2007
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A Book of Hours reveals in ways I have never experienced the hidden wellspring of Merton's contemplative life and art. This is a gorgeous book, beautifully conceived and intelligently executed. Deignan has woven a tapestry of Merton's prayer, prose, and poetry at their most ardent so as to re-educate our awareness that God is Beautiful and most worthy of our daily praise. This five-star book will snugly fit the pocket of your heart.
About the Author
Thomas Merton, (January 31, 1915 - December 10, 1968) was an American Catholic writer and mystic. A Trappist monk of the Abbey of Gethsemani, Kentucky, he was a poet, social activist, and student of comparative religion. In 1949, he was ordained to the priesthood and given the name Father Louis. He has written over 70 books.
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Kathleen Deignan's introduction, in addition to providing background on Thomas Merton, describes the practice of praying a Book of Hours. Her version consists of excerpts from a variety of Merton's works presented as familiar liturgical elements such as psalms, litanies, intercessions, hymns, and epistles. She invites us to "let this breviary serve our soul-needs" using whatever elements appeal to us during the time we have.
The first time I prayed with the book, I was drawn to these words from the Lesson: "Keep your eyes clean and your ears quiet and your mind serene." What would it mean for me to do each of those, and could I add other, similar cautions? Maybe lips or tongue or mouth in relation to fasting and praying? During a later session, I discovered an antiphon that exemplifies Merton's moments of pure exuberance in the midst of more formal expression: "You have to be all the time cooperating with the love and love sets a fast pace even at the beginning and, if you don't keep up, you'll get dropped." I was grateful that Deignan included this one, and also a long passage from Merton's Fire Walk story, considered by many to be the greatest piece of spiritual writing of its time.
Although this Book of Hours is in itself enough material for unlimited reflection, the author has wisely understood that many readers will want more Merton. To help them, she has added a simple system for identifying the source of each passage at the end of the book.
The editors manipulated a wealth of Merton's poetry, letters, canticles and journal entries to meld into a liturgically poetic book of hours or opus dei for the every day. The reader is presented with a week's worth of prayers and meditations organized in the traditional monastic style. However, instead of the seven hours or calls to prayer in the day, the editors shaped the daily prayer into four notable "hours:" Dawn, Day, Dusk, and Dark. Each part of the day brings the reader a reason to move forward, a reason to be, a reason to love each other more.
Merton's writing is never an easy read. He demands much of his audience. Often a meditation or prayer needs to be reread to glean its potential meaning for the reader, but that is the beauty of reading the mind of a seeker of peace in this world and the next. For those new to Merton, there may be an urge to put the little tome down, but hang in there. With every paragraph, this monk provides another window for inspiration and contemplation. He even encourages creative responses to silence:
Night calls, the door opens;
Darkness envelops the walk.
Forest stars bring me home.
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