Heretic Blood: The Spiritual Geography of Thomas Merton Paperback – Sep 2000
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"Simply put," the author of this provocative study says, "Thomas Merton is the William Blake of our time." This is the "heretic blood" of the title: seeing Blake as an "arch-rebel," Higgins suggests that Merton--whose master's thesis at Columbia University was on Blake and who clearly never lost his love of Blake--takes the Romantic poet as something of a role model. "He was engaged in the same kind of spiritual and intellectual tasks," Higgins writes: "the critiquing of a dehumanizing culture; the re-visioning of human destiny; the liberating of our senses from the shackles of constrictive reason; the commingling of the imaginative arts." Academic dean and vice president of St. Jerome's University at the University of Waterloo, Higgins brings forth many references to Blake in Merton's work to support his argument. However, one need not be entirely convinced by the author's Blakean map to Merton's life to benefit from his close reading of Merton's prose, and even more from the attention he pays to his poetry, which was certainly at the center of Merton's own spiritual and artistic life--the place, in fact, where these two most deeply met. Doug Thorpe --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Higgins is an advocate of Merton even as he exposes Merton's failings and flaws. Higgins refers to 50-something Merton's affair with the 25-year-old student nurse as "an honest erotic encounter" (p. 231) a few pages after he has quoted Merton's declaration of the contrary: "I suppose really what my nature, in its hunger, really secretly planned was to have her as a kind of mistress while I continued to live as a hermit.
Could anything be more dishonest?" (p. 227, footnote omitted).
Higgins recognizes the often overlooked extremism of Merton, who tended to dramatize his own situation. For example, "Merton drew more than a few extravagant comparisons between his life and the plight of America's blacks. [He declared that as a monk he was deprived 'of human and civil rights.'] Even allowing for Merton's penchant for hyperbole and righteous indignation, the comparison of the American black's plight with that of a Trappist is a bit much" (pp. 179-180). This extremism is also evidenced in "The Seven Storey Mountain" where he wrote, "the culture of the white men is not worth the dirt in Harlem's gutters" (p. 175. footnote omitted).
Also useful is the examination of Merton as "anti-poet" and "anti-monk," as well as excerpts from Merton's correspondence with feminist theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether, who passed as a practicing Catholic while she attended a more with-it Episcopalian congregation with Merton's blessing.
This reviewer disagrees with Higgins about the "heretic" Merton's "personal holiness," but highly recommends Higgins's compilation of information so helpful in understanding Merton.
The comparison with William Blake's life was also a uniquely covered topic and I was glad to see the similarities in their lives.
Also the clear deliniation of Merton as a heretic was interesting and helped to explain how becoming a Catholic saved Merton from destructive behaviors, how he needed the protection of the monestary's structure as an orphan and also from living in so many places in Europe and in the United States... he needed a physical "center"....
Well worth the read!