"Thomas Merton : A Man for our Times" by Lynn Szabo, Canadian Evangelical Review #20, Fall 2000, pp. 2-12.

By Robert Brow   (www.brow.on.ca)

Lynn Szabo of Trinity Western University has given us a wonderfully rich picture of Thomas Merton's "language of silence" in his poetry. But how does it fit into my obsession with model theology? It is possible to make a guess at a poet's explanatory model, but it is very hard to evaluate a model where a poet uses words to discourage the use of words.

"No one need attend. Listening is obsolete. So is silence" (The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton, New York: New Directions, 1977, p. 397).

I hope someone will do an evaluation of Merton's theological model from his prose writings. Beyond the silence, did Merton have a Creator who cared about him? Was there a sense of forgiveness and life after death? Did he know how to set his mind "on the things of the Spirit" (Romans 8:5-7)? Merton talks about "a communion beyond the level of words" but was this in any sense a lover's conversation? Martin Buber wrote of his Jewish experience of "I and Thou." I want to distinguish my Trinitarian conversation with God as Father, and God as Messiah Friend, and God as Spirit. But Merton's language of silence is problematical for me.

It might be possible for the child of autistic parents to know that he or she is loved, but most parents of autistic children long desperately for some words. And the women I know who have a husband who never communicates, find life just about unbearable. I assume that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are sad when I refuse to talk to them.

I am getting to the end of the wonderful experience of writing a commentary on John's Gospel. Rather than silence, the Apostle John knew the Messiah who said so much about himself. There is not one word in his Gospel, or the other three, about silence as the essence of the good news. Paul did say "let them be silent in the church" but that referred to those who speak in tongues, and only when there was no one to put what they longed to say into words (1 Corinthians 14:28). We are also told that there will be "silence in heaven for about half an hour" (Revelation 8:1). That leaves a lot of room for singing and loving conversation.

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