Merton and Day

So I finally did it.  I went out and got myself a spiritual director.  And as I was explaining to her what I’ve been doing recently in my prayer life (this was difficult and guilt inducing!) I mentioned that I had been reading a lot of Merton, and before that some Dorthy Day.  Which Sister thought was an odd combination.  And for half a second or so, I nearly began to correct her, and say that it wasn’t odd at all, actually, but I thought better of that and moved on.  But I have kept thinking about it, and I think I was right (though the ideas are rough and not backed by specific texts at the moment – my Tulane degree is cringing as I write this!), they are really not far removed when you get down to what they each preached.  Simply, love your neighbor.  And that means everyone.  Both felt senses of guilt for the state the world was in, based mostly on their pre-conversion lifestyles.  Both argued that love of God comes to fruition in caring for other people as well and as sacrificially as we can.  Merton did this with prayer behind closed doors, but there seem to be times in his writing where the thinks that if her were worth his salt, he would be out doing exactly what Dorthy Day was doing.  On the other hand, Day emphasizes the need for spiritual grounding to survive the sort of work she engaged in.  The two complement each other clearly.  The fact that both felt they had been forgiven so much stirred both of them to charity and forgiveness, though neither ever shied to name and denounce sin wherever they found it.  The honesty, often the bluntness of both of their writings shines of the desire to know and be known, to open themselves and to thereby lead their readers further down whatever their personal paths might be.  Merton felt he needed the cloister to keep him from the temptations of the world, and that that sort of solitude was necessary for his salvation.  But he repeats that it does not free him from the necessity of loving his neighbor, within the monastery walls or without them.  The two have different methods, because of their different gifts and struggles, but one message.  Love greatly, for you are greatly loved.

2 Replies to “Merton and Day”

  1. I think you are right on! Merton and Day were the first two spiritual writers I read when I was converting and I have continued to appreciate the ways they complement each other. Have you read The Life You Save May Be Your Own by Paul Elie? This is a kind of joint biography of Merton, Day, Flannery O’Connor, and Walker Percy and I really liked it.

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