On Monday I began reading Thomas Merton’s “The Seven Storey Mountain: An Autobiography of Faith.” The Introduction was authored by Bob Giroux, editor-in-chief of Harcourt Brace & Company at the time of the book’s publication in 1948. Giroux said he received “hate mail” from an early reader of Seven Storey Mountain maintaining that Merton’s penning of the manuscript after entering a Trappist monestary violated the monks’ tradition of silence. Giroux replied to the complainant that writing, like silence, fosters contemplation; therefore, the two are not mutually exclusive.
Lately I have toyed with integrating silence into my daily life, an idea derived mainly from the deterioration of my speech to mundane. The lost quality of my oral narratives is partially attributable to stresses heaped on me by the Lord–stresses that have hammered my thoughts into fragments and my words into utilitarian tools. By contrast, contemplation and eloquence seem to exist in some distant other-region, a remote desert perhaps, where I cannot afford to travel now; hence, I resort to writing.
Giroux indicated that when he chose to publish Seven Storey Mountain, he predicted its moderate rather than stunning success and enumerates the possible factors which influenced the second outcome. He omits the one factor that immediately comes to mind for me: that many of us enjoy hearing stories of others selflessly serving God while we hold freely to our pursuits.
My goal of silence is still unrealized, preoccupied as I am with escaping my troubles through television and other distractions that interfere with contemplation. My acts are not all meritless, however. I have a new job, a domestic position, with a family that includes six cats, a large furry dog, a husband, three children and a grandchild. The matriarch is scheduled to have an operation in five days in which surgeons will cut open her throat in order to fuse disks in her spine. Silence will be imposed on her, at least temporarily. I feel guilty knowing I could attain it simply by closing my mouth.