The Writhe of T. Merton


I am starting to face the uncomfortable truth that anguish and resentment are built into life like cholesterol into fried catfish.

I came across an excerpt from a letter T. Merton wrote to his abbot in 1954, 13 years after entering Gethsemani, which reveals an aspect of the tension between the individual’s search for God and the constraints present in the life of the community.

He put it in a private letter to his abbot, on Passion Sunday 1954. The abbot of Gethsemani then was a man named Dom James Fox. It is important to know that nearly the whole time he was a monk, Father Louis struggled terribly with Dom James over issues of obedience and control. Theirs was a hugely complicated father-son relationship. But the monk, who was so famous by then, wrote this letter, which until now has never been published. It was found by a reporter in the abbey archives:

“I am beginning to face some facts about myself. Yes, need for more of a life of prayer, greater fidelity, greater sincerity and simplicity in doing what God wants of me. Easy to say all that. It depends on getting rid of something very deep and very fundamental in myself. … Continual, uninterrupted resentment. I resent and even hate Gethsemani. I fight against the place constantly. I do not openly allow myself — not consciously — to sin in this regard. But I am in the habit of letting my resentment find every possible outlet and it is such a habit. … I am not kidding about how deep it is. It is DEEP.”


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