cover image THE INNER EXPERIENCE: Notes on Contemplation

THE INNER EXPERIENCE: Notes on Contemplation

Thomas Merton, ; edited and with intro. by William H. Shannon. . Harper San Francisco, $22.95 (192pp) ISBN 978-0-06-057060-6

Any book that arrives in print 35 years after its author's death has an unusual history. Thomas Merton, the prolific monk whose autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain brought Christian contemplation into the 20th century, forbade his literary executors to publish The Inner Experience, an unfinished 1959 rewriting of his early book What Is Contemplation? But armed with evidence that Merton had taken up the project anew shortly before his sudden death in 1968, Merton biographer William H. Shannon has reconstructed his drafts and notes into this new volume. The result is rough, since Merton's text has not been edited so much as embalmed. Scholars will appreciate the critical apparatus of italics, footnotes and changes of typeface that indicate variants in the drafts, and they may glean hints of Merton's subtle shifts in emphasis, such as his growing openness toward Eastern mysticism. Less technically minded readers, however, will be distracted, and the writing is as uneven as one might expect of a work cobbled together over 20 years. Still, many passages offer vivid examples of Merton's ability to make monastic disciplines intelligible and plausible even to secular readers. Novices should still start with New Seeds of Contemplation, but Merton's many fans will want to add this book to their shelves. (Aug.)