Thomas Merton, Me, and My Free Book Giveaway

Let’s have some fun. With this post I’m announcing a book-a-month giveaway. For starters I’m offering a book by Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk. For free. All you have to do is enter and be the lucky one to have your name drawn. Call it the Carlen Lotto. 

Here’s why I’m picking Merton as my first author. 

Last September, Pope Francis blew away some thick cobwebs from my memory. That’s when he spoke to members of the U.S. Congress, calling out Merton in the same breath with Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, and social activist Dorothy Day.

I was reminded instantly of the role Merton played early in our journey when my wife Martha was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I was struck by this realization: Few authors have influenced the direction of my thinking more than Thomas Merton. Last week I mentioned briefly how his writings helped prepare me for our crisis.


Merton died a couple of decades before I discovered him in the early 1990s. Out of that discovery I learned, among other things, about St. Anthony and the other Desert Fathers and Mothers of the 3rd and 4th centuries; about St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross of the 16th century; and about the practice of contemplative prayer and a simple but meaningful approach to reading Scripture called Lectio Divina.

Scanning my bookshelves today, I see three dozen or more books that Merton wrote, or that were written about him, or that he’d directed me to. I spent a week alone in Merton’s hermitage (or cabin) in the thick of our crisis, about which I devote a chapter in my forthcoming book. And Martha and I, shortly after her diagnosis, met with the monk who was a Merton “trainee” and ultimately was Merton’s confessor, who also quickly became the object of Martha’s school-girl crush.      

The Merton Book I’m Giving Away

Among the first books I read of Merton’s was his best-selling autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain. It fascinated me: born to artist parents in France; losing his mother at six; shuffling between America and Europe; trying on a bohemian lifestyle. A student at Columbia University, Merton showed early signs of a brilliant literary future when, at 26, he decided to become a Trappist monk and entered the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky. Five years later, he wrote this autobiography. Few people have the courage—or is it the audacity?—to write an autobiography when they are 31 years old.

I read this book a couple of decades ago, so I suspect my take today would be different from when I was in my late 40s. Even Merton is said to have had second thoughts. In 1998, Merton’s friend and book publisher Robert Giroux wrote in a piece for The New York Times: “Two years before (Merton’s) death he wrote a preface to the Japanese edition of The Seven Storey Mountain, containing his second thoughts about the book almost 20 years after he had written it: ‘Perhaps if I were to attempt this book today, it would be written differently. Who knows? But it was written when I was still quite young, and that is the way it remains. The story no longer belongs to me. ’ ”

Regardless, The Seven Storey Mountain is still a fresh and worthwhile read, having influenced millions through the years. So this is the book I’m giving away today, the paperback edition. If you’re interested in participating, here are some rules of the road: 

  • Anyone is eligible, whether you subscribe to my newsletter or not. Simply send an email to between this Friday, January 29, and next Wednesday, February 3, by 11:59 PM EST. Indicate that you would like to be included in this month’s book giveaway. It will help me if you put in the subject line: BOOK GIVEAWAY.
  • One person—maybe you!—will be selected at random from those entering. I will send you a congratulatory email on Thursday, February 4. You will have 48 hours to respond to my email. If I don’t hear back from you by then, someone else will be selected at random.
  • I plan to give away several more books from different authors in the coming months, via posts on the last Friday of the month.
  • For more details, click Book Giveaway

A Poignant Ending

With the recent celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I’ll close with this story. Merton and King had never met as far as I can tell, although they had corresponded for a few years. Both were, among many things, peace activists opposing the Vietnam War. They had several mutual friends, including the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, who was exiled from Vietnam for his opposition to the war.  

Merton invited King to Gethsemani for some much needed rest. King finally found the time for a visit, and let Merton know in early 1968 he would come to Gethsemani after a stopover in Memphis to support a strike by black sanitary workers.

Eight months after King’s assassination, Merton was accidentally killed in Bangkok, the victim of an electrical shock. King was 39; Merton, 53.

I wonder to this day what might have emerged had this Baptist minister and Catholic monk been able to share experiences face-to-face, in communion with God and with each other.          

Thanks, Carlen

P.S. Feel free to send this offer to your friends. If you haven’t signed up for my free weekly newsletter and would like to, please go here

Note: The photograph of Thomas Merton is by John Lyons. Used with permission of the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University, Louisville, KY.