On the Lived Theology Reading List: A Course in Desert Spirituality

A Course in Desert Spirituality, by Thomas MertonFifteen Sessions with the Famous Trappist Monk

Thomas Merton had many roles he filled in his lifetime — monk, writer, social activist — but one of his main passions was explorations of interfaith understanding. He explored different religions and their relation to the human experience, as well as examining some of the Catholic traditions he had learned about in his studies. A Course in Desert Spirituality, edited by Jon Sweeney, is a collection of some of Merton’s lectures which showcase his teachings and personal thoughts about the concept of desert spirituality.

Although Merton was a monk, and was later ordained, he believed that there was immense value in learning about other religions and their view of the world. In the same way, he believed that all people would benefit from monastic wisdom and spirituality. This book exemplifies his approach to religion and to life itself.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

“This well-paced discourse on desert spirituality hosts just enough of an overview to be a course and just enough depth to be a dramatically impactful read. The work, followed by options for further reflection and discussion, makes for an inspiring personal or group engagement. Any reader of A Course in Desert Spirituality will undoubtably come away with new insights on both desert spirituality and one’s own spirituality.” —Cassidy Hall, Author of Notes on Silence and director of Day of a Stranger

“As with many of Merton’s writings, there are several ways of reading it. One could take a genetic approach, seeking to uncover vestiges of Merton’s biography. The text could also be read as a short history of monastic practice or a snapshot of the novitiate under Merton’s tutelage in the 1950s before the drastic changes of Vatican II. It could also be read, and this is the way Sweeney intends for us to read it, in a lectio divina fashion—that is, as a spiritual discipline to mature our souls and draw us nearer to God. At its best, this book is a primer on the mystical tradition which offers guidance on whom to read, what to look for, what to watch out for, and how to approach the tradition.”—Reading Religion

“A Course in Desert Spirituality offers keen insight into the wisdom of early Christian mystics like St. Gregory of Nyssa, John Cassian, and Evagrius Ponticus. It makes the Desert Mothers and Fathers come alive. But it also reveals much about the spiritual heart of Thomas Merton himself.”—Carl McColman, author of The Big Book of Christian Mysticism and The Unteachable Lessons


For more information on the publication, click here.

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