Merton’s Evolving Ecological Consciousness

SSJ Monica Weis

in The Environmental Vision of Thomas Merton

Published by University Press of Kentucky

Published in print April 2011 | ISBN: 9780813130040
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780813135717 | DOI:
Merton’s Evolving Ecological Consciousness

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This chapter traces the steps of an emerging ecological consciousness—from Thomas Merton's letter to Rachel Carson in 1963 until his last published book review a few months before his death in 1968. The assortment of letters, journal entries, reading notebooks, and published book reviews written during these five years reveals Thomas Merton on the cutting edge of environmental thinking and developing what Aldo Leopold—and later Merton—called an ecological conscience. Embedded in Merton's letter to Carson are three strands of his deepening spirituality: awareness and a keen eye for the beauty and the holiness or “sacramentality” of nature, a deepening realization of kinship and harmony with nature, and a growing sense of compassion and responsibility for all creation. Although these strands have been looked at individually in a somewhat biographical way, it can also be discerned how they become part of the fabric of Merton's spirituality particularly in the last years of his life. In general, the letters and published book reviews during the last five years of his life document an evolving and more intensely felt commitment to environmental integrity—a new consciousness motivated by justice for all creatures.

Keywords: Thomas Merton; ecological conscience; Rachel Carson; beauty; nature; kinship; harmony; compassion; responsibility; spirituality

Chapter.  11181 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of the Americas

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