Thomas Merton Series

Hidden in the Same Mystery

Bonnie Bowman Thurston, Sr Mary Swain

By including the texts of talks Thomas Merton gave to the novices at the Loretto Motherhouse, Hidden in the Same Mystery presents previously unpublished Merton materials which are a rich source of his thinking on prayer and on religious life.
Included are some of Sr. Mary Luke Tobin’s incisive thoughts about Merton, particularly her analysis of Merton on prayer. The book, describing the friendship between Merton and Tobin, and illustrated with photos of Merton, Tobin, Gethsemani, and Loretto, will appeal to Merton scholars, women religious, and those interested in Kentucky church history.

  • Audio, Book, Book and Audio
  • 9781891785597
  • 108

Product Description

From talks Merton gave at the Loretto Motherhouse, Hidden in the Same Mystery presents previously unpublished materials on his thinking on prayer and on religious life.

Hidden in the Same Mystery
Thomas Merton and Loretto
Prayer and Commitment in Thomas Merton
A Talk by Sister Mary Luke Tobin
(audio CD)

This short book traces the relationship between Thomas Merton and the Sisters of Loretto by presenting a series of short talks that Merton gave to the young Sisters at their motherhouse which was just down the road from Gethsemeni, Merton’s Trappist monastery in Kentucky. It then presents another series of talks about Merton’s ideas by Mary Luke Tobin who at the time of Merton’s visits to Loretto was Mother General and who later established The Thomas Merton Center for Creative Exchange in Denver.

The book is about the relationship between Merton and Luke during their years in Kentucky, later when she was one of the very few Catholic women officially to participate in Vatican II, and even after Merton’s sudden death in 1968. A beautiful composite picture of the two in their traditional religious garb graces the book’s cover and a number of pictures of them together illustrate the text. In a deeper sense, the book is about bringing a life of contemplation to active involvement for justice and peace in the contemporary world – what contemporary theologians are calling the necessary relationship of the mystical with the prophetic or political. Merton’s talks to the young sisters and Luke’s talks about Merton all focus on prayer as the core and center of a life following Christ in service to this world. Finally, the book ends with a lengthy section of photographs celebrating not only Luke, but many other Sisters whose “faces of wisdom” present “a portrait of Loretto.”

For those already familiar with Merton’s writings, this book will simply add some important biographical information about his relationship with Luke and other SL’s. For me, it confirmed the sense of Merton’s thought about prayer which I had recently rediscovered while reading Chris Pramuk’s new book on Merton (reviewed below). The liberating center of Merton’s ideas about prayer can be summarized in the following citation from his 1963 talk to postulants and novices: “The first reality you’ve got is yourself, and that’s where prayer begins…. You don’t have to go from you to God, because God is in you. All you’ve got to do is stay where you are. You don’t have to get out of this base earthly being that you are and climb Jacob’s ladder to the heavens…. You have to start where you are and stay with it because [God] is in you as you are….” One of Luke’s later talks about Merton is titled “Merton on Prayer: Stay Where You Are.” Here’s how she puts the idea at another place: “[God] doesn’t expect you to be any other than you are, except for the change that God is going to bring about in you.” And later she cites Merton’s last words to Asian monks and nuns in Bangkok just before he died: “I think today it’s more important for us to let God live in us so that others may feel God and come to believe…because they feel how God lives in us.”

The fuller meaning of these ideas about prayer and life in this world are somewhat unpacked in the talks presented in this book, and even more by the in-depth commentary provided by Chris Pramuk’s book. For me personally, though, this book was a lovely reminder of Luke’s gentle but always vital presence. She was for me, and for so many others, one of those in whom I could feel God’s presence because of who she was, because of the joy and liveliness and gentle persuasion of her presence. She not only was for us in Denver one of the heroes and leaders of the post-Vatican II church in this country. Much more, she was one of the saints who tried to show us how to open ourselves to the presence and power of God by being and becoming today who and what we already fully are.

Thus while I welcome and recommend this book about Merton and Loretto, it only whets my appetite for the fuller biography of Luke being written by her long-time companion Cecily Jones, SL, who was for years a regular contributor to Leaven.

Merton and Luke – Loretto and Gethsemani
by John F. Kane


"I know Luke would be delighted with the book. . . so pleased at how beautifully it turned out."
-Rose Annette Liddell, SL
"A precious testament to the mutually enriching friendship of Thomas Merton and Mary Luke Tobin, and to the bonds that connected their religious communities, this collection of Merton’s informal conferences at Loretto and Sr. Luke’s recollections of her relationship with Merton is a gift that illuminates the lives and witness of these two giants of the twentieth-century American Church."
-Patrick F. O’Connell, Editor, The Merton Seasonal
"I have received the book of Merton and Sister Luke. You are right--the photos alone are wonderful--and the last page of Merton's last words about the presence of God in us: "to so let God live in us that others may feel God and come to believe in God because they feel God lives in us"--not evangelism--is closer to the modern need and desire. Thanks so much for this book of prayer and reflection--how to be with God. You have kept Merton in my friendship and are now sharing your dear Sister Like. Neither has even sent an email my way but their thought is everlasting."
-Jo Trueschler, Professor Emerita of English, College of Notre Dame of Maryland (written to a Loretto friend)
One summer day, I had the privilege of standing beside Sister Mary Luke Tobin at Thomas Merton's grave. After a time of quiet, Luke directed a question toward the simple cross marker, "What would you say to us now?" Then she added, "And what should we say to you?" Against that backdrop, I was not surprised to see mutuality as an abiding theme in Hidden in the Same Mystery, a new book edited by Merton scholar Bonnie Thurston along with Loretto editor Mary Swain. In essays, photographs, transcripts and interviews, the book breaks open the relationship between Merton, Luke and the Loretto community. From its inception, that relationship was a mutual one. Merton came to Loretto in 1960 to find his friend Dan Walsh a job. He succeeded. Mary Luke then enlisted Merton to speak at Loretto--to novices, sisters in the infirmary, members of the council. She returned the favor by addressing Gethsemani's monks about the vision of the Second Vatican Council and her participation there as an auditor. These formal meetings, interspersed with less formal ones as well as letters and postcards, continued until Thomas Merton died in 1968. "Who could help but love this man?" Luke wrote after Merton died. "He never was a 'guru' to me, but rather a good friend with whom I could exchange ideas, and I value that greatly." Hidden in the Same Mystery shows how their friendship nurtured both, and so many others as well. The book came to be because Luke possessed several tapes of Thomas Merton speaking to Loretto novices. His talks centered on prayer, one's relationship with God and religious vows. He placed particular emphasis on being yourself, and on living the vow of poverty in our consumer society and suffering world. Mary Luke believed that Merton's talks could be helpful not only to those in religious life, but to seekers far and wide. She urged that they be published. Her insistence was fortuitous for us living now. Amid arrogant displays of power within both church and society, the book offers us an alternative. Merton and Luke modeled a way of standing in mutual relationship--between men and women, among religions and nations, and between humans and the rest of creation. For that reason alone, this book couldn't have come at a better time. Hidden in the Same Mystery takes its apt title from the beginning of an essay Thomas Merton wrote for the 150th anniversary of Loretto. "We are not only neighbors in a valley that is still lonely, but we are equally the children of exile and of revolution, " he said. "Perhaps this is a good reason why we are both hidden in the same mystery of Our Lady's Sorrow and Solitude in the Lord's Passion. We cannot understand our vocation except in the light of that solitude and that love." His essay is reprinted in the book. Many hands helped shape Hidden in the Same Mystery. In prologues and footnotes, general editor Bonnie Thurston filled in details and set each talk and essay in the context of other things then going on in Merton's and Luke's lives and in the world. Loretto editor Mary Swain provided, among other things, talk transcripts and energy. Paul Quenon, OCSO, was Gethsemani's photographic editor, and Peg Jacobs, CoL, Loretto's photographic editor. Cecily Jones, SL, and James Conner, OCSO, contributed forewards. Gray Henry and Fons Vitae packaged and presented the book in simple beauty. Hidden in the Same Mystery consists of three main sections. The materials in Part One include Thomas Merton's talks at and writings about Loretto. Part Two includes both an essay Luke wrote and a talk she gave about Merton. While pictures are interspersed throughout the book, Part Three is its own photographic essay: "A Portrait of Loretto and Faces of Wisdom." The end of Part Three features Cecily Jones' poignant poem written toward the close of Luke's earthly life. Part Three offers the reader a chance to sit in stillness and soak in the abundance of provocative thought and rich history from the earlier sections. A message in one of Merton's talks to Loretto novices struck me as particularly apropos for today. The same message also struck Luke. Merton urged his listeners to "watch out for impractical ideals." These he defined as a priori principles: "You work it out in your head first . . . You work it out before, and then you apply it to reality, and you try to force reality to fit the ideal. . . And then when reality doesn't fit the ideal, you start fighting reality." On the other hand, he warned about avoiding the other extreme, which he called "passive realism." This "wrong kind of realism" says, "'Well, this is the way it is. What can you do?' and then just does nothing." He then proposed another way, which he called "the Christian view." He described it as: [I]n the reality which I have and am now, there is a possibility for growth which God has put there. There's a seed that He's planted there, and He's going to make grow in His own way, and what I have to provide is the love and the assent and the submission that's going to permit this to grow. I have to let this grow. I have to let the changes take place in my life that God wants to have take place in my life. Merton added that this third approach takes faith, hope and love. It requires a hard thing--accepting that each of us is the person he or she is, and none other. "In being myself," he said, "I can be Christ." Mary Luke continued to repeat this same message after Merton died. She incorporated it into an article she wrote for Praying (published by National Catholic Reporter) in 1984, and later in a presentation she gave at Rochester College in 1990. Both her works are reprinted in Hidden in the Same Mystery. While it is only natural to wonder what Merton or Luke might do in the particular circumstances we face today, we cannot know for certain. Thanks to Hidden in the Same Mystery, however, we now have a compilation of wisdom from two recent spiritual giants to help shape the questions we ask. Drawing on that same message from Merton's talk, some of those questions might be: In what ways are we attempting to impose an ideal that doesn't fit with reality? In what ways are we giving up and doing nothing? And most importantly, What seeds of new life has God placed within us--and how can we nurture their growth? As we consider these different questions, it is consoling to meditate on the final photograph in the book, a close-up of a door hinge in the Loretto novitiate building. The hinge suggests the mutual interconnectedness that Thomas Merton and Mary Luke Tobin enjoyed with each other, God, those who touched their lives, and the world at large. It also speaks to the possibility of new doorways beckoning us. Including an open door called hope.
Book Review: New book on Merton and Loretto offers wisdom needed in our time by Mary Anne Reese, CoL