Thomas Merton’s Tree of Life:
The Growth of a Radical Ecologist
New book by Donald P. St. John, Ph.D.
About the Book
As a guiding symbol and metaphor, the Tree of Life embodies and expresses the growing and greening of Thomas Merton as a radical ecologist. It suggests a sinking and expanding of his roots (radix) into a rich soil and creating a sense of Place. Merton as a young sapling planted his Roots into the soil of the monastic community and sought also to share in the Life and Spirit of the local earth community and habitat. As the trunk filled with vibrant ecospiritual energies grows and sends forth branches it gives birth to expressive literary leaves (poems, journal entries), colorful blossoms (essays, retreats) and rich fruits (books). Fed by its new earth-home (oikos), the trunk grows and limbs spread forth and soak in Wisdom that nourish diverse leaves.
Merton’s is the rhythm of a life (bios) soaking in and sending forth expressions of warm Wisdom. The organic products of his thought (logos) are richly diverse yet united and energized by this wisdom (Sophia). Merton’s correspondence as well as his lectures and other modes of mentoring to his Brother monks and guest retreatants witness to an inquisitive mind and searching spirit. Merton draws in nourishment from Eastern and Western mystics, voices of past and present prophets such as Rachel Carson. As Merton grows, his contemplative ecology and cosmology merge with a prophetic and moral ecology to uncover and expose the roots (radix/radical) of environmental destruction that was spreading around the world already in the 1960s. A Hermit in the Kentucky woods encouraged urbanites and suburbanites to transform themselves and modern society so as to form a mutually beneficial Arbor Vitae with the Earth.