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Book looks at dialogue across spiritual traditions

Signs of Peace, written by religious studies Professor Bill Apel, illuminates Thomas Merton’s dream of creating a global community of the spirit. Merton is arguably the most influential Catholic writer of the 20th century. He wrote more than 60 books and hundreds of poems and articles on topics ranging from monastic spirituality to civil rights, nonviolence and the nuclear arms race.

In Apel’s beautifully written book we are given the opportunity to read letters Merton wrote to his Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist friends, and in these letters he shows us a way religious seekers from different traditions can become peacemakers in a world that is often divided by religious indifference.

According to Signs of Peace: The Interfaith Letters of Thomas Merton, the monk of Gethsemani wrote more than 10,000 letters to more than 2,100 correspondents, most in the late 1950s and 60s.

Merton’s monastery imposed a strict limit of four letters per year, but that changed after his Seven Storey Mountain became a best seller. The restriction was lifted so he could acknowledge the hundreds of fan letters pouring into the monastery mailroom. He initially created a form letter to thank readers for their interest in his book, but found that some writers sought more personal advice. Almost everything he wrote was of a personal nature, Apel says.

During the last decade of his life, Merton corresponded with people around the globe about religion and interfaith understanding.

Apel’s volume gives a closer look at his letters to interfaith friends, and illuminates the challenge of dialogue and communion across borders of faith.

Merton hoped, Apel says, for a shared understanding that illuminated all that is best and most true in the numerous spiritual traditions.

Religious Studies at Linfield

Chronology of Thomas Merton’s Life