As in other volumes of the Merton Journals, the volume editor provides an introduction and background for the text. In this case, the editor's introduction is weak in summarizing this journal and closing the seven volumes - but the words of the journal invariably speak for themselves. The journals are a joy to Mertonphiles. As with the previous volume (Learning to Love), the text is a bit distressing. Merton is petty, catty about his fellow monks, rarely reflective, and seems to live the life of a Bon Vivant - drinking wine and beer, picnicking, going out on the town, etc. - not the usual vision of a cloistered contemplative monk of a "strict observance." At times, he appears to be a perpetual college student. One can't help but wonder if he wrote and lived as he did just to prove to later readers of his work that he was not a saint. One particular event in this volume seems to be significant - even more than the celebrated meetings with the Dali Llama. His reaction to the death of his Aunt Kit in a ferry accident in New Zealand reveals the loneliness of a man orphaned in his early teens, leaving the reader to wonder how much of a persona he put up and how truly insecure he was.
As the final volume progresses, it appears that Merton is just going through the motions in keeping the journal. Some entries are casual or offhanded - his departure from Gethsemani, for example. He also hints about not returning. One feels he is living in a dream or living a dream. He is letting go of his past. He discusses getting his affairs in order with the Merton Trust at Bellarmine. He speaks of not having his papers (of which he says there are plenty) "merely to rot or get lost in the monastic library." He wants his papers to be read and seems to be planning for how people will view him in the future.
A few final words on the Journals of Thomas Merton. It was well worth reading the seven volumes and they are now a permanent part of my library. They covered the majority of his life as a religious, and a bit of the time before. The editing and preparation of the journals was very well done. The volumes are meticulously indexed, a great help to readers and scholars. The journals are unvarnished Merton. The text bears careful word-by-word reading because flashes of brilliance and insight appear quite unannounced. Publication of the journals is a literary event, but not necessarily a spiritual event - his spiritual legacy has been distilled into his other books. These will continue to be the medium by which most people will come to know Merton.