Signs of Hope: Merton's Letters on Race, Peace, and Ecology


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“In the best researched book in amiable prose and most relevant exposition in years about Thomas Merton, Gordon Oyer’s detailed review of Merton’s personal letters that transcend conflicting perspectives on racial justice is ground-breaking!”—Jonathan Montaldo, Bridges to Contemplative Living with Thomas Merton

 “In Signs of Hope Gordon Oyer distills for the reader timely insights from Thomas Merton’s correspondence into the critical issues of Merton’s day as if Merton were addressing those selfsame issues, here and now in the twenty-first century. Truly prophetic.”—Paul M. Pearson, Director, Thomas Merton Center

“Gordon Oyer’s deep foray into Merton’s correspondence is a must read! Meticulously researched and skillfully crafted, Signs of Hope not only illumines the development of Merton’s thinking on urgent issues of his day but also animates our work for social transformation today.”—Christine M. Bochen, editor, Thomas Merton: Essential Writings

“Oyer’s warm, compassionate voice and skill as historian locates these letters inside our own urgent social questions with a subtle buoyancy.”—Rose Marie Berger, Senior Editor, Sojourners magazine

 “Oyer offers a ‘peace and social justice movement history through epistolary’ that puts Merton’s correspondence in critical conversation with our fraught times—and thus with a new generation.”—Ched Myers, co-author, Healing Haunted Histories: A Settler Discipleship of Decolonization 

“The real hope, then, is not in something we think we can do, but in God who is making something good out of it in some way we cannot see. If we can do His will, we will be helping in this process. But we will not necessarily know all about it beforehand.” –Thomas Merton to Jim Forest

 In entering the Trappist Abbey of Gethsemane in 1941, Thomas Merton initially saw himself as withdrawing from “the world.” But in later years his sense of monastic vocation changed. His contemplative life became a point of prophetic engagement with his fellow men and women in their struggles, their hopes, and their questions. This social engagement was particularly fueled by his wide correspondence.

Signs of Hope focuses on Merton’s engagement with the themes of peace, race, and ecology, as expressed through particular relationships, including with such notable figures as Dorothy Day, Daniel Berrigan, and Vincent Harding. Each chapter reveals themes from his life of dialogue, his apostolate of friendship, and his probing assessment of critical issues that remain vital for our time.

Gordon Oyer is the author of Pursuing the Spiritual Roots of Protest: Merton, Berrigan, Yoder, Muste at the Gethsemane Peacemakers Retreat (Cascade Books, 2014), which won the International Thomas Merton Society’s Louie Award for the best contribution to Merton studies of the previous two years. 

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Signs of Hope
Thomas Merton’s Letters on Peace, Race, and Ecology
Gordon Oyer