Sunday, July 5, 2015

THOMAS MERTON CONFIDENTIAL, Part 2: Dead monk in the middle of the road

(These are not random reflections, but the ones I woke up with, off the top. I have never been a Merton fan ever since I took a course and noticed how many groupies he has, almost all women. They worship the guy. The book about his "affair" with Margie Smith, a nurse who washed his body and thus ignited his passion, has been denounced by Mertonologists everywhere. The worst sin it commits is to be boring. There is no sense at all of Margie's character, but that's not the point. She is a cipher in this, and only a device for TM to attain yet another facet as the Monk who turns out to be Human After All.)

I've had the night to process all this. The book (Beneath the Mask of Holiness: Thomas Merton and the Forbidden Love Affair That Set Him Free by Mark Shaw) is saturated with Catholic guilt. I think the feelings about sexuality are sick and polarized between “sin” /“filth” and “chastity” which isn’t really chastity at all but something protected only by several layers of clothing. He was like a teenager making out in the back seat, performing what they now call “outercourse”. I wonder if he didn’t have a masturbation habit which was then considered an unspeakable horror, almost a worse sin than killing someone. And it’s all so stupid, why not just blow it off? It makes no difference to “God” or G/d or whoever made or gave rise to all of this. 

He is so orthodox in spite of his so-called rebel status. This Margie is a good example of his attraction to women/girls of a “lower station” that he could easily dominate and manipulate with charm and status/intellectual power/fame. It started off with her bathing him in a darkened room. Sounds like Bathsheba or something. Obviously sexual, as he hadn’t been touched sexually in 20 or more years. But he has this self-whipping thing that I think is sick. It all comes across as creepy rather than romantic. Though he mentions sex over and over again, he keeps insisting he “hasn’t broken his vows”, but he had stretched them beyond recognition, which is utter hypocrisy and a sin against the body. It's throwing sex back in G/d’s face to cheat your way past “sin” and back into G/d’s good graces, not out of love for G/d but to protect your status and unimpeachable reputation as the wise, all-knowing, "celibate" monk. 

So I end up feeling even worse about him. He is an object of worship by now, and the sad non-affair is now seen as a lovely pastoral interlude, TM and his nubile nurse walking hand-in-hand through green pastures while saturated with chaste, pure feelings of Love. This makes him Human (so what was he before?) and even more admirable in their eyes, though I think he was an emotional mess who kept a mask on all his life. His body fell apart, for sure, for self-neglectful/self-destructive reasons, or perhaps from the way things were in the abbey, similar to the one I wrote about where medical conditions were ignored.

We won't get into the drinking. Nobody drinks that much if they are happy. I know about this, being an alcoholic who stopped drinking in 1990 (yes, fully 25 years ago!). People drink as heavily as he did, not to carouse and have fun, but to blot out their feelings, which are usually totally wretched and ridden with guilt.

What astounds me though is that he had the same psychiatrist as George Gershwin! Dr. Gregory Zilboorg. This is the one who slept with Kay Swift on HER dime, during HER appointments, as part of the “treatment”, though she hated it. He swindled and exploited and sexually abused a brilliant, sophisticated woman whose accomplishments would have been much more appreciated if she hadn't been Gershwin’s “beard”. The same Zilboorg who revealed all his patients’ innermost secrets to other patients as a sort of party game. Everyone wanted to see him, he was “the one to see” who proved how complicated, tortured and brilliant you were, and all these high-flown literary/musical celebrities flocked to him. It came out much later that his medical degree was phony and he had no business treating patients at all. In spite of all that, thirty years later, he treated Merton. Beats me. He got away with it, I guess. It was all highly intellectual then anyway, and very elitist.

Anyway, he dumped her when she became a hazard to his status and was no longer convenient for him, and since she bowed down before him, loved and adored him, and anything he said was law, she obeyed. To eat the crumbs from under his table was huge, of course. The book talks about a woman who sexually attacked him and, I think, he rather enjoyed it. Women love celibates as they used to love gay men before they wised up. It’s Thorn Birds syndrome, in which this virgin priest (usually gay) turns out to be a superb lover. At least TM fucked around in his early days, which endears him to me a little, but felt a lot of Catholic guilt about it afterwards. Fathered a child, which he totally disowned: there’s a ruthlessness there, and a need to protect his reputation rather than acknowledging his child and helping to bring it up.  The more you look at this, the creepier it gets. I think he had elements of narcissism, definitely, hypocrisy, and even a bit of sociopathy, as he felt Margie was there for the taking, a sexual banquet he could ALMOST taste, then ignore and walk away from when he was “finished”.

  Visit Margaret's Amazon Author Page!

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