Soul Searching The Journey of Thomas Merton

Soul Searching: The Journey of Thomas Merton premiered December 2008.

Thomas Merton
Sybille Akers
Thomas Merton in the fields near the Abbey of Gethsemani
Soul Searching: The Journey of Thomas Merton examines the life of a modern American monk considered one of the great spiritual thinkers of the 20th century. It was a remarkably rich life and has prompted the millions who read Merton to characterize him as part Augustine, part Emerson and part Gandhi.

As the son of artists, Thomas Merton grew up in the 1920s and 1930s given to avant-garde intellectual pursuits. This led him to briefly embrace communism, which he put aside for Catholicism which in turn catapulted him to a strictly cloistered life in a rural Kentucky monastery. The writings that flowed from his monastic cell over the next 27 years examined spirituality (of the west and east), the Cold War, the civil rights movement and the challenges for the individual in the post-modern world. In short, Merton's writing took on many of the struggles of the 20th and 21st century. His thinking brought him praise, censure and the reputation as one of the most influential writers of his time. Thomas Merton died by accidental electrocution while traveling in Asia but remains one of the most widely read and written about spiritual figures of the modern era.

Award-winning producer Morgan Atkinson spent years researching Merton's work, as well as interviewing Merton's friends, scholars and authorities on the spiritual life. Atkinson's cameras reveal life at the Merton's home at the Abbey of Gethsemani, as well as his path through New York City, the Redwoods Monastery in California and New Mexico's Christ in the Desert Monastery. In bringing to life Merton's years as a monk, this deeply considered film casts a bright light on the struggles and fruits of his spiritual search.

Soul SearchingSoul Searching: The Journey of Thomas Merton takes viewers behind the walls of the Abbey of Gethsemani examining the life of Thomas Merton

Quotes from Thomas Merton

"Your life is shaped by the ends you live for. You are made in the image of what you desire."
     — From "Thoughts in Solitude"

"No writing on the solitary, meditative dimensions of life can say anything that has not already been said better by the wind in the pine trees."
     — From "Honorable Reader"

"It is my intention to make my entire life a rejection of and protest against the crimes and injustices of war and political tyranny which threaten to destroy the whole human race and the world with it. By my monastic life and vows I am saying NO to all the concentration camps, the aerial bombardments, the staged political trials, the judicial murders, the racial injustices, the economic tyrannies, and the whole socioeconomic apparatus which seems geared for nothing but global destruction in spite of all its fair words in favor of peace."
     — From "Honorable Reader"

GraveThe Dalai Lama and Abbot Timothy Kelly pray at Thomas Merton's grave.
In praise of Soul Searching

"Viewing Morgan Atkinson's film on Thomas Merton proved to be a profoundly religious experience. It brings out so well the paradoxical character of Merton, the monk, poet, peace activist, and spiritual writer who influenced the lives of so many during his short life. Highly recommended."
     — Br. Patrick Hart, monk of Gethsemani and Merton's last secretary

"... Soul Searching: The Journey of Thomas Merton ... will inspire anyone who seeks meaning and spiritual depth in his or her life journey... Atkinson honestly presents the human struggles facing Merton as he sought solitude, embraced chastity, challenged his ego and lived his monastic vows... Everyone wanting to know more about Merton, and anyone who wants to accept his challenge to an authentic, contemplative life will find this program insightful, honest and stimulating."
     — Jan Jett, spiritual director, writer in "Presence Magazine"

Soul Searching: The Journey of Thomas Merton was produced by Morgan Atkinson of Duckworks, Inc.

To view excerpts from Soul Searching: The Journey of Thomas Merton, please visit the producer's Web site at

To access the Thomas Merton Collection at Bellarmine University, visit Merton designated Bellarmine as the official repository for his work.

Visit The Merton Institute Web site for more resources on the contemplative spiritual journey.

Visit the Abbey of Gethsemani's website at


Funded by:

The Louisville Institute

Kentucky Humanities Council


 Funding was also provided by Ann Cook Nelsion and various individual

Produced by:

Duckworks Inc.

© 2008 Morgan Atkinson. All Rights Reserved. Text by Morgan Atkinson. Photos courtesy of the Abbey of Gethsemani Archive, the Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University.

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