This hour-long documentary is an excellent introduction to the life and spirituality of Thomas Merton, one of the greatest and most influential thinkers and writers of the twentieth century. Black-and-white stills, re-enactments, readings from his works, stock footage and newspaper clippings all enhance the presentation of this prophetic American who continues to be eminently contemporary and intelligible. Merton's bald honesty with himself is, perhaps, one of the most critical features of his writing talent, and one that is most useful to his readers.
The presentation is a little disappointing at first, easily summing up Merton's "first" conversion to Catholicism and entrance into the monastery, without much depth of insight into the man. However, this is only to create a contrast with his many further conversions within the enclosure walls. Merton is the saint of restlessness and disastisfaction, never content with his present answers. His peace activism, struggles with superiors, profound seeking for God which led him to embrace a hermit's life, brief falling in love with a nurse during a hospitalization, turn as novice master, and dialogue with Buddhism are all given their due and commentated on by a rather broad range of associates and authors including past novices, Daniel Berrigan, SJ, John Dear SJ, and Sr. Kathleen Deignan. Also disappointing at first is Merton's first-fervor notion and impulse that true prayer and spirituality means separation from the world, but that too changes dramatically.
"Soul Searching" is one of those works that just gets better and better as it goes along. There's a need to stick with it to the end. We are left satisfied that we have dipped our bucket into the well of Merton's legacy, and now want to run and get a sump pump.
"I find Merton, not so much a relic of the '60's, rather I don't know if we've caught up with him yet."
--Sr. Kathleen Deignan