No Man is an Island is a reflection on the spiritual life. I’m aware that by using the word “spiritual,” some assume “otherworldly.” This couldn’t be further from the truth. Merton has the entire person in mind—the person in relationship to God. He is concerned with our “integration in the mystery of Christ” (xxii).
The range of topics Merton covers is broad. He deals with everything from Love to Conscience, Solitude to Vocation, Intention to Charity. You can tell by reading these chapters that he has lived out his thoughts and ideas. He drills deep into human nature as he examines every aspect of our being in the light of God.
This book makes for great spiritual reading. I found that the best way to read it was to take it in small portions. To rush would be to miss his wisdom. I found his insight beneficial especially when I saw the tendencies he described in my own life. It takes time to make these discoveries.
My only frustration with Merton is the influence of Eastern Philosophy on his work. A good example of this is his words on Asceticism:
In order to spiritualize our lives and make them pleasing to God, we must become quiet. The peace of a soul that is detached from all things and from itself is the sign that our sacrifice is truly acceptable to God. (108)
In a few places like these, he makes the spiritual life sound like something Jesus certainly didn’t experience. Jesus, who cried at Lazarus’ tomb, who braided a whip to drive out money changers from the temple, and who begged God to relieve him of his burden, was anything but dispassionate!
That said, this volume is abundant in material to enrich the spiritual life of any thoughtful Christ follower.
—Thomas Merton, No Man Is An Island (New York: Harvest/HBJ, 1955, 1983).