During Pope Francis’ address to the United States Congress on September 24th, he surprised the world by mentioning two extremely radical Catholics as role models for America that we should strive to emulate: Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. He referenced Day’s work to “[strive] for justice and the cause of the oppressed” and Merton’s efforts to use his “contemplative style” in order to promote peace and faith. The mention of these two names caused many people to naturally be curious about who these people were and how they could be considered so influential that they were referenced during Pope Francis’ historical address.
People can turn towards their autobiographies, The Long Loneliness and The Seven Storey Mountain respectively, in order to discover more about their beliefs, ideologies and which events shaped their lives to be what they were. For those of you who decide to pick up a copy of Merton’s autobiography and thumb through the pages, you will encounter a fairly unknown man named Robert Lax. Merton’s lifelong best friend, the two kept in touch through letters as life unfortunately pulled them further apart from each other.
But who was this so-called “mystic poet,” who Merton valued enough to keep at his side for a lifetime? In Michael N. McGregor’s new book, Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax, he delves into the life of a man who spent much of his time in solitude, writing in order to find some kind of meaning peace in his life. McGregor had the honor of knowing Lax personally after discovering the “vivid portrait” that Merton painted of him in The Seven Storey Mountain and wanting to meet him. The two had a close friendship for 15 years up until Lax’s death in 2000, and he served as a mentor for McGregor when he was a “young seeker” searching for answers to existential questions. McGregor provides personal anecdotes and unknown stories of Lax’s uncommon life in a way that will surely introduce readers to Robert Lax that not many other people could.
Karen Fisher, author of A Sudden Country writes, “Pure Act is much more than a biography. It’s a real and full and personal meditation on life, and on what a life is for.” Allow Michael N. McGregor lead to you to Robert Lax, as Thomas Merton led him.