Things of the Hidden God: Journey to the Holy Mountain

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Random House, 2005 - Biography & Autobiography - 280 pages
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“If I had learned anything during the war, it was that our walk in the sun is brief, and so I resolved to wander from monastery to monastery, a sojourner in the world of last things.”

So poet and journalist Christopher Merrill tells us near the beginning of this gripping account of the transforming pilgrimages he made to Mount Athos, in Greece, in the aftermath of the Balkan wars of the 1990s. “It was time for me to come to terms with the way my life had turned out: the love I had squandered, the misgivings I had about my vocation and my faith, the dread I felt at every turn.”

In despair and out of a longing to end his spiritual desolation, Merrill became one of a handful of visitors permitted entry to Mount Athos–a mysterious land that for more than a thousand years has been the secret heart of the Eastern Orthodox Church. There, amid the beautiful terrain, the ancient rhythms, and the spiritual rigor of this holy place, he found a haven in dramatic contrast to the rest of the world.

As Merrill’s story unfolds, we, too, hike the rough trails of Athos, exploring a place and a way of life scarcely altered since medieval times. We share encounters with monks, wolves, and spiritual seekers; visit Athos’s twenty monasteries, where exquisite art treasures are sequestered; make our way to lonely hermitages that clutch the cliffs above the sea. And like Merrill, we come to consider existence in a new and different light.

Part journal of personal discovery, part meditation upon the history and traditions of the contemplative life, Things of the Hidden God takes us where the temporal and the eternal intersect, where community and solitude coexist, and where centuries-old practices provide insight for how to live today.

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About the author (2005)

CHRISTOPHER MERRILL’s books include four collections of poetry, including Watch Fire, for which he received the Peter I. B. Lavan Younger Poets Award from the Academy of American Poets; translations; several edited volumes; and three books of nonfiction, The Grass of Another Country: A Journey Through the World of Soccer; The Old Bridge: The Third Balkan War and the Age of the Refugee; and Only the Nails Remain: Scenes from the Balkan Wars.

A literary critic and journalist, his work has been translated into sixteen languages. He has held the William H. Jenks Chair in Contemporary Letters at the College of the Holy Cross, and now directs the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. He and his wife, the violinist Lisa Gowdy-Merrill, have two daughters, Hannah and Abigail.

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