The background of the icon represents Merton's 1) encounter Asian comparative studies and subsequent plan of going to Japan after his meetings with Tibetan lamas (which he never reached), and 2) claim of "settling down", with a possible hermitage in Japan, Alaska or the California Redwoods.
The inscriptions are in a Japanese style font and the text chosen "Mercy within Mercy, within Mercy" is from his Epilogue to 'The sign Of Jonas'.
Provided below is an article written by Jerry Ryan in August 15, 2013:
'Thomas Merton’s epilogue to The Sign of Jonas is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful and profound texts he has ever written:
"The voice of God is heard in Paradise: “What was vile has become precious.
What is now precious was never vile. I have always known the vile as
precious: for what is vile I know not at all. What was cruel has become
merciful. What is now merciful was never cruel. I have always overshadowed
Jonas with my mercy and cruelty I know not at all. Have you had sight of Me,
Jonas, My child? Mercy within mercy within mercy. I have forgiven the universe
without end, because I have never known sin. What was poor has become
infinite. What is infinite was never poor. I have always known poverty as
infinite: riches I love not at all. Prisons within prisons within prisons.
Do not lay up for yourselves ecstasies upon earth, where time and space
corrupt, where the minutes break in and steal. No more lay hold on time,
Jonas, My son, lest the rivers bear you away. What was fragile has become
powerful. I loved what was most frail. I looked upon what was nothing.
I touched what was without substance and within what was not I AM." July 1952
Jonas, the reluctant prophet with whom Merton identifies himself, is an image of death and resurrection. The text eloquently describes the radical intensity of both terms. What is dead is truly dead; what is alive is truly alive.' Jerry Ryan, 2013