Saturday, January 31, 2015

Thomas Merton--Happy 100th Birthday!

Thomas Merton, with the Dalai Lama

The great author, peacemaker, mystic, Trappist monk, poet Thomas Merton was born in Prades, France 100 years ago today. Merton joined the Trappist monastery of Gethsemani, near Bardstown, Kentucky, on December 10, 1941. He lived exactly 27 years as a monk until his accidental death at a conference on monasticism in Bangkok, Thailand, dying on December 10, 1968.
Merton by his hermitage, on Gethsemani grounds, where he lived the last years of his life

Merton was the most amazingly prolific author. He wrote what might be the most important and famous autobiography in American history, The Seven-Storey Mountain. He wrote about monasticism, about war and peace; he wrote poetry and literary criticism. One of his great works is Raids on the Unspeakable, where he wrote essays on issues of war and peace, pacifism, non-violence, and militarism.

His life and ideas are fascinating--and remain fascinating to people throughout the world. His influence continues to grow. Today I saw a one-person play on Thomas Merton, 4th and Walnut, put on and performed by Jim Nagle. The play was performed at the Ursuline Motherhouse, adjacent to Ursuline College, in Pepper Pike, Ohio. What an incredible, beautiful performance! The title refers to a street corner in Louisville, Kentucky where Merton had a sudden insight--an overwhelming sense of compassion and love for everyday people, you might say the fruit of his vocation as monk.
Merton's epiphany at 4th and Walnut, in Louisville

Here is a joyous psalm that Thomas Merton wrote, almost in the tradition of Francis of Assisi:

Today, Father, this blue sky lauds you.
The delicate green and orange flowers of the tulip poplar tree praise you.
The distant blue hills praise you,
together with the sweet-smelling air that is full of brilliant light.
The bickering flycatchers praise you
with the lowing cattle and the quails that whistle over there.

I too, Father, praise you, with all these my brothers,
and they give voice to my own heart and to my own silence.
We are all one silence, and a diversity of voices.
You have made us together,
you have made us one and many,
you have placed me here in the midst
as witness, as awareness, and as joy.

Here I am.
In me the world is present,
and you are present.
I am a link in the chain of light and of presence.
You have made me a kind of center,
but a center that is nowhere.
And yet also I am "here."
[Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, pp. 131-132]

Here is another poem of Merton:

Thomas Merton's Prayer of Abandonment

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and that I think I am following your will does not mean I am actually doing so.
But I believe the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all I am doing. I hope I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

I have written a few poems on Merton. Two of them can be found in earlier blog entries. I may repost them here soon.

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