It was just a few weeks ago that I blogged about this, but I wanted to celebrate today, March 18, the 50th anniversary of a great epiphany that changed the course of Thomas Merton’s life. After years of feeling "separate" from other men and women (as a result of his choosing to live a monastic life) he had a clarifying moment of grace on the corner of Fourth and Walnut Streets in Louisville, which would set the agenda for the rest of his life. From this inspiration would come much of Merton’s writings on war and peace, civil rights, religious freedom and, in general, spirituality for the modern world. Here is his description of that moment in his book "Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander." "In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. The whole illusion of a separate holy existence is a dream...There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.... I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each on is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all of the time." Today on that spot the city of Louisville will dedicate "Thomas Merton Square." James Martin, SJ

Comments

Anonymous | 3/22/2008 - 10:33am
Friends, This made me so happy. To me Merton is a saint whatever the opinion of the Vatican. Maybee The Saint of the 20:th century. His importance to the Church and the world will grow. That I am sure of. Gert Gelotte Lerum,Sweden
Anonymous | 3/19/2008 - 10:27am
I have Merton's quote hanging up in my office, done in a nice caligraphic style by Fr. Eric Lies, O.S.B., a monk of Saint Meinrad Archabbey, about two hours from Gethsemani Abbey in southwestern Indiana. If you go into the lobby of the guesthouse at Gethsemani, you'll see a large mural that presents the history of the Cistercians from through the founding of Gethsemani to pretty close to the present day (The mural was painted by an artist from nearby Bardstown sometime in the 1980s or 90s.) Anyway, Saint Meinrad's church is included in the mural as is a painting of Fr. Louis (Thomas Merton) sitting at a typewriter.
Anonymous | 3/18/2008 - 1:16pm
Thanks for bringing this anniversary to my consciousness. I remember seeking out the marker noting this event in Merton's life. It's in the middle of a shopping district and is otherwise totally unremarkable. And that gave his mystical experience all the more credence to me. It underscored my own occasional mini-mystical experiences--on the 'el' scrubbing the bathtub, an unexpected conversation with a gracious, elderly stranger come to mind. Sister Mary Luke Tobin was asked if she'd ever had a mystical experience. 'Of course!' she replied. 'All of life is a mystical experience.' Amen.
Anonymous | 3/18/2008 - 12:31pm
I remember reading all about that in college, and then shortly after I did a retreat there. I love that passage in Merton's writings. Thanks for the special reminder. And hey! I didn't know it happened the day after my sobriety anniversary :)
Anonymous | 3/19/2008 - 12:55pm
It is a great tribute to Thomas Merton in the city of Louisville, Kentucky. Isn't it amazing that the city is dedicating a square in honor or Merton and the Roman Catholic church removes him from the catechism? Thomas is looking over us all.
Anonymous | 3/19/2008 - 10:39am
Thanks to James Martin for the reminder of this 'golden jubilee' of one of Merton's many ah-hah moments. His insight at that time helped me move out of my false notions of holiness to identify with everything human, 'warts and all.' For the reminder that we are all shining, and that we are indeed one, thanks!