Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The 40th Anniversary Of Thomas Merton's Death

On this day, 40 years ago in Bangkok, Thailand, Thomas Merton was accidentally electrocuted and died. He was 53 years old. The year was 1968. I was a seventeen year old hippie at the time and didn't even know who Thomas Merton was. Four years later I was a novice at the Abbey of Gethsemani, the very monastery where Merton lived. I would have to say that Merton has been one of the most influential people in my life. Through Merton I learned about contemplation, Zen, and Buddhism. I was introduced to Merton's writings in 1970 when I lived in a Franciscan community at a place called Duns Scotus College outside Detroit, Michigan. One of the Friars, Brother Brian, gave me several Merton books as a gift. The first one I read is still one of my favorites. It was "The Sign of Jonas". It was a journal written in the late 40's and early 50's and detailed life at Gethsemani. It was the book that made me think I might want to be a monk myself. Since that time I did live at Gethsemani for a while, I have always had a relationship with Gethsemani and many of the monks, I have made two solitary retreats in Thomas Merton's Hermitage, and for the last twenty years I have been part of the Lay Cistercians of Gethsemani, a group of lay people committed to living contemplative lives in the world. All of this began with the reading of "The Sign of Jonas". Merton's influence is a big part of why I am who I am. The pictures above are a photo of me taken several years ago just outside Merton's Hermitage. Those familiar with the hermitage will recognize the wooden cross and wagon wheel. The other picture is of the Dalai Lama and Dom Timothy Kelly visiting the grave of Thomas Merton. The picture was taken at the time of the Dalai Lama's first visit to Gethsemani for a Christian/Buddhist dialog. Dom Timothy was my primary teacher when I was a novice at Gethsemani.

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