Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Thomas Merton's influence on a spiritual journey
Today I am sharing something that one of my students wrote on Thomas Merton. I think you will like it and it will lead you to reflect on your own prayer. This is from Dahlia Herring and is not in a letter form but could be called a Letter from Albany"
There are three things that I have found at the core of Thomas Merton’s writings that have deeply influenced my own spiritual journey:
First, Tom Merton is probably most famous for introducing the idea that you do not need to join a Trappist monastery in order to become a contemplative. What Merton means by contemplation appears to be two things. It means, of course, that wordless, imageless, silent prayer that many of us now call centering prayer. But “contemplation” also means our direct experience of God, which can happen to us at any time. It can occur during our deepest solitary prayer time, or when we are watching a sunset or when we see a homeless person and realize that we are one with him, because he, and you and I are all part of God and God is all part of us. In many ways, Tom Merton has helped us to democratize the spiritual life. He tells us over and over again, that all of us – monk, nun, housewife, nurse, corporate president - all of us are loved by God and have the same access to God.
Tom’s second great influence in my life is that he has made it OK to learn about, and experience, other faith traditions. Make no mistake - he remained a Catholic, throughout his adult life. However, he was able to see clearly how all of the world’s great faiths – Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Islam and Hinduism – have, the very same spirit moving through them. Merton’s spiritual life reminds me of a large oak tree. Its roots go both deep and wide – deeply anchored in his Christian faith, while spreading out wide to drink in the differences and the underlying commonalities among all faiths.
And finally, Merton understood that we are called to a life of prayer but also a life of service. Here is a fellow who lived most of his life apart from the world. Yet, he spent many of his later years writing in clear and prophetic language about the issues of his time. So, despite his cloistered life, Merton managed to live right in the middle of all of the world’s messiness. What was most important about Merton’s social activism is that it arises directly from his contemplative life. There is no separation. And even more than any particular writings, it is the way Tom Merton lived his life – with prayer at the root of all service to the world - that has become a living example for me.