Forty-five years ago today, December 10, 1968, Thomas Merton died. Merton was a Trappist monk, a poet, a peace activist, a prolific writer and a contemplative. Ignatian Spirituality is about being “contemplatives in action.” That is a label that can easily be applied to Merton.
In a work written in the year he died, Merton described his life and life work like this:
My own peculiar task in my Church and in my world has been that of the solitary explorer who, instead of jumping on all the latest bandwagons at once, is bound to search the existential depths of faith in its silences, its ambiguities, and in those certainties which lie deeper than the bottom of anxiety. In those depths there are no easy answers, no pat solutions to anything. It is a kind of submarine life in which faith sometimes mysteriously takes on the aspect of doubt, when, in fact, one has to doubt and reject conventional and superstitious surrogates that have taken the place of faith.
I’ve spoken about Thomas Merton in several retreats I’ve given focusing on mystics. Most recently, I did so at a retreat in daily living offered at the law school. My reflection that day focused on the foundational mystical experiences that shaped Merton’s life journey. You can access a recording of that talk here or stream it from the icon below.
P.S. This Merton quote came across my desk yesterday and it asks a question we would all profit from reflecting on: “If you want to identify me, ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I think I am living for, in detail, and ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully for the thing I want to live for. Between these two answers you can determine the identity of any person.”