Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Day for World Peace: Reflecting on Thomas Merton

I attended a world peace commemoration at St. Paul's Memorial Church this afternoon and then enjoyed a community dinner with a large crowd of St. Paul's parishioners and other community members.

Rather than stay for a film, I came home to watch a DVD documentary about the life of Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk and writer whose books I had read frequently 30-40 years ago.

It was a fitting day to remember Merton. Although he had converted to Catholicism as a young adult, then to joining Gethsemane Monastery in Kentucky, over time he came to believe there could be no separation between the secular and the sacred.

Although he craved solitude, he also sought out holy persons from other religious traditions -- the Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama and others. By studying their traditions, he came closer to his own. He believed that the religious person had to be engaged with the issues of the time -- for him -- and also for me -- nuclear war, racism and the War in Vietnam. He inspired thousands of young people from the '60s to this day.

In the film, Merton is quoted from one of his essays: he stands at an intersection of a shopping district in Louisville, Kentucky, suddenly realizing that he is at one with all the people walking past. He had experienced the oneness with humanity that many of us only talk about. From that vantage point, he had to be care about social issues.

One of the exercises we did at St. Paul's was to write on a sheet of paper:

What would peace look like?

My response:

Every person would have a home.

Strangers would be no more; we would greet one another with respect and caring.

We would listen to one another, especially when we disagree.

Egos would be left at the door.

Our politicians--local, state, national, and international-- would reflect us: they too would seek to listen to one another, to resolve issues with respect for the other's opinion when it differs from their own, and they also would leave their egos at the door.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Kay, I still have the books of Thomas Merton that we read in college almost 50 years ago. Just reading them brings a feeling of peace. You've inspired me to take them down from the shelf and read them again.