Thomas Merton was a Trappist monk who entered the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky in 1941. In 1958, at the age of forty-three, Merton had to run an errand that would take him from the monastery to downtown Louisville. On the bustling, urban corner, Merton stood waiting for the light to change and signal his time to cross, watching the crowds of people in front of and around him. Doing so, he was overcome with an experience of the Holy that moved him deeply from that day forward. He wrote a day later in his journal, “Yesterday, in Louisville, at the corner of 4th and Walnut, suddenly realized that I loved all the people and that none of them were, or could be, totally alien to me. As if waking from a dream – the dream of my separateness, of my “special” vocation to be different. My vocation does not really make me different from the rest of (people) or just one in a special category, except artificially, juridically. I am still a member of the human race – and what more glorious destiny is there for (people), since the Word was made flesh and became, too, a member of the Human Race.” (Restricted Journals, March 19, 1985)
This is probably one of the most pivotal experiences for Merton, a saint of a person. While that is so, reading it through as another story on a page can so easily invite a sort of summary that makes it keep it distant and two dimensional. Summaries may include, “See, you don’t have to be in a monastery to experience God,” or, “Like Merton, I can encounter God anywhere.” As those may be true, Merton’s experience is a deeply meaningful life experience of Holy encounter that invites us in, beyond the tip of the hat and nod at an interesting bunch of sentences. Merton is one of us, a seeker of abundant life in God, a pilgrim on the Way. He is a sort of mentor or guide.
In the day following this experience, before he wrote of it in his journal, Merton did what he often did in his days. “First he watched while ‘a red-shouldered hawk wheels slowly over Newton’s farm as if making his own more special silence in the air…” (The Seven Story Mountain, 311) Then joined in worship with his community of faith, he engaged ancient rituals, he entered the ancient story of scripture (about Joseph, father of Jesus, on that particular day), and he prayed with them , as well as on his own. These were the days and practices of Merton’s life that cultivated an awareness of that to which he was awakened.
Seeking God in and through the days and practices of our lives invites humble openness to the Holy. In a way, the story of Merton, while I love the telling of his experience in Louisville with God’s in-breaking, really calls to me to note the faithful life and humble, grateful practice, individually and in community, that opens Merton to such Divine movement and transformation.
Fall is a good time to re-invest and begin anew in faithful practices, old and new. Spiritual practice of sacred study, serving with compassion and love, worship and daily prayer are places along the way where we may be given to leaning in to God and seeing that which truly is and knowing LIFE as God intends. The corner of 4th and Walnut for Merton is no closer to God than where we stand. Let us faithfully seek and work to be open to that which is so near to us.
Opportunities to lean in, include
College of Spirituality Classes – educational and experiential offerings to deepen spirituality
Stepping Stones – easy entry point to explore, deepen relationships and spirituality
Men’s Group – meets Saturday evenings for prayer, spiritual support and fellowship
Gathering of Women – meets once a month to build relationships and grow in faith
Worship and Wonder– participatory, sacred education for children and youth
Sunday Morning Worship – every Sunday at 10:30 am