Thomas Merton quoted Clement of Alexandria in his autobiography, Seven Story Mountain, published in 1947 stating that Christians are "an army shedding no blood." Merton was therefore on record that he was part of that army, consequently a peace advocate, a soldier for peace. Merton's story grew impressively over the years as he found that he was called as a monk to love the world, to love nature, to love all people. The monk does not flee the world, although that motivation can be mixed into the original thoughts at the entry of the monastery. The monk is a human finding a way to God and life through contemplation in solitude so that he or she can find truth about all creation in love and compassion. Merton's classic on peace, Peacemaking in a Post Christian World, was published in the 1990's. He died in 1968. He journeyed as the world grew deeper and deeper into the nuclear age. He became a light in the darkness.
That light still burns brightly as people seek the insights and wisdom from Thomas Merton's journey. I attended the Thomas Merton Society of Canada's annual conference on "Peace -- A Transforming Vision" last weekend. Jim Forest gave two keynote addresses beginning with the Clement of Alexandria quote. The weekend was full of workshops and presentations by people who carry on Merton's broad range of relationships and insightful communications. I attended a workshop on Merton and Rilke poetry, "at the Pivot of Silence," and "Thomas Merton at Gaza." The one a vivid exercise on the common contemplative expressions drawn from the wordless and the other a piercing presence into the anger, rage, frustration of Israel and Palestinian confrontation sum up the influence of Merton's life.
My journey has been guided in no small way by the wisdom of Thomas Merton.
The International Thomas Merton Society will conduct a Conference June 11-14 at Nazareth College in Rochester New York: BEARING WITNESS TO THE LIGHT, MERTON'S CHALLENGE TO A FRAGMENTED WORLD.
Maria Rilke's Poem
Breath, you invisible poem!
Pure, continuous change
with all that is, flow and counterflow
where rhythmically I come to be.
Each time a wave that occures just once
in a sea I discover I am.
You, innermost of oceans,
you, infinitude of space.
How many far places were once
within me. Some winds
are like my own child.
When I breathe them now, do they know me again?
Air, you silken surround,
completion and seed of my words.
A Poem by Merton:
"Love Winter When the Plant Says Nothing"
O little forests, meekly
Touch the snow with low branches!
O covered stones
Hide the house of growth!
carved in steel--
Fire, turn inward
To your weak fort,
To a burly infant spot,
A house of nothing.
O peace, bless this mad place:
Silence, love this growth.
O silence, golden zero
Love winter when the plant says nothing.