Happy Birthday, Thomas Merton

Today is the 101st birthday of Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk and author of more than 70 books and 2,000 poems. Merton also kept a personal diary that spanned much of his lifetime, and seven of his journals were published posthumously. My spiritual director introduced me to Merton. Many Americans were introduced to Merton as one of the four Americans Pope Francis mentioned last fall in his speech to Congress, calling him “a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions.”  In addition to being a prolific writer, Thomas Merton was both social activist and peace activist. During his last years, he became deeply interested in Asian religions, especially Zen Buddhism. The Dali Lama praised him in 1968 for having a more profound knowledge of Buddhism than any other Christian he had known. Later in 1968, Merton died of accidental electrocution in Bangkok where he was attending a conference on East-West monastic dialogue. Published in 1962, Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation is packed not only with insights about living contemplatively but also about living as God intended us to be. “Our vocation is not simply to be, but to work together with God in the creation of our own life, our own identity, our own destiny.” Imagine that—we co-create our lives with God! Then there’s Merton’s observation about living authentically: “Many poets are not poets for the same reason that many religious men are not saints: they never succeed in being themselves. They never get around to being the particular poet or the particular monk they are intended to be by God. They never become the person or the artist...