Thursday, December 10, 2009

December 10th

Fr. Louis (Thomas) Merton (center, white and black habit) and Fr. Jean Leclercq (to his right) at the December 1968 meeting in Bangkok.

If there is a feast day for Father Louie, December 10th is it. This is the day, in 1941, that he arrived at the Abby of Our Lady of Gethsemane to begin his life as a Trappist monk. Twenty seven years later, on this day, he died in Bangkok Thailand while participating in a monastic conference.

I have written several times on this blog about Merton’s death. I think that my favorite is the picture poem that Bob Lax drew when he heard that his friend had died.

On that last day, Merton was speaking to the “Meeting of the Monks of Asia”, a gathering that was organized by AIM (Aide a l’Implantation Monastique). The event had brought together seventy monks, nuns, and scholars from twenty-two countries in Asia, America, and Europe, along with journalists and television crews from three countries.

Merton was not especially looking forward to the talk. The journalists and camera crews - his very notoriety - were what he wished to avoid. In fact, the photographers, journalists, and TV crews did, in fact, focus on him, and he was the only person at the conference who was treated that way.

Merton's talk was about the future of monasticism. Not necessarily the monasticism that is tied to an institution (what happens when the institution collapses?), but to the monk/man who knows the score. The monk who takes up a critical attitude toward the world and its structures, who says, in one way or another, that the claims of the world are fraudulent, who attains a liberty that no one can touch and who lives by the law of love.

I thought of Merton's speech this morning while watching Barack Obama accept the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo. His speech, like Merton's, was about the future.

"I do not believe that we will have the will, or the staying power, to complete this work without something more – and that is the continued expansion of our moral imagination; an insistence that there is something irreducible that we all share."

Below are some posts where I have discussed Merton's death in this blog. It is an eclectic collection, as is this entire blog.

The Funeral of Thomas Merton - a white celebration (December 17, 2008)

the monk / poet's journey toward silence (December 10, 2008)

a monk among monks (January 19, 2008)

the Daniel Berrigan connection, part 4 (July 15, 2007)

photo of a dream, finding your way (March 4, 2007)

When Prophecy Had A Voice
(December 10, 2006)

the death of Thomas Merton (December 10, 2006)

kanchenjunga (December 9, 2006)

on photographing kanchenjunga (December 9, 2006)


  1. Thank you Beth for this post and for your awesome knowledge and insight. Interesting drawing by Lax. Merton and friends must have been a real interesting bunch.
    I wonder what tbey would think about the world we live in today.

    I am going to make a pilgrimage real soon to Corpus Christ Church in NYC. Maybe I can catch some of that same grace Merton received so many years ago.

    God bless!

  2. Thank you, Brian.

    Sounds cool, going to CC Church. Be sure to write about it!

    Hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas.

  3. I landed here thanks to Brian.
    Beautiful blog. Thank you.
    I've been a fan of Merton since I was sixteen! :)

  4. Welcome Gabriella!

    I've been a Merton fan since I was 16 ttoo!

  5. read this Merton description last night in a Berrigan poem and thought of your blog:

    from Daniel Berrigan;s "Strip Mining"

    "Merton: that cool brusque cavalier's glance at the world: No sale"

  6. That sounds very Berrigan-y, Marc. An interesting combination of words: cool-brusque, and then "cavalier" (horseman). The ending, "No sale", is abrupt and final, and feels very much like what I sense as Merton's absolute refusal to sell his soul to life as usual.



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