“We are only syllables of the Perfect Word.”—Caryll Houselander, woodcarver and mystic
“The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they said, ‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is vindicated by her works.”—Matthew 11:19
Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk from the Abbey of Gethsemene in Kentucky, died on this day in 1968. In his life, he worked for peace and prayed and argued for an end to war. “Instead of loving what you think is peace, love other men and women and love God above all,” he wrote in Seeds of Contemplation. “Instead of hating the people you think are warmakers, hate the appetites and disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war.”
Merton was ostensibly electrocuted by a faulty wire on a fan in his room where he was attending an international meeting with Eastern and Western contemplatives in Bangkok. (For more on the mystery surrounding Merton’s death, read The Martyrdom of Thomas Merton: An Investigation by Hugh Turley and David Martin, 2018.) His body was shipped home on a military transport plane alongside the bodies of soldiers who died in Vietnam. Merton would have appreciated their common lot.
One man who knew Merton described him as a “merry monk,” like in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. He recalled Merton’s bright, inquisitive eyes, filled with humor…more like a “chip monk” one person told me. Though he was a cloistered contemplative, and at times tried to be a hermit, Merton kept up a lively letter writing exchange with atheists, artists, communists, bohemians, women, poets, Buddhists, and radicals. In Merton’s life, “wisdom is vindicated by her works.”
Christmas Eve is less than two weeks away. Who will sit at your Christmas table?
Breathe in. Breathe out. Ad…..vent.