January 27, 2015
Thomas Merton centennial events planned worldwide
by Claire Kelley
Events to celebrate the life of Thomas Merton, the poet, Trappist monk, religious philosopher, translator and social critic, are planned around the world—from Ireland to Iowa, to Sydney and Brazil—to mark his centennial this month.
Last week at the Brooklyn Public Library, Christopher Beha of Harper’s Magazine, novelist Colm Tóibín, and editor and author Paul Elie discussed the legacy of Thomas Merton’s writing on spiritual wisdom, nonviolence, and meditation, in an event co-presented by New Directions, Merton’s publisher.
Each presenter discussed why Merton meant to much to him personally.
Beha discussed the way that Merton lived—spending 25 years in the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky—as a source of inspiration: “To order our lives according to our natures and not on the terms of a fallen and disordered world is I think the challenge that Merton offers all of us. But that means to be like Merton it does not mean we have to become Trappists. We merely have to become ourselves.”
Paul Elie, the former FSG editor who wrote The Life You Save May Be Your Own, a biography of Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, Flannery O’Connor, and Walker Percy said “The way I understand Merton, a century on is that he’s a creative writer in one sense—his work is a kind of imaginative criticism of the world we live in and of the various schemes and programs we’ve erected. Merton could always imagine a more perfect place and spends a lot of energy of his journals imagining himself somewhere else—even though he found this perfect place in the monastary. The other thing he does imaginatively is that he identifies with other writers—with Blake, Augustine, Dante, Jacques Maritain, Pasternak, Czesław Miłosz various poets like Ernesto Cardenal in Nicaragua, Asian mystics, Camus—that idenfitication is what we feel in his work, so that we identify imaginatively with him.”
Born on January 31, 1915, Merton died from the electric shock of a faulty ceiling fan under mysterious circumstances on December 10, 1968 in Bancock, Thailand.
Claire Kelley is the Director of Library and Academic Marketing at Melville House.