Thomas Merton: Hermit on Main Street by Don Grayston

November 11, 2010

in 2010-2011, Speakers

Don Grayston is an Anglican priest, former director of the Institute for the Humanities at SFU, where he taught Religious Studies for 15 years, and past president both of the Thomas Merton Society of Canada (merton.ca) and the International Thomas Merton Society (merton.org). You can read more about his interests on his website (donaldgrayston.ca

This presentation introduced those present to the life and work of Thomas Merton and gave us an opportunity to consider how that work might guide or impinge on our spiritual journeys today.

On January 27, 2011 the Gabriola Ecumenical Society was treated to a talk on the life and thought of Thomas Merton. Thomas Merton is the outstanding Christian spiritual writer of the 20th century. Born in France, educated in France, the UK and the US, he died in Thailand in 1968. A polymath, a more-than-Renaissance man, a poet, artist and prolific writer, he stands today as a dialogical figure on the boundary between Christianity and other religions and on the boundary between Christianity's past and its future. The author of 60 titles before he died, 40 more have been published (with a little help from his friends!) since he died. Merton was born in France on January 31, 1915 but raised in New York.

He attended university in Cambridge where he considered himself an agnostic. At one point in his early life he entertained suicidal thoughts. He had a great struggle with what he knew of Catholicism and ultimately wanted to live as an ascetic. These struggles seemed to follow him all his life as he sought out truth. .

Eventually he went to the Trappist Monastery, the Abbey of Gethsemane, for a retreat. During this retreat he had a mystical experience followed by a breakdown, in 1941, which lasted for some 18 months. Eventually he became a teacher at the monastery. Throughout his time there he longed to experience solitude and eventually moved into a hermitage where he remained from 1965 to 1968.

On December 10, 1968 on a trip to the east so study Zen and meet with a Buddhist teacher he was electrocuted in his hotel room in India.

Merton was interested in interfaith relationships and had three main concerns: Contemplation, World Religions and War and Peace. He was not an overt pacifist but was concerned with spirituality and social justice. He was a quiet pacifist.

With his interest in Zen he followed the line of thinking about the unity of all things. He also met with the Dalai Lama. He was indeed a very deep thinker and writer having produced some 70 books throughout his life some of which were published after his death.

Respectfully submitted

Ted Brydges

Donald’s presentation  introduced those present to Thomas Merton, who was  on the pioneering forefront of the  world-wide ecumenical movement,  and to  his life and work. 38 people who had a desire to be more in touch with their spiritual side of self were  interested in  finding  out what other spiritual seekers of our times have been searching for and in considering on  how this work might guide or impinge on our spiritual journeys today.

Merton [1915-1968]  was one of the most influential spiritual mentors of our time, He was  a Trappist monk, mystic, poet, prophet and a spiritual master and a keen proponent of interfaith understanding and interreligious dialogue with  Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim: and Hindu, Buddhist and Taoist faith traditions.

Merton was the author of 60 titles before he died and 40 more have been published (with a little help from his friends!) since he died.  His work is of great interest and importance to many people today as evidenced by the many members and supporters of the Thomas Merton Society.

Gabriola Ecumenical Society, sponsors of this event, are very interested in learning more about the many and varied paths chosen by various spiritual seekers. We believe it is important to reach out to others in love and compassion, to be bearers of peace and reconciliation and honour the connectedness of all, regardless of creed, colour or culture. Masters like Merton guide us along the way.

My dear brothers, we are already one. But we imagine that we are not. And what we have to recover is our original unity. Merton. [Asian journal, p 308]

Presented by Donald Grayston:  Past president both of the Thomas Merton Society  of Canada and the International Thomas Merton Society

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