On March 18, 1958, in the middle of downtown Louisville, Thomas Merton had an epiphany. He had been a Trappist monk for 17 years, living and working at the Abbey of Gethsemani near Bardstown, Kentucky. On this particular day, he was running errands for the Abbey, and was standing on a street corner. In an ordinary place on an ordinary day, surrounded by a crowd of busy people, he entered a moment which turned everything on its head. Following this experience, he had a new realization that a street corner in a busy city is as holy a place as a cloistered Abbey, and he moved to new depths of understanding that everyone has access to a rich interior life through contemplation and prayer. A deeper passion for social justice was born inside of him that day–that moment–and he was filled with love for all the strangers around him.
His longer account of this experience is well worth reading. Here is a brief excerpt:
Thomas Merton’s words came to my mind as I reflected on a recent moment of my own. Such moments can happen any time, anywhere. I was not in a crowd of strangers, but among friends. It was last Thursday night, about 9:40 p.m., during the last few moments of the January meeting of our Leadership Council. We were in the Fellowship Room, wrapping up a very productive meeting. Everyone was there except for Jay Smith. Jay, Holly, Hollman, and Jameson, were leaving for the weekend to celebrate the 100th birthday of Holly’s grandmother.
I had been so impressed, as usual, with the quality of work that had been done, but what happened next had little to do with the competence of this group. We were all ready to go home. I think I said something like, “You all are amazing.” I doubt if anyone even remembers it, for I pretty much said it under my breath. But as I glanced around the table at Brian Hall, Ann Hatcher, Beth Moffett, Marshall Marks, Kathy Ichter, and Cathy Baskin, I was overwhelmed by waves of love and appreciation, and I marveled at the beauty, ability, and depth of dedication of each person.
Whether it’s strangers, or friends sharing life and mission in community with Christ Jesus, Merton was right.
There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.