In June of this year (1997), I attended The International Thomas Merton Society in Mobile, Alabama. It was a great experience. One of the speakers, Dr. Glenn Hinson, spoke on how Thomas Merton had influenced him. His preentation made me think of the impact Merton has had on me. By the way, it ws Dr. Hinson who exposed me to the Abbey of Gethsemane and to Thomas Merton while I was a student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in the 60s.
Over these years, I have read numerous writings of Thomas Merton. Also, in 1996, I revisited Gethsemani. It has always been very interesting and even fun to read and study Thomas Merton. As a young Southern Baptist in the 60s, I knew almost nothing of the life of a Monk. However, the life of one Monk has influenced me. Consider with me a few areas of influence.
The first thing that touched me was the early years of his life. It is amazing how this young man found a close walk with God. The search not only for God, but for an understanding of love. I often wonder how Tom Merton's life would have been if he had my parents (my parents were there and they loved me!). God has a way of giving us people from all kinds of situations. It seems that Merton/s search never ended on this earth.
The second thing that touched me was the struggle with two worlds. In almost all his works this is revealed. Also, when people write about Merton, it is even clearer. As Henri Nouwen writes of Merton, "Merton himself was a very earthy as well as a very spiritual man." It is evident that Merton continually struggled with an in the two worlds. Don't we all!
The third thing that has touched my life is how his journey took him down some paths that make us think and respond. Merton has helped me understand something about silence. As Baptist, we seldom hear about this subject. I cannot think of Merton without thinking of the word silence. Merton's struggle with silence, solitude, and action has always challenged me. It seem it will always be a struggle to find balance. He also makes me look at nature. I like to make pictures of people, but he has often challenged me to look at other things.
The last thing that has touched my life is the sense of humor of Thomas Merton. It is obvious that Merton was a serious man, but it is very clear that he had a good sense of humor. When he refers to fourth and Walnut, I almost laugh. I have been at that corner many times. It is hard to listen to a Merton lecture on tape and not feel a keen sense of humor.
I often wonder why God let me visit Gethsemani, why God let me get caught up in the writings of Merton. Why I can't get away from encounters with Merton. I may never know, but I am grateful that Merton is a part of my journey. I have been blessed.
Rev. Wayne Burns is the Director of Missions for a Baptist Association in Phenix City, Alabama. During the Merton Conference in Mobile, he shared with the participants that when Glenn Hinson took his seminary class to the monastery that he had never seen a catholic church. Growing up in Alabama in the 60s catholic churches were a "real rarity." The whole atmosphere of that visit was an influence in changing his life. Brother Burns sends out a daily "Morning With Merton" quote. If you would like to be added to his mailing list you may contact Brother Wayne Burns via e-mail.
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