Sunday, November 23, 2008

Thomas Merton’s Laughable Idea on the Streets of Louisville

This sign (pictured) stands at ‘the corner of Forth and Walnut Streets in Louisville’ as a reminder of the insight that Thomas Merton had on 18 March 1958 about waking up from the dream of human separateness.

He shared this experience in a letter to Boris Pasternak the next day and later wrote about it in one of his books:

I Loved All These People
“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed by the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. The whole illusion of a separate existence is a dream… This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud….”

God Became a Member of the Human Race!
“It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race, though it is a race dedicated to many absurdities and one which makes many terrible mistakes: yet, with all that, God glorified in becoming a member of the human race. A member of the human race! To think that such a commonplace realization should suddenly seem like news that one holds the winning ticket in a cosmic sweepstake….”

There are No Strangers
“There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun…There are no strangers!...If only we could see each other [as we really are] all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed…I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other…the gate of heaven is everywhere.”

Source: Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (New York: Doubleday & Co., 1966), 140-142.

More on Merton:
Thomas Merton on the Real Journey of Life, SFS.
Thomas Merton Identified, SFS.
Thomas Merton on What We Seek, SFS.
Becoming More Ourselves, SFS.
How I Got to be a Success, SFS.
Holy Earthiness, SFS.
Who Am I? SFE.

Dr Geoff Pound