I would have to guess that for most people their first encounter with Thomas Merton is rarely their last encounter with Thomas Merton. Once he takes an interest in you he seems rather unwilling to let go. And if and when you try to escape, it seems that he will only follow you anyway with a rather dogged determination. He has been following me since 2002, or perhaps I am now following him… His book No Man Is an Island found its way onto the… island where I was living 15 years ago, and is now the spiritual lens through which I am looking back on my life, and sharing what I hope will be an honest and engaging story with whomever wishes to share the journey with me.
I would like to emphasize that I will be telling a story, in this case a real story, for I am becoming increasingly convinced that live storytelling, in any form, is just as important to the adult human experience as it has always been to the heart and mind of a little child. The deep, pervasive restlessness and endless spasms of violence that permeate our inter-connected and inter-dependent world - spiritually, culturally, economically, religiously, and ecologically, speak to the desperate need for both interior transformation in the search for meaning, as well as its integration and manifestation into a larger mythical narrative that embraces the entire human family. Any lasting structural changes in the world must be rooted in this foundation. This profound challenge of self-identification and self- expression, which first confronts us in our childhood on a less conscious level, clearly does not end in adulthood as we might prefer to believe, but rather expands in harmony with our naturally evolving universe. It is a dynamic, on-going process which demands a mature, conscious, and abiding attention, a willingness to open our hearts and minds as a sacrificial offering to the world. This most intimate of invitations to such an unfamiliar outward expression of vulnerability is at the same time an invitation to love and be loved more fully, and it is ignored not only to the detriment of our own personal fulfillment, but to the well-being of our families and friends, and indeed the future health of our planet and species.
Thomas Merton writes, “What every man looks for in life is his own salvation and the salvation of the men he lives with. By salvation I mean first of all the full discovery of who he himself really is. Then I mean something of the fulfillment of his own God-given powers, in the love of others and of God. I mean also the discovery that he cannot find himself in himself alone, but that he must find himself in and through others.”
What better way to find oneself in and through others than to sit down in community with them, and listen to a story. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”