Is it possible to have a mentor you've never met? I believe you can, The current hint of winter times coming made me recall living in a northern climate when I heard of the passing of a friend I'd never met.  I was busy with graduate school plans, a teaching job and best of all the joys of a new baby daughter.  Over the years this great man has become even more dear to me.  I have mentioned him before in this page.  I have often said that had I not met the special love of my life I would today be in either a Buddhist or Trappist monastery.  My inspiration from Father Merton makes the difference between those two monasteries less than it first appears.

The Abbey Of Gethsemani

Thomas Merton was simply known as Brother Lewis in the Abbey Of Gethsemani where he lived a quiet life of the Trappist Order.  Known as Cistercians, the group was founded in 1098 following what was called The Rule of St. Benedict.  They continue to practice lives of hard work and worship.  Their vow of silence allows only for necessary conversation.  The rule of St. Benedict mandated self control and the concept that the visitor was Christ,  I got to know them through short stays among them at the monastery where I learned silence was indeed golden.  I never met or knew Thomas Merton but he became my spiritual mentor  before his death in 1968 and my encounters years later in the monastery, his private hermitage and the Zen garden where he meditated. He was a man of peace and wisdom who became a world figure during the turbulent times of the 1960s.  He balanced his complete and total Roman Catholic faith with an openness toward other thought including Buddhism.

My view from inside Father Merton's  cabin one frosty morning

Father Merton wrote something like 70 books and articles. He originally hoped to become a  hermit and lived as such for a time.  He built a little cabin and stayed there as much as possible.  His desire to be a person devoid of most human contact disappeared in a strange event that occurred during an errand as he crossed the street at Fourth and Walnut in Louisville Kentucky.  Call it grace, revelation,  enlightenment or whatever.  Suddenly he realized he was part of the passing show of humanity. His life would never be the same again.
“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these 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. . . . I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate...Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed. . . . But this cannot be seen, only believed and ‘understood’ by a peculiar gift."        (Conjectures Of A Guilty Bystander)

As I said, I never met Thomas Merton.  I never met Buddha or Jesus Christ either but their lives and words affected me none-the-less.  Years after Father Merton's Louisville revelation I was alone in the foothills of the mountains in the same state when I had a similar life changing revelation. The content was different but the impact was just as significant to me.  My Buddhist friends might doubt my enlightenment just as my Christian friends might question my revelation.  I believe Father Merton would understand.  At the least his life and words supply the assurance to seek one's own path.

The timeless view from a room in the old monastery...black and white
photography just seems to fit the atmosphere.  It is a step back in time.

A step back in time.  The place where monks meet to pray and chant at 3:15 A.M. (Vigils) and six more
times every day until Compline at 7:30 P.M. allows time for private prayer and meditation before retiring.
I found it is very easy to maintain a vow of silence when you awaken at 3:15.  There is something almost
mystical about walking darkened halls of such a historical place where people like Father Merton walked.

"If you want to know what is meant by 'God's will' in man's life, this is one way to get a good idea of it.  'God's will is certainly found in anything that is required of us in order that we may be united with one another in love." 
                                                              (From: New Seeds Of Contemplation)

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.  
I do not see the road ahead of me.  
I cannot know for certain where it will end.  
Nor do I really know myself,  
and the fact that I think I am following your will  
does not mean that I am actually doing so.  
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.  
And I hope that I do not do anything apart from that desire.  
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,  
though I may know nothing about it.  
Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost  
and in the shadow of death.  
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,  
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. 
                                                                      (Thomas Merton's Prayer From "Thoughts In Solitude")

"A happiness that is sought for ourselves alone can never be found: for a happiness that is diminished by being shared is not big enough to make us happy."              (From  "No Man Is An Island.")

Father Merton's Grave

I have no business expressing thoughts about such  an important person as this but his very words give me inspiration if not ability.  Thomas Merton understood the rain.  He realized it nurtured rich and poor indiscriminately.  Some of his greatest encounters with enlightenment were intertwined with the rain.  Rain is universal.  Merton knew further that salvation was universal.  Salvation was a gift of grace and it fell on all just as the rain. He saw the duty and destiny of man to be one of abandoning oneself to enlightenment.  Man needed not to possess anything, he needed only to allow nothing to possess him.  For Thomas Merton life was a dance in the rain.  It was joy.  It was an unrestrained search and it was a calm day listening to the soft sound of rain in the pines.  No peaceful and sincere spiritual expression was exempt from its place at the dance or in the rain.  Buddhism, Judaism, Islam & Sufism, Hinduism...all spiritual paths, fit within the peaceful and loving world sanctified by Thomas Merton's dance in the rain.  

Yes, Father Merton understood that rain without man was merely a scientific event...a function of physical factors only. With man rain became something to view in peace.  Contemplating the sound of rain caressing leaves brought comfort.  Rain tapping on the roof was the sound of God's fingers.  Viewing the tiny droplets of rain clinging to myrtle seeds like so many tiny crystal balls was to appreciate creation.  Rain became a metaphor for all that is holy.  Yes, Father Merton understood the rain.  Even more than that he understood the dance of enlightenment in the rain.

Father Merton was a Trappist monk/priest in the Roman Catholic tradition.  Known also as Cistercians, they are true and strict followers of the Rule of Saint Benedict.  Meals are vegetarian and at Gethsemani  they market and eat the best fruitcake I've ever had. Throughout the day talking is limited to absolute necessities only. I found you begin to wonder if your voice still works when you go days without using it. The monks work hard and pray in sincerity. They do chant scriptures at services but don't otherwise talk. Today there are two dozen Trappist monasteries in North America and 168 total for the world.  Father Merton died in a freak accident while taking part in a program in Thailand.