One of Merton’s most famous epiphanies took place away from the monastery, away from solitude and away from prayer. It took place in the middle of a busy town in Kentucky although surely it was born from the practice of deep contemplation.
Merton’s famous revelation in downtown Louisville is described this way in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander:
“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 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… This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud… I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”
What Merton goes on to explore is that if we could only see each other in this way, if only we could be open to one another and aware of the interconnectedness between each of us then hostility, prejudice, violence and war would be a thing of the past. It’s a lovely passage but as with all glimpses of a different level of consciousness is it realistic? Carl Jung would have said where is the shadow? And it is true that the shadow cannot disappear but is always present even if we would rather not acknowledge it. However perhaps at this moment Merton moved beyond the shadow and the disguise into a different level of awareness. The shadow appeared to have gone as he saw that everyone was shining like the sun…. In the light of Christ perhaps there is no shadow?