On January 31 it will be the centenary of the birth of Thomas Merton – writer, monk and in many ways a prophet. It’s hard to sum up the influence he has had on contemporary spirituality but I think his greatest contribution was to make contemplation or as we might know it meditation something that anyone could undertake. Merton thought that contemplation was the reason for our existence and that through it we both learn to know ourselves (our false self and gain glimpses of our true self) and also learnt to know God. Through such an experience love for others and our deep connection with all of creation can occur. Merton never really offered techniques though he did suggest using the Jesus prayer in times of quiet until it sank into the background and left the contemplative free, but he did give us some wonderful accounts of his own spiritual development and through his correspondence ideas of how he genuinely reached out to others. One of the most refreshing things about Merton is that he held to no dogma and quite deliberately was against evangelisation. He trusted above all in the spirit and merely asked to be open and available and vulnerable to God’s mercy.
He also turned to Eastern religions – especially Zen to enrich Christian contemplation and understood that in a developing connection with all living life there was no place for warfare, racism, cruelty or environmental destruction.
He remains a spiritual guide for many. On the 31st there will be events in London and in Scotland look at the website for further details.