When I was a freshman at the
University of Iowa in the fall of 1985
I developed two interests
that would stay with me through
the next 24 years; College Football
and Thomas Merton.
I developed a love of College
Football because in 1985 Iowa
was #1 for 8 weeks and I attended some
of the greatest games ever played including
the 10-9 win over Michigan and so I was
hooked and to this day I look forward to
an Iowa football Saturday.
The other thing I gained a love for
was the writings of Thomas Merton. In 1985 all of the thoughtful and liberal
Catholics had not been driven out of the Church.
The Newman Center at Iowa was quite a place. It was where I met my first Worker Priest, my first Lesbian friend, and where I became aware of what a Catholic Worker really was. I also was introduced to Thomas Merton.
Merton is today still well read but not by many Catholics. Most Catholics today who are church goers prefer the revanchist EWTN version of the Church. The great Catholic traditions of
intellectualism and progressivism in the US are easily ignored as inconvenient. So Al Smith, Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, John Courtney Murray are pushed to the side in favor of
I don't know what?
Having said that there is so much in Merton that is life affirming and during this time when I am in the midst of unemployment and financial stress his words still speak to me. When the first cold breeze comes in the fall- like now- I think about that part in the Seven Storey Mountain where he talks about the fever of October and how everything looks so good and how our blood is rushing faster and what it is like to be on a college campus in the fall- and I am soothed and reinvigorated.
When things seem so down and out I re-read New Seeds of Contemplation and let the small deep insights fill me with wonder and peace. Finally when it appears that all is lost I let Merton tell me that it is in suffering like our Lord suffered that we are truly human and close to His pain.
Merton does not believe in the Santa Claus Jesus that so many conservatives believe in . His Jesus is bigger and more complex. His Jesus lets us have all of the Human experience and Merton's writing lets us read Buddhism, Rumi/Sufism, Eastern Christianity and more as ways deepening our lives and really understanding our interior life.
Merton has gotten me through much. When I was living in Bolivia working the prison his works were with me. When I went through family problems his books soothed me. And now in this Great Recession his works remain a constant for me- like watching Iowa Football it is something that I acquired in Iowa City, over 20 years ago now, and it remains for me a constant amid stress and pain. His works are a constant contemplation.