|Louisville, KY: Site of an epiphany.|
There's a great story about Thomas Merton, the great 20th century spiritual writer and Trappist monk. In the 1950's, and after being a monk for 15 years, Merton was in Louisville, KY on some practical business, and standing on the corner of Fourth and Walnut, he watched the crowds of ordinary people walking by. As he observed them going about their day to day business, some happy, some sad, some young, some old, he was struck with a profound sense of how much he loved them, how connected and invested in them he felt. He recalled the event, saying "It was like waking from a dream of separatedness... There's no way of telling people that they're all walking around shining like the sun."
Quaint story, right? Or, perhaps, is there something a little more to be learned from this story. Perhaps, one of the 20th century's greatest spiritual lessons was learned in *gulp* Louisville, KY. Thomas Merton, at the time, was a very very developed contemplative. As a Trappist monk, he lived life in simplicity and relative isolation, spending virtually all of his time in the Trappist monastery of Our Lady of Gethsemani, in Trappist, KY. Prayer was his fascination, his greatest preoccupation, his deepest obsession. Merton had a long and fascinating spiritual life, one that led him to great insight and fruitfulness. How was it then, that, on this rare sojourn into the outside world, that Thomas Merton felt so connected to the common people on the streets, none of whom he had ever met, none of whom he had any knowledge of, none of whom probably gave the slightest concern for who he was. Regardless, Thomas Merton understood, in that moment of sheer exuberance, the deep connection that he shared with each and every passerby on that street corner. It was from his prayerful heart that Thomas Merton came to understand so deeply his love for fellow man. Why? Because he was connected.
Our culture, love it or hate it, has an unprecedented emphasis on connectedness. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, cellphones, texting, the list of social media outlets and sources goes on and on, all geared towards one end: to get the user connected. I, however, can only but ask: connected to what? I log onto Facebook more often than any person ever should, so I'm a capital offender, but I still ask "Are we connected in the right ways?" The major problem with social media connectedness is that it connects us with who we want to be, who we want people to think we are, and not with who we actually are. Thomas Merton's genuine moment of solidarity lacked that trait; he knew exactly who they were, regardless of the image they projected or the person they wanted to be. He knew them in a level far deeper than our modern social media could ever know them.
|"You are made in the image of what you desire"|
In a culture so fascinated with being connected, I have to wonder, are we satisfied with being connected to facades and veneers, or do we desire to truly know people and to be known by people? Are we content with false images and poorly constructed fronts, or do we desire a connection of the heart? Wouldn't our lives be so much better if we walked down the street with the same heart as Thomas Merton, saturated with a deep understanding of the sheer beauty of each and every person, beauty flowing through them from the heart of God? Wouldn't our social justice efforts be so much more fruitful if we "woke from a dream of separatedness" and saw the people we serve, shining like the sun? If, like me, you believe so, then by all means, follow Thomas Merton's lead and be genuinely invested in the labor of prayer.