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January 22, 2013

CUMMINS: A revelation worthy of remembrance

Have you ever had a revelation? Apparently, they can occur at any time and any place. On March 18, 1958, Thomas Merton had one on the busy street corner at Fourth and Walnut (now Muhammad Ali Boulevard) in Louisville. 

That’s a rather unusual place for a revelation, and somewhat strange the Commonwealth of Kentucky placed a historical marker there. What’s most unusual is the subject matter on the marker. States don’t memorialize love of people as a noted historical event. States aren’t in the love business, but perhaps they should be. The way things are now, there seems to be too much emphasis on the hate business. Merton, who had the revelation that day, later said, “If you want to study the social and political history of modern nations, study hell.”

Merton was in the business of selling “love,” and after listening to his sales pitch, you might consider going in debt to buy his stock. However, money can’t buy what he considered an everlasting investment. Money can buy greed, divisiveness and ill will, but how do you store it for the long term? 

Thomas Merton was born in France, where both parents worked as artists. During his childhood, he lived in France and America, traveled widely and attended the best schools. As a young man, he lived a man-of-the-world type life, with particular interests in the arts, literature, jazz music and having a good time. He realized, however, the void and emptiness in his life. After joining the Catholic Church, he decided to become a monk, and entered the Trappist monastery at the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani, located in the hills near Bardstown.

The Trappist order is a strict one, emphasizing physical work, poverty, austerity, solitude, meditation and prayer. From scrubbing floors in silence his first days there, seven years later, from his meager cell, he wrote “The Seven Story Mountain,” an autobiography of his evolving spiritual life. Published in 1948, the book is considered one of the great non-fiction books of the 20th Century. As he explained, “A life is either all spiritual or not spiritual at all.” There was no maybe-later in his life.

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