News and Tribune


January 22, 2013

CUMMINS: A revelation worthy of remembrance


Merton wrote more than 70 books, mostly on spirituality, social justice and pacifism, as well as scores of essays and book reviews. He corresponded with the world’s great writers and studied other religions, particularly those based in Asia. He initiated dialogue with the Buddhists, including the Dalai Lama and D. T. Suziki, an authority on Zen Buddhism. He and Suziki collaborated on a book, “The Birds of Paradise,” which compares the Zen Nirvana, or enlightenment, with Christian salvation. He also kept a daily journal, which revealed his devout faith as a Christian and unyielding submission to his Master. During Merton’s relatively short life, his productivity and contributions to humankind are immeasurable.

A few of his convictions: We are so obsessed with doing, that we have no time and no imagination left for being; we are not at peace with others because we are not at peace with ourselves; love seeks one thing only, the good of the one loved; peace demands greater heroism than war; when ambition ends, happiness begins. 

In December 1968, Merton flew to Bangkok, Thailand, to attend an all-faith religious conference. When unplugging an electric heater in his hotel bathroom, he was tragically electrocuted. He was only 53, and at the prime of life. A brilliant light extinguished, but his revelation and work enduringly shines.

Monks are human beings too. On the day of his revelation, he had travelled from Gethsemani to Louisville to run some errands. On the busy street corner that day as masses of people passed by, he paused; “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. There is no way of telling people that they are all shining like the sun.” Yes, there is, Merton did, and there is a marker there to remind us.

If you get the chance, go to the corner of 4th and Muhammad Ali in Louisville.  (Merton would have loved Ali, and you and me, too.) Pause there and read the marker. Read it again. Then look at the strangers hurriedly passing by. Do you see the sun shining on their faces, even on a dreary, cloudy day?

— Contact Terry Cummins at

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