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Interfaith Dialogue and Thomas Merton – A Reflection

April 24, 2021
Picnic pavilion along the Tennessee River in Muscle Shoals, Alabama

In a passage from Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, Merton writes: “The more I am able to affirm others, to say ‘yes’ to them in myself, by discovering them in myself and myself in them, the more real I am. I am fully real if my own heart says yes to everyone” (p. 144). (From William H. Shannon’s book, Thomas Merton’s Dark Path (p. 14)

Thanks to a post that my colleague and friend Cassidy Hall shared recently, I purchased and began reading the Kindle version of Shannon’s book about Thomas Merton. The book is a synopsis of some of Merton’s unpublished writings about contemplation, redemption, and the nature of grace (from the synopsis of the book on Goodreads). What drew me to the book was my interest in Merton’s thoughts about interfaith dialogue and how it impacted his own contemplation, especially in his later years as he explored Buddhism and began dialogues with the Buddhist Monastic tradition.

One of the foundations of that discussion in my mind is that of peacemaking and nonviolence. Merton was known for his passionate writings and stance on peacemaking, nuclear non-proliferation, his stance against the militarization of the US, and the war in Vietnam. I can imagine he would have a thing or two to say about Afghanistan, the longest war in the history of the US as well.

In a time of such polarization as we have been experiencing with the rise of nativism, nationalism, white supremacy, and other forms of hate and fear in this country and world, we need to hear Merton’s prophetic voice speak to us today. His message is timeless and equally as relevant today as it was back in the 1950’s and ’60’s.

The more that I am able to affirm others… I recently finished a course on Interfaith/Interreligious theologies and one of the focal points was how dialogue and meeting each other in a shared place of trust is key to developing such dialogues. For such a time as this, we need to boldly and humbly meet at the table of humanity with others in order to seek the way of peace for all of creation. Honestly, this is the only way that I see for creation and humanity to have a chance of stopping the violence that is destroying both creation and humankind.

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