Sunday, January 28, 2007
Thomas Merton was a famous Trappist monk. It's almost an oxymoron to call someone a famous Trappists. The Trappists are the ultimate 'set aside' kind of group. They live in monasteries often off the beaten track and they don't generally have ministerial responsibilities outside of the monastery. They are the Cistercians of Strict Observance and they mean it.
Merton was born in France of an American mother and a father from New Zealand. Merton was something of a wild kid in adolescence and his time in the monastery was a time of great 'mixing it up' in the Roman Catholic Church. He became involved in the peace movement with Daniel Berrigan and had an ongoing fascination with Buddhism. He found that many of the meditation practices of Buddhism were not inconsistent with Christian Worship. He, in essence, used Christian wording in Buddhist meditation styles and changed contemplative prayer in the process. His autobiography, "The Seven Storey Mountian" was and remains a classic. Published in 1948 it is still in print and still sells to many people.
Merton was a monk at Gethsemani and I decided I wanted to visit his grave. He's the only Trappist at Gethsemani who is buried in a casket. They ordinarily don't bury their dead in caskets, but wrapped in garb, but Merton died after being electrocuted by a faulty fan in Thailand. As his body had to be shipped halfway across the world, he was placed and buried in a casket.
Merton's grave, except for the wreath of berries someone placed on it, is the same as every other monk's grave. His fame means nothing there; he was a humble monk and is buried as a humble monk. The grave of Fr. Louis Merton (Louis was his monastery name) is like any other grave there with the exception that the ground in front of it has been stood on by so many.
It is interesting. We live in a day and age of celebrity and fame. Often the graves of the famous are elaborate, set aside, type places, and not humble graves in humble places. Thomas Merton, at his core, was a disciple of Jesus and a humble monk. He simple, humble grave is a reminder to everyone to visits there.