Boyd meets Merton

Malcolm Boyd recalls the day he was met Thomas Merton.

He welcomed me to his home, a large, silmple room in the monastic community. Books and LPs were stacked everywhere, including my book of prayers, "Are You Running with Me, Jesus?" Ours quickly became a torrent of conversation. We know our time together was limited. So we talked about virtually everything. War. Peace. Race. Prayer. Literature. He explained that he did not see films because his was an isolated rural life. Yet he included French cinema director Jean-Luc Godard in our conversation.

We gossiped! We dissed both the Vatican and the Episcopal Church! Both religious institutions clearly stood in need of a sense of humor, particularly in relation to themselves. So our conversation covered glaring faiilures of organized religion as well as scintillating reflections of hopefull signs for a future. I was struck by his alert humor, easy grace and gentle openness. He was a unique sort of holy person, totally human, devoid of posturing. His life was clearly not a scripted one. Thomas Merton was not playing a role. I found him a pure delight because, as much as I cherish theatre, I prefer to keep it on a stage. In my view all the world's not a stage at all. So I was delighted simply to meet a kindred soul.

What struck me with considerable force was an instant awareness that we weren't meeting as two persons in an instititutional setting, religious or otherwise. In other words, we weren't locked into "ecumenical" or "interfaith" recognized categories. We carried no religious passports. No so-called allegiance to any religious institution defined us or in any way limited our freedom to be ourselves. I guess one could say that we un-self-consciously celebrated the peculiar and wonderful freedom of faith.

Comments (1)

What strikes me about Fr. Boyd's recollection is how much it's grounded in the facade that is social interaction. From this and from other things I've heard about him, Thomas Merton seems to have been a very dynamic and passionate individual, a really wonderful person to talk to. Those aren't particularly saintly characteristics, however, and I'm somewhat troubled by what I've heard about how poorly Merton lived out his commitments.

Jonathan Galliher

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