The Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University

Living Together With Wisdom:
Merton's Call to Transform Our Hearts and Lives

guide to concurrent Sessions

Session A - Friday, June 5 - 10:30 AM - 11:45 AM

Session B - Friday, June 5 - 3:30 PM -  4:45 PM

Session C - Saturday, June 6 - 10:30 AM - 11:45 AM

Session D - Saturday, June 6 - 1:30 PM -  2:45 PM    

Session E - Saturday, June 6 - 3:15 PM -  4:30 PM

10:30 AM – 11:45 AM


A1.  Thomas Merton and Personhood

a.  Nass Cannon – "A Circle Dance of Love: Thomas Merton, Contemplation, and the Cosmic Dance."

Nass Cannon, a Clinical Professor of Medicine, has an interest in the writings of Thomas Merton on contemplation and their implications for integrative medicine.

Thomas Merton envisions the world and time as the "dance of the Lord in emptiness." This paper reflects on this "cosmic dance" by considering Merton's contemplative gaze of humankind as interpenetrated by the Spirit of the resurrected Christ. From that perspective, we all become dancers whose movements trace a universal circle dance of love .

b.  Jonathan Sozek  – "Thomas Merton on Being a Person."

Jonathan Sozek is a PhD candidate in Religious Studies at Brown University, writing on the concept of the person in twentieth century philosophy and theology. 

This paper considers the value and utility today of Merton's distinction between the person and the individual. Merton's distinction is linked to French personalism, then brought into conversation with Pope Francis’s claim that the financial crisis resulted from a "denial of primacy of the human person!"


A2.  Merton and Environmental Responsibility

a.  Kathleen Deignan – "Apocalypse in Paradise: Merton as Guide through 'The Sixth Extinction'."

Kathleen Deignan is Professor of Religious Studies and Founding Director of The Iona Spirituality Institute at Iona College where she animates The Merton Contemplative Initiative.  Her books include When the Trees Say Nothing: Thomas Merton’s Writings on Nature and Thomas Merton: A Book of Hours.

This paper will explore this bifocal vision of Merton, which display the interplay of this searing and transformative dialectic – the apocalypse of paradise, and the seeds of paradise to be retrieved from the deserts of apocalypse.  In this way, Merton's wisdom is offered as light for generations whose destiny it is to make their way through a dark night of Earth, laboring to recover paradise once more.

b.  Marilyn Sundermann – "Thomas Merton on Simplicity of Life and Its Lessons for 21st Century Sustainability."

Dr. Marilyn Sunderman, RSM, Associate Professor of Theology, Saint Joseph's College of Maine, has published articles and reviews on Merton's writings in The Merton Annual and The Merton Seasonal. 

This presentation examines the simple living that Thomas Merton embraced as a Cistercian monk.  It explores insights into simplicity of life Merton gleaned from the writings of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, the Shaker tradition, and Merton's hermit years. It considers Merton's wisdom regarding simplicity in relationship to 21st century sustainability challenges.


A3.  Merton and the Inner Journey

a. Michael Plekon – "'What I wear is pants. What I do is live. How I pray is breathe…': Merton and the Spiritual Life in the 21st Century."

Michael Plekon is professor of Sociology and Religion and Culture at Baruch College of the City University of New York. He is a priest in the Orthodox Church in America, attached to St Gregory the Theologian Church, Wappingers Falls NY.

I will examine how Merton’s spiritual journey remarkably resonates with the 21st century.  "Day of a Stranger" is a particularly important text for such a reflection, but there are other passages from his journals and his retreat, The Springs of Contemplation. Merton's thinking about the spiritual life is authentic and accessible, the outcome of his own struggle with his weaknesses, the needs of the world and God's mercy and most relevant to our time.

b. Fiona Gardner – "Unlocking the Door From the Inside."

Fiona Gardner is a psychoanalytic psychotherapist, spiritual director and writer. She is on the committee of TMSGBI and UK International Advisor for the ITMS.

Diary entries made before Merton's death reflect the psychological work he achieved over his lifetime: the very psyche that keeps the mystic bound is the same psyche that can provide the means of salvation. His understanding of the psycho-spiritual offers a pioneering, relevant and forward-thinking legacy to twenty-first century seekers.


A4.  Merton and Dialogue with Asia

a. Patrick F. O’Connell – "Did Thomas Merton Underrate Confucianism?"

Patrick F. O'Connell, a founding member and former president of the ITMS, is professor of English and Theology at Gannon University, Erie, PA. With Christine M. Bochen and William H. Shannon, he is coauthor of The Thomas Merton Encyclopedia and has edited six volumes of Merton’s monastic conferences as well as his Selected Essays. He has served as editor of The Merton Seasonal since 1998.

Professor de Bary criticizes Merton for what he sees as a rather ahistorical and superficial approach to Confucianism and maintains that "Merton's writings on the whole have almost nothing to say about Confucianism." This paper will suggest that de Bary's critique, while valid up to a point, has not recognized Merton's fundamentally positive response to the Confucian tradition nor the value of his reflections on Confucianism for contemporary readers wishing to continue "living the legacy" of Merton's pioneering efforts in interreligious dialogue.

b. Jaechan Anselmo Park - “Merton’s Self-Transcendence and Dialogue with Zen Buddhism: Its Contributions to Interreligious Dialogue." 

Jaechan Park OSB is from South Korea and is presently researching Thomas Merton and monastic interreligious dialogue for his Ph.D Thesis at the University of Toronto.

In his spiritual journey, Thomas Merton was influenced by Zen Buddhism. The knowledge he acquired from Zen facilitated his dialogue with other Monasticisms. Using Zen and Christian thought, primarily, Merton contributed to monastic interreligious dialogue and provided a bridge to future harmonious relationships with other religions. This paper will discuss this process


A5.  Workshop

Christine M. Bochen – "Learning How to Drink Tea: Studying and Teaching Thomas Merton."

Christine M. Bochen, professor of religious studies and holder of the William H. Shannon Chair in Catholic Studies, is a founding member and past president of ITMS. She has edited several volumes of Merton’s writings and an anthology of Merton’s writings, Thomas Merton Essential Writings; co-authored The Thomas Merton Encyclopedia, and, most recently, with William H. Shannon, edited Thomas Merton: A Life in Letters.

After briefly considering what the enigmatic title of the workshop tells us about Merton’s view of the purpose of education, we will explore, experience, and share ways of studying and teaching Merton – from selecting readings and resources to creating opportunities for reflection and discussion. Nazareth College students will share what they have learned through their study of Merton and offer advice for teachers and students alike.


A6.  Performance

James Nagle – "Thomas Merton: Alive at Fourth and Walnut."

Jim Nagle’s goal in life is to help people realize that they are loved unconditionally by God.  How does he do this?  Mainly through the arts and his life.  This pilgrim and dreamer hails from Cleveland, Ohio, and has celebrated life as a teacher, a poet, a playwright, a story-teller, a clown (in all 50 states), and an actor.

This one-person play portrays the life and spiritual journey of Thomas Merton — his youth, conversion, monastic/hermit life and untimely death.  We see the struggles, joys and challenges he embraced in becoming the deeply human monk, prophet, poet and spiritual writer God called him to be.


A7.  Guided Prayer

Jonathan Montaldo – "Praying in Gratitude for the Church of Our Friends."

Jonathan Montaldo is a former president of the ITMS. He recently co-edited a volume of reflections that honor Merton's centenary, We are Already One: Thomas Merton's Message of Hope.

Reflecting together on excerpts from Merton's journals and a conference to novices on prayer, we will "enter the school of our own lives" in silent meditation and then compose our own prayers of gratitude for, and in solidarity with, the church of our life's best friends.

3:30 PM – 4:45 PM


B1.  Merton and Discipleship

a. Daniel P. Horan  – "Evangelical Poverty in Thomas Merton and Pope Francis: The Heart of Christian Discipleship."

Daniel P. Horan, OFM is a Franciscan friar of Holy Name Province (NY), a columnist for America magazine, and currently serves on the Board of Directors of International Thomas Merton Society. He is the author of seven published books, the most recent are the forthcoming The Franciscan Heart of Thomas Merton: A New Look at the Spiritual Inspiration of His Life, Thought, and Writing.

In this paper I offer a substantive examination of the theme of evangelical poverty in Merton's writings and draw on the recent work of Pope Francis to illustrate how Merton's work not only presciently intuits the current pope's own approach to Christian discipleship in the modern world, but how Merton's work also offers us a complementary resource and hermeneutical lens through which to read texts such as Evangelii Gaudium. I show how both Merton and Pope Francis see evangelical poverty as central to Christian living, as well as a means to solidarity and a protest against abject poverty.

b. Fernando Beltran – "'Old Answers are Not Sufficient': Thomas Merton and the Sermon on the Mount."

Fernando Beltrán is an ITMS International Advisor. He co-directed, with Dr. Paul M. Pearson, the First International Conference on Thomas Merton in Spain (October 2006). 

Instances of Merton's following of the Beatitudes will be shown which explain the scope and poignancy of his message today, rooted in his experience that the very "ground of birth is Paradise" wherein stands the Tree of life, the true heart of contemplation and the root of all compassionate action.


B2.  Merton and Liberation

a. Mark C. Meade "A Future Without the Death Penalty: Merton and René Girard on the Scapegoating Instinct."

Mark C. Meade is the assistant director of the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University. He is a board member of the Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

How much support for executing criminals is based on an equitable standards of justice and how much rests upon a societal need to make criminals a scapegoat in response to violent crime? This paper brings newly discovered Merton materials on the death penalty into conversation with the postmodern thinker René Girard.

b. Robert Rowen-Herzog – "Thomas Merton and Ignacio Martin-Baro: Integrating the Historical and the Transcendent."

Robert Rowen-Herzog is the former editor of Radical Grace, a publication of the Center for Action and Contemplation founded by Richard Rohr, O.F.M.  He is currently a doctoral candidate in Clinical Psychology at Meridian University, studying the nexus of Imaginal Psychology and Liberation Psychology in the development of critical consciousness.

In this paper I place Merton in dialogue with the founder of liberation psychology, Jesuit priest and martyr, Ignacio Martin-Baro. Merton observed the evolution toward a sort of tyranny of the self, in the post-Freudian age of psychology; liberation theology and, later, liberation psychology began as movements to counter the focus on the self in the culture. This philosophical dialogue would serve as a means of integrating the historical and the transcendent, thus extending the influence of Merton on the social issues that face this world; only in the integration of the transcendent and the historical can we as a culture imagine solutions to the social ills that Merton so aptly described and portended over forty years ago. 


B3.  Merton and Poetry                                                                                                                                                                 

a. Deborah Kehoe "Merton’s Poetry, Past and Future."

Deborah Kehoe lives in Oxford, Mississippi. She teaches English at Northeast Community College and the University of Mississippi. This is her sixth ITMS conference presentation.

Inspired by Jay Parini's metaphor of the palimpsest to illustrate any poet's relationship with past and future writers, this paper examines selections from Cables to the Ace for traces of Merton's poetic precursors, and explores Merton's underlying presence in contemporary poet Lisa Gill's similarly subtitled Letters to a Dead Trappist.

b. Lynn Szabo – "'Blind Lions Looking for Springs in the Desert': Thomas Merton and the Word That Never Stops Speaking."

Lynn R. Szabo is professor of American literature at Trinity Western University. She edited In The Dark Before Dawn: New Selected Poems of Thomas Merton (2005).

In engaging the hermeneutics of human narrative, both in poetry and prose, Merton is a prophet of the current debates about language, leaving us an understanding that emanates from his wrestling with the mysteries of the ineffable silence of God who is the origin of all speech.


B4.  Merton and Zen                                                                                                                                      

a. Ed Sellner "Awakening: The Friendship Between Thomas Merton and D. T. Suzuki."

Ed Sellner, Ph.D., is professor of theology at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota, and the author of numerous books, including Wisdom of the Celtic Saints and Finding the Monk Within.

In Zen Buddhism the word for "awakening" is satori. This paper will examine the transforming effect D.T. Suzuki's writings on Zen had upon Thomas Merton, and the friendship between the two men. Implications of that relationship for a new generation of seekers, deeply interested in a spirituality that incorporates the best from both East and West, will be discussed. 

b. Leslie Alldritt – "Zen Lives of Dialogue: Thomas Merton and Masao Abe at 100."

Leslie D. Alldritt is an Associate Professor of Religion at Northland College. He contributed a chapter on Tillich and Abe to a festschrift dedicated to Abe.

Thomas Merton and noted Japanese Buddhist scholar Masao Abe (d. 2006) were born in 1915 and their ideas on a number of philosophical and social issues were remarkably related. This paper will carefully examine the extant correspondence between the two men and explore and extend the common and contrasting aspects of their respective religio-philosophies.


B5.  Workshop                                                                                                                                              

Angus Stuart – "Consonantia: Poetry & Jazz as a Parable of the Soul."

Angus Stuart is a Board Member of the Thomas Merton Society of Canada and a former chair of the Thomas Merton Society of Great Britain & Ireland.

In Day of a Stranger, Merton speaks of "all meanings are absorbed in the consonantia of heat, fragrant pine, quiet wind, bird song and one central tonic note that is unheard and unuttered." In this interactive workshop we will explore this idea seeking our essential inner harmony with the universe.


B6.  Performance 

S.T. Georgiou and Jacqueline Chew – "A Contemplative Performance of Robert Lax's Poetic Masterwork, Sea & Sky."

S.T. Georgiou, Ph.D., teaches at the G.T.U. in Berkeley, California. Author of a spiritual trilogy on Robert Lax; recent "Lax Lecturer" at St. Bonaventure University.

Jacqueline Chew, pianist, performed "The Niles-Merton Songs" with baritone Chad Runyon for the 2005 ITMS in San Diego.  She is a Camaldolese-Benedictine Oblate.

Sea & Sky is an abstract-minimalist creation, a subliminal, tonal, wave-flow poem that functions as an iconic portal into the dreaming subconscious.   This one-hour performance celebrates Lax's centenary, (he was born in 1915, like Merton), and is a seamless flow of word and piano interludes.  Discussion follows.


B7.  Guided Prayer

Johnny Sears – "The Spirituality of Restlessness: Merton as a Model for 21st Century Contemplative Life." 

Johnny Sears is the director of The Academy for Spiritual Formation®. He is a Baptist layperson and former engineer who now leads experiences in contemplative spirituality. He lives in Nashville, TN.

Merton’s was a journey of restlessness that drove him to monastic life and later compelled him into a deeper, prophetic engagement with the world.  Using Merton's story as an example, this workshop will explore how contemplative life and practice can help us embrace the seeming contradictions of life as a path to personal and social transformation.  An experience of the "Welcoming Prayer" will be offered as a practice that can help us embrace and transform our own restlessness.


10:30 AM – 11:45 AM


C1.  Merton and the Contemplative Pause

a.   Don Grayston – "Consonantia: Cosmology and Contemplative Practice."

Donald Grayston is an Anglican priest, retired from teaching Religious Studies at Simon Fraser University, and a past president of the Thomas Merton Society of Canada and the ITMS. 

Consonantia: the Latin word for harmony. It is a "central tonic note" humming eternally at creation's core, holding together all the elements of the entire universe—cf. the Logos (John 1:1-14), the Tao, Om and satori. It is also one of the three constituents of beauty, according to Aquinas. In this paper, I will explore its implications for contemplative practice in our time, and as a portal into Merton's cosmological vision.

b.   Gary Hall – "All Bystanders Now?: Attention and Communication in the Womb of Collective Illusion."

Gary Hall is a theological educator in Birmingham, UK. A former editor of the Merton Journal, he has regularly written and presented on Merton, and was a keynote speaker at the 2014 Oakham Conference.

We face such a complex array of information about the world that it can be difficult to be anything other than a bystander. Zygmunt Bauman suggests that hope lies in "communities of committed speech." This paper explores Bauman’s suggestion in relation to Merton's Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander.


C2.  Merton, Politics, and Progress

a. David Golemboski – "Thomas Merton on Emergency Politics and 'Realism' in Christian Moral Reasoning."

David Golemboski is a doctoral candidate in the department of Government at Georgetown University. He is a former ITMS Daggy Scholar, and has presented his work at numerous meetings of the ITMS.

Merton's critique of the Cold War politics challenged not only the mechanisms of war but also the outlook of so-called "realism" that predominated in that time. This paper explores Merton's critical take on the distorting effect of cynical realism on the possibility for authentic Christian moral reasoning and considers the relevance of this critique in our own era of emergency politics.

b.  Gordon Oyer – "Thomas Merton and Our Culture’s Imperative of Progress."

Gordon Oyer has an MA in history and is author of Pursuing the Spiritual Roots of Protest, a book about Merton's 1964 peacemaker retreat.

Western culture asserts an imperative of progress that increasingly threatens the fragile balance of life on Earth. This paper examines how Merton used themes of "privilege" and technology at a peacemakers retreat and elsewhere in his writing to challenge this imperative and offer a lens to understand our modern experience.  


C3.  Merton and Church

a. Raymond Carr – "When the Church Is Not Enough: The Pneumatological Impulse in the Theologies of Merton and Barth."

Raymond Carr is an Assistant Professor of Theology and Ethics at Pepperdine University. His research interests are theologically ecumenical, historically sensitive, and radically inclusive .

Merton and Barth maintained a critical relationship to the church.  Merton functioned spiritually on the periphery focusing on the center from "somewhere else," while Barth accented the center (Christ) to anchor his vision of the Spirit. Thus, pneumatologically, their prophetic witness suggests a spiritual vision for the 21st century church.

b.  Casey Holland - "Tradition and Revolution: Catholicism in the 21st Century."

Casey Holland: B.A. Philosophy and Religious Studies from Nazareth College, Rochester, NY. Attended the 2013 ITMS Conference as a Daggy Youth Scholar.

What role do younger generations play in sustaining the Catholic Church in the 21st century? Examining current issues through the letters and writings of Thomas Merton, this paper explores the task of maintaining traditions in the face of an ever-changing world, and the challenges that go along with doing so.


C4.  Merton as Educational Model

a. Dominiek Lootens – "The Spiritual Roots of Intergroup Dialogue Thomas Merton, bell hooks and 'The Cycle of Liberation'."

Dominiek Lootens is adult educator at Caritas Flanders (B) and lecturer at the PTHV in Vallendar (G). He is a member of SIPCC.

In November 1964, Thomas Merton hosted a legendary retreat on the spiritual roots of protest. In this session, the learning process of this retreat and the method of Intergroup Dialogue will be compared. To deepen the reflection, Thomas Merton and bell hooks will also be brought in dialogue.

b.  Thomas Stewart – "Utilizing Merton's The Strange Islands for a Contemplative  School Leadership - Growth Arc Allegory."

Thomas A. Stewart, Ed.D. is an Associate Professor for Western Kentucky University's Department of Educational Administration, Leadership, and Research and co-founder of Contemplative Learning Solutions Educational Consulting (Bowling Green, KY).

Merton (1957) organized The Strange Islands into three distinct parts. Poems in this collection can also be used to illustrate a contemplative leadership growth arc (specifically that of a school leader). This paper utilizes three pieces included in Merton’s collection to demonstrate stages of a school leader’s emotional growth.


C5.  Workshop

Larry Culliford – "Merton, Arasteh and Final Integration: Exploring Personal Paths to Spiritual Growth and Maturity."

A regular at ITMS meetings, British psychiatrist, writer and workshop presenter Larry Culliford’s latest book is, Much Ado About Something: A Vision of Christian Maturity. (SPCK 2015)

Starting with brief comments on Reza Araste's 1965 book Toward Final Personality Integration and Merton’s 1968 article based on it, plus a contemporary update on personal spiritual development, the workshop will include some straightforward exercises enabling participants to consider fruitfully their own spiritual journeys, followed by general discussion.


C6.  Performance

Matthew Gesicki – "Gloria Mundi."

Matthew Gesicki is a recent graduate of Baldwin Wallace University, where he earned a BA in English Literature. He currently serves in Boston with the Episcopal Service Corps .

Gloria Mundi is a lyric essay that speaks to liturgical participation with the monks of Gethsemani. In the spirit of Merton's interreligious perspective, its prose incorporates verses from the Tibetan Book of the Dead to induce contemplation of the prayers and postures of the offices, invoking light—void—silence—epiphany.


C7.  Guided Prayer

"Thomas Merton: In His Own Voice."

An hour-long audio-visual reflection using segments from the recordings of Thomas Merton’s lectures at the Abbey of Gethsemani, interspersed with periods for silent reflection, and accompanied by images and quotations. The selected recordings bring together some of Merton’s key teaching on prayer and the spiritual life. The recordings are from the archives of the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University in Louisville, KY. 

 – 2:45 PM


D1.  Merton and Living Contemplatively

a. Alan Kolp – "Mind the Light: A Mertonian - Quaker Approach to Contemplative Living."

Alan Kolp is Professor of Religion and holder of the Baldwin Wallace University Chair in Faith & Life.  He is a Quaker and a Benedictine oblate.

Thomas Merton had episodic adventures with Quakerism throughout his life.  From his early childhood exposure to Quakers at the meetinghouse in Flushing, NY on Long Island to his friendship with the Steeres and the Yungbluts in the 1960s, one can identify a common thread that links Mertonian and Quaker spiritualities.  This paper focuses on one element of that thread, namely, the contemplative life.  

b. Jonathan Ciraulo - "Thomas Merton's Monastic Philosophy of Language: Silence as the Font of Meaning."

Jonathan Martin Ciraulo is a doctoral student in systematic theology at the University of Notre Dame. His main interests are sacramental theology and ecclesiology.

While many philosophers consider silence only as vacuous space awaiting language, Merton's personal and theological reflections point to both the inadequacies of language as well as to the meaningfulness of silence. Drawing upon his monastic heritage, Merton adds a hitherto unrecognized contribution to the philosophy of language.


D2.  Merton, Writers, and Saints

a. John P. Collins – "The Idolatry of the Marketplace: Thomas Merton and Flannery O'Connor."

John P. Collins publishes a monthly column on Thomas Merton in The Catholic Free Press and has authored numerous articles related to Merton studies. He is currently the facilitator of an ITMS Chapter at Shirley Correctional Institution in Massachusetts.

In 2013 Pope Francis issued his first Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, in which he criticized  the "idolatry of money," the golden calf of our age. The Pope's important message is an echo of the prescient voices of Thomas Merton and Flannery O'Connor. This paper will examine the prophetic warnings by both writers, through their differing genres, about the idols of the marketplace.

b. Paul Quenon – "In the Valley of Wormwood."

Paul Quenon is a monk of Gethsemani Abbey and was a novice under Fr. Louis' training. He has published 7 books of poetry and hosts a Merton Chapter.

In the Valley of Wormwood is among Merton's earliest monastic writing, done when he was a Novice, and is a compilation of lives of the Cistercian saints.  It shows how he delved into the tradition that is being carried forward.  I will study it for its appeal as writing for spiritual reading, as a scholarly and interpretive work, and as a remarkable demonstration of Merton's flair for historical narrative. 


D3.  Merton and Racism

a. Paul Dekar – "Thich Nhat Hanh, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Thomas Merton on Retreat."

After early service as a United States diplomat, Paul R. Dekar has taught at Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan; Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia; McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, where he helped establish the Centre for Peace Studies; and, since 1995, Memphis Theological Seminary, where he is Professor Emeritus of Evangelism and Mission.

After speaking in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. planned to go to the Abbey of Gethsemani to join Thich Nhat Hanh and Thomas Merton on retreat. This "transcript" imagines a dialogue among three "blessed peacemakers." Ordained as monk or pastor, each practiced contemplation and encouraged others to live with compassion in a world of action. Death prematurely took the lives of two. Thich Nhat Hanh remains active. After decades in exile, he returned to Vietnam on a journey of reconciliation. The witness of each encourages us to claim the power of compassion, love and silence in our lives and in work for the Beloved Community, Dr. King's phrase for the Reign of God.

b. Michael McGregor – "The Persistence of Harlem in the Life and Legacy of Thomas Merton."

Michael McGregor has written about poverty and racial politics in America and the world's developing countries.  Fordham University Press will publish his biography of Merton friend Robert Lax, Pure Act, this September.

Merton’s two weeks in Harlem in 1941 affected him so profoundly, he almost chose service there over joining the Trappists.  This presentation will examine how Merton's Harlem experience influenced his understanding of race and poverty while challenging us to seek—and act on—an understanding of our own.


D4.  Merton and Interfaith Dialogue

a. Susanne Jennings – "Common and Dissonant Threads in Thomas Merton’s Interfaith Dialogue with Jewish and Islamic Figures."

Susanne Jennings is an alumna of Cambridge University having read theology at under- and postgraduate levels, and has worked as Parish Pastoral Assistant and Parish Liturgist in the Diocese of East Anglia. She is now Faculty Librarian for Architecture and History of Art, Cambridge, teaches "A" level theology and religious studies and English Literature, supervises in theology at undergraduate level and is currently working on an academic study of Thomas Merton.

During the latter part of his life, Thomas Merton corresponded with notable Jewish and Islamic figures on a number of topics including contemplation, prayer, mysticism, religious ritual and practice as well as on topical issues of social and moral concern. This paper aims to bring these dialogues under greater scrutiny by focusing on the ways in which Merton, as a Trappist monk, approached interfaith dialogue and on the responses he received from Jewish figures such as Erich Fromm, Zalman Schachter and Abraham Joshua Heschel and Muslim thinkers such as Abdul Aziz and the Catholic Islamisist Louis Massignon.

b. Cristobal Serrán-Pagán – "Beyond Dogmas: Cultivating Seeds of Love and Compassion in Thomas Merton and His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama."

Cristóbal Serrán-Pagán y Fuentes is an Associate Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Valdosta State University. He is the editor of Merton and the Tao.

This paper examines the mystical theologies of Merton and the XIV Dalai Lama on the urgent need to cultivate seeds of love and compassion in the midst of a chaotic and violent world. Both monks offer us a contemplative approach that transcends narrow confined dogmas and doctrinal formulations.


D5.  Merton and Historical Rebels 

a. Michael A. Brennan – "Peter Abelard and Thomas Merton: Faithful Troublemakers."

Mike Brennan serves as ITMS Coordinator of Chapters and loves medieval and Church history. He works at O'Hare Airport and lives in Chicago with his wife and daughter.

Abelard and Merton, separated by some 800 years, dedicated themselves to a search for truth, wherever that led, and struggled with the meaning of obedience. Merton referenced Abelard in several Gethsemani conferences, and this talk will explore a few of those perspectives and the challenges that both men faced in their dealings with the Church.

b. Jon Sweeney – "May I Confess?: Self-analysis, Pain, and Embarrassment as Tools of Spiritual Discovery in the Autobiographies of Augustine, Thomas Merton, and Malcolm X."

Jon M. Sweeney is the publisher of Paraclete Press in Massachusetts, an independent scholar, and author of many books including The Pope Who Quit, about Celestine V, recently optioned by HBO. He lives in Ann Arbor.

Are pain and embarrassment necessary experiences on the way to spiritual maturity? And, what are the similar lessons of pain and embarrassment according to the spiritual autobiographies of St. Augustine, Thomas Merton, and Malcolm X? I will attempt to answer these questions in this paper.


D6.  Workshop

Christian McNamara, Guerric Heckel and Lyndall Hare – "How Does an Apple Ripen? Merton, Mepkin, and Contemplative Aging."

Fr. Guerric Heckel founder of the Institute of Contemplative Aging and 20 year member of Mepkin Abbey, previously 28 years as a parish priest.  

Lyndall Hare, Humanistic Gerontologist and Mepkin retreat team member, approaches aging from the perspective of growth and depth rather than physical and mental decline.  

Christian McNamara, MA, CAS, Wesleyan University, is a Mepkin Abbey retreat team member, former college instructor, and retired VP of a division of TIME INC.

This interactive workshop shares the Mepkin Abbey Institute of Contemplative Aging's view of recovering our capacity for God through the sacred therapy of contemplative living. Our retreats echo Merton’s view of spiritual maturity: We age best as an apple ripens, organically. Participants will be invited to explore ways their own passage into elderhood might become more contemplative.


D7.  Performance

Kevin Burns – "'What is This Terrific Importance that Memory Seems to Have for me?' In the Memory Palace of Thomas Merton."

Kevin Burns is a Canadian writer, editor, and award-winning radio documentary producer. Previous ITMS presentations include: Beyond the Shadow and the Disguise (1999) and Invisible Light (2001).

This live documentary presentation explores Merton and memory. Visiting seven "rooms" of remembering we will encounter Merton's shifting ideas on memory and how we remember him today. Memory is a fragile network of connections: virtual, conjectural, and – increasingly – digital. Ideas from classical times and contemporary memory-building techniques will guide us.


D8.  Guided Prayer

Paul M. Pearson – "Simple Gifts: Meditating with the Legacy of Thomas Merton and the Shakers." 

Paul M Pearson is Director and Archivist of the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University, resident secretary of the ITMS and chief of research for the Merton Legacy Trust. He edited Seeking Paradise: The Spirit of the Shakers and Thomas Merton On Christian Contemplation.

This time of guided prayer, through the use of salient quotations from the writings of Thomas Merton and the Shakers, as well as the use of Merton's photographs of Pleasant Hill, will meditatively explore the simple gifts of the Shakers that so attracted them to Thomas Merton.

3:30  PM  – 4:45 PM   


E1.  Merton and Gender

a. Peter Savastano – "Thomas Merton, Anthropology, Human Sexual Variation and the Culturally Constructed Nature of Gender."

Peter Savastano is Associate Professor of the Anthropology of Religion, Consciousness, Sexuality and Gender at Seton Hall University. He specializes in the relationship between Catholicism and African Diasporic Religions, most especially Haitian Vodou; Catholic and Eastern Orthodox mysticism; Western Esotericism; and Sufism. Dr. Savastano is the editor of the forthcoming Merton & World Indigenous Wisdom (Fons Vitae Press).

Thomas Merton took a somewhat anthropological approach to his study of other religious traditions and cultures. Consequently, this paper explores Merton's theology of the self and his use of the concept of les point vierge to develop a theological anthropology that is rooted in the findings of cultural anthropology and intuitively speculates on how Merton might have responded to the plight of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons in relation to the Roman Catholic Church's teachings on human sexuality, gender roles and complementarity.

b. Christopher Pramuk – "God Accompanies Persons: Merton and Pope Francis on Gender and Sexual Diversity."

Christopher Pramuk teaches theology at Xavier University in Cincinnati. He is the author of Sophia: The Hidden Christ of Thomas Merton (Liturgical, 2009) and Hope Sings, So Beautiful: Graced Encounters Across the Color Line (Liturgical, 2013).

This paper brings Merton's reflections on "gender essentialism" and the "feminine mystique" into dialogue with Pope Francis's statements on homosexuality and women in the church. "In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation." What are the implications, pastorally and theologically, of such a starting point?


E2.  Merton and Peace

a. William Apel – "Beyond Hiroshima:  Thomas Merton, Hiromu Morishita, and a Legacy of Peace."

William Apel is an emeritus professor of religion from Linfield College in Oregon. He has published widely on Merton, culture, and religion.  He is author of Signs of Peace: The Interfaith Letters of Thomas Merton

The year 2015, in addition to being the centennial of Merton's birth, is the 70th anniversary of the destruction of Hiroshima.  On December 6, 1945 at 8:15 in the morning, the world changed forever.  One Bomb destroyed a whole city and the nuclear age had begun.  Morishita, a survivor of the Bomb and friend of Merton, has written "Something happened here that shouldn't have."  This paper explores the friendship of Merton and Morishita which arose from the ashes of Hiroshima and provides a living legacy of peace.

b. James Cronin – "A Nation Under Judgment: Frank Kowalski, Thomas Merton and the 'Peace Prayer'."

James G.R. Cronin, University College Cork, Ireland and Honorary Research Associate, University College London, is researching discourses of resistance in the writings of Thomas Merton.

This paper will seek to examine Thomas Merton’s "peace prayer" in the historical context of a growing national political lobby for peace during the year of the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962. It will consider the prayer's legacy question: to what extent do technologies of militarism determine political agency?


E3.  Merton and Living in the World

a. Peter Ellis – "'Work is a Prayer' (The Sign of Jonas): Merton's Insights into Manual Labor."

Peter Ellis is an archaeologist from the UK, formerly a long time Research Fellow at the University of Birmingham. He has published widely in archaeology.

Merton was one of the few 20th-century intellectuals to have voluntarily had an intimate knowledge of manual labor and to have challenged its popular dismissal as valueless. Drawing from Merton's references to work, and from wider sources, the paper will explore its potential to find our true selves individually and collectively.

b. Ryan Scruggs – "Thomas Merton and the Modern Myth of Progress: Uniting Scientia and Sapientia for the 21st Century."

Ryan Scruggs has taught theology at Alberta Bible College in Calgary for the last six years. He completed an M.A. from McGill University in 2010, with a thesis focusing on Thomas Merton's interest in Karl Barth. This fall he will return to his alma mater to begin doctoral work in Religious Studies. In 2007/8 he received a Shannon Fellowship to research Merton's interest in Barth. He was also a Daggy scholar in 2009.

This presentation investigates Merton’s theological (and contemplative) critique of Cartesian dualism – the philosophical soil of the modern myth of progress – in preparation for life in the 21st century.


E4.  Merton and Meaning

a. David Henderson – "'A Life Free From Care' – The Hermit and the Analyst."

David Henderson is a psychoanalytic psychotherapist. He is a senior lecturer at the Centre for Psychoanalysis, Middlesex University, London.

Hermits and psychoanalysts are, in Merton's words, called to "a life free from care." Guigo, the Carthusian, observed that "such a life is continually idle yet never lazy." They occupy liminal, solitary, precarious spaces. They listen and watch. Merton's thoughts are compared to those of Freud, Jung, Winnicott and Bion.

b. Jeffrey Cooper – "'I am his descent into hell': The Harrowing of Hell as Metaphor for Merton's Un/Burdening of Self."

Jeffrey Cooper, c.s.c., Ph.D. is a priest of the Congregation of Holy Cross and Assistant Professor of Theology (Christian Spirituality) at the University of Portland.

This paper examines Merton’s spirituality of Selving as expressed particularly in his poem, "With the World in My Blood Stream."  Through the metaphor of The Harrowing of Hell and the image of Meister Eckhart's dynamic "spark," Merton gives voice to the daily, fluid, lived experience of the Un/Burdening of Self.


E5.  Workshop A

Marianne Heib – "Thomas Merton: Inviting the Edges of Awe."

Marianne Hieb, RSM, artist, art therapist, facilitates retreats and pilgrimages interfacing creativity, spirituality and wellness. Author: Inner Journeying through Art-Journaling. A  Sister of Mercy from NJ, USA.

A meditative workshop probing Merton's legacy of awe through glimpses of persons, nature, devastation and darkness. We will share "favorite" Merton awe-filled incidences, gaze at select calligraphies, then spend individual silent journaling time with reflection questions for written and/or visual response.  An opportunity for optional sharing is included. Journaling supplies provided.


E6.  Workshop B

John Dear – "Merton's Ground-Breaking Path of Peace…"

John Dear is an internationally known voice for peace and nonviolence. A long time activist, popular lecturer, and movement organizer, John is the author of 30 books and hundreds of articles, including Living Peace, Jesus the Rebel, and The Nonviolent Life. He was recently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

In this session, John Dear will reflect on lessons of peace and nonviolence learned from Merton, and invite participants to reflect on the lessons of peace and nonviolence that they have learned from Merton, and discuss how together we can go forward and break new ground in this new century of war and violence on the path of peace and nonviolence.


E7. Performance

Reg Bradley – "Shadow Raids on the Unspeakable."

As co-founder and artistic director for Tears of Joy Theatre, Reg Bradley has created award-winning mask/puppet productions for audiences in the USA, Europe and Asia.                                                            

The Shadow Theatre of the Grand Sneeze celebrates Merton's journey in discovering an effective language that would speak to a technological world.  Shadow theater exists as "reflection" and by its nature distorts/contorts popular dramatic form allowing the shadow dramatist to fully exploit antipoetry and antidrama techniques; dynamic pathways Merton explored.


E8. Guided Prayer

Jeffrey Kiernan – "The Echo of an Echo of a Voice Piercing the Silence: A Prayer Service of Silence, Music, and Words Inspired by Thomas Merton and Abraham Joshua Heschel."

Jeff Kiernan is a religion teacher (retired from Notre Dame High School, Fairfield, CT) and Adjunct Lecturer in Sociology and the Sociology of Religion (Housatonic Community College, Bridgeport, CT). He has served the ITMS in various capacities, published in The Merton Seasonal and The Merton Annual, and presented at numerous ITMS General Meetings.

One of Merton's most meaningful inter-faith friendships was the one he had with Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. This prayer service will use some (very briefly quoted) "gems" from both Heschel's God in Search of Man and The Prophets and from Merton (especially his poetry), periods of silence, and a selection of recorded music from a variety of sources. Hopefully our time in prayer and silent reflection will open us more fully to the realization that "Every birthday has its own theology."

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