On the Thomas Merton Room and the 100th Anniversary of his birth

mertonAs a Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History, I spend a good amount of time in the Lorette Wilmot Library. My favorite bookish oasis is the Thomas Merton Room.

The monastic-like space—the smallish, shaded window keeps sunlight subdued—is decorated with two paintings by Merton’s father, Owen, and features an encased typewriter used by Merton. The wooden shelves are lined with more than 60 books written by and about him.

Ideal for reading student essays or putting them aside for a quiet moment when—as Merton might say—the earth plants something in my soul.

IMG_0744In such a mood I discovered the Wilmot’s current exhibit The Hidden Wholeness: The Zen Photography of Thomas Merton. My own experience with Merton’s writings is limited. Once ambitiously I bicycled from Genesee Valley Park to the Mt. Morris Dam and back while listening to Seeds of Contemplation on tape. Metaphysically, I was able to travel a ways down his road, though not all the way. Looking at Merton’s dazzlingly images and the illuminating companion texts, I can see why others would want to travel with him even further than had I.

IMG_0745To learn more I turned to Professor and The William H. Shannon Chair in Catholic Studies, Dr. Christine Bochen. Dr. Bochen has spent much of her career studying Merton, and her passion for his life and works drove the realization of the exhibit.

Dr. Christine Bochen

Dr. Christine Bochen

It is a gift to have an exhibit of Thomas Merton’s photographs at Nazareth College as part of the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of Merton’s birth.  The exhibit, on loan from the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University in Louisville, KY, is entitled ‘The Hidden Wholeness: The Zen Photography of Thomas Merton.’

For Merton, photography was a contemplative practice – a way of  practicing what Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh terms mindfulness.   Viewing Merton’s photos of ordinary things – landscapes, trees, baskets, wood stumps –reminds us to stop and see what is all around us.  All too often we look without really seeing what is all around us.

It is such seeing, nurtured by prayer, that enabled Merton to write so compellingly about the inner life and the spiritual journey, as well as a host of social issues such as war, racism, violence, threats to the environment.  It is such seeing that enabled Merton to look beyond the differences among us to recognize the common humanity that unites us.

Come by for you own solitary Mertonian moment. The exhibit runs through November 4th.

see also A pilgrimage of peace from Palmyra to Pittsford and The long vigil for peace on the corner of East and Goodman and The underground history of Nazareth College with President Daan Braveman


Solitary Chair “The Urgency of seeing, fully aware, experiencing what is here: not what is given by men, by society, but what is given by God and hidden by society”

Nazareth College’s President Daan Braveman on defining moments and his own March on Washington, August 1963