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

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

About The Author


Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


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