Saturday, March 7, 2009

Thomas Merton Affair

It was only a year ago that I learned about Thomas Merton’s affair. He was in his 40’s, already a writer and spiritual celebrity of sorts. He was a cloistered monk at Gethsemane in Kentucky. He had written Seven Story Mountain and other books. He was celibate and spiritual and married to the Catholic Church.

Then hospitalized for back problems he fell in love with a nurse. And she with him. They resisted, connected, pulled back, cried, committed, talked, broke up, tried again and loved each other. The relationship was consummated in a garden near the hospital and again near the Abbey. Some others knew and some sort of knew and others didn’t know at all.

And then the Master of the Abbey got wind, confronted Merton, “How could you?” and he had to choose. This amazing man of God didn’t have an easy time. He saw her again, quit again, cried, begged, wrote about it, tossed and turned, left only to come back and finally chose the Church and his life of monasticism and writing over her. But not easy, not sanely. He was never the same.

Two years later—allowed to travel to Asia—perhaps a consolation from his Abbott? Merton made one of his greatest speeches and then died suddenly in an accidental electrocution. We know from his journals that he was still grieving the loss of his great love. His pain was relieved.

But I have always wondered about “Her”. Who told her? How did she grieve? She lost him and then lost him again. Did she know of his despair? And did she know his prayer of faith and doubt?

It helps me to know that even Thomas Merton was never Thomas Merton.

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