For a long time around my house – mainly during the two years or so I was writing my dissertation – he was known simply as “Uncle Tom.”
Kids: “Hey Mom, where’s Papa?”
Mom: “He’s up in the study with Uncle Tom.”
[Translation: “He’s trying to finish the bloody dissertation on Merton.”]
Kids: “Ohhhhh, right. Will we see him again sometime this year?”
Mom: “See who?”
Merton turns 100 this Saturday, January 31, 2015, the same day our son Isaiah turns 17. I started reading Merton at age 15, left him behind for a while in my 20s – I left a lot of things behind in my 20s! – and returned with some force in my 40s during doctoral studies (see above). I hit 50 a few months ago, and wonder how Merton could have published the lion’s share of some 60 books by age 50. (He died at 53.) I guess solitude and celibacy have some perks!
My mom tells me she read Merton constantly when she was pregnant with me and was ordered by her doctor to stay on bed rest. I can’t claim to remember those prenatal exposures to the famous monk from the Abbey of Gethsemani, but what a long, strange and wonderful ride it has been in his presence.
On Saturday we will be in New York City celebrating Merton’s birthday – and our son’s – at Corpus Christi Church, the community into which Merton was baptized in the Catholic faith. I’m so grateful not just for Merton’s presence in my life but for the widening circle of friendship that I’ve come to know through his work, perhaps even through his intercession.
I do believe in the communion of saints – or rather, when I am quiet, when I am listening, I feel their presence everywhere – and I know it will be a great birthday party, both in heaven and here below. In fact, all around the world this Saturday, and throughout 2015, people will gather to remember and celebrate one of the church’s great mystics, prophets, and companions in the stumbling pilgrimage of faith. One hundred years after his birth, almost fifty years since his death, Merton still walks beside us as a brother.
Happy Birthday, Uncle Tom. Thank you for your beautiful life and witness.
Link here for an updated list of all the centenary events this year, listed by state and by country. Chances are there will be an event in your neck of the woods.