Merton: Epiphany

Merton: Epiphany

 “In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers.” Thomas Merton

marker in downtown Louisville.jpg

This is the first line of Thomas Merton’s famous mystical revelation and epiphany in downtown Louisville, Kentucky, described in his 1968 journal about the world of the 1960’s, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander. pp. 140-142.

Merton had been a Trappist monk now for seventeen years and was on an errand for the monastery in the middle of an ordinary day on March 18, 1958. The story becomes so famous that the city of Louisville erects a plaque at the site in 2008 at the 50th anniversary of Merton’s revelation. Ordinary people and popes continue to visit the corner of Fifth and Walnut that was life changing for Merton and for those who read his works. 

 Merton’s experience seems similar to what James Finley describes in Christian Meditation: Experiencing the Presence of God as “having a finger in the pulse of Christ, realizing oneness with God in life itself.”

 This experience may also be similar to what St. Francis realized in nature when he called the sun his brother and the moon his sister. Richard Rohr calls it finding our True Self, “our basic and unchangeable identity in God.” 1

Methodists might relate it to John Wesley’s experience at 8:45 pm on May 24th, 1738, at a Society meeting in Aldersgate Street when someone read from Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to Romans and Wesley says, “I felt my heart strangely warmed.”2

1 Richard Rohr, Center for Action and Contemplation,” Richard Rohr Meditation: “Thomas Merton  Part II,” October 6, 2017

2 John Wesley, Journal of John Wesley, Charles H. Kelly, London, 1903, p. 51.