Thomas Merton was one of the most influential religious writers of the last century. A convert to Catholicism, he became a Trappist monk. In 1948, he published a best-selling book, Seven Storey Mountain. It was the first of many successful books and the beginning of a life of high visibility in which he continued to write beautifully of the value of solitude, reflection, and contemplation.
Ten years later, on March 18, 1958, Merton had an epiphany. It occurred while he was standing on the corner of Fourth and Walnut Streets, in the middle of the shopping district in Louisville, Kentucky:
“I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I was theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. The whole illusion of a separate holy existence is a dream. Not that I question the reality of my vocation, or the monastic life; but the conception of a ‘separation from the world’ that we have in the monastery too easily presents itself as a complete illusion: the illusion that by making vows we become a difference species of being, pseudo angels, spiritual men, men of interior life, what have you. [Merton, 1966, 156]
After this event, Merton changed. He could no longer go on just writing about meditation, even though it was of great value. He had to begin to face what he called the big issues of life and death in the world. From that point on, he became much more involved in the social issues of his day. He did not give up reflection and meditation. Rather he brought about an integration of reflection and action.
(a few pages later)
As Thomas Merton discovered, we must integrate reflection and contemplation with engagement in the realities of life.
Reference: Quinn, Robert E. (2004). Building the Bridge As You Walk On It: A Guide for Leading Change. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishing, Co.