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Paddling with Thomas Merton

When I was 15 I had a sense that God was calling me to one day, become a pastor. But who was I to receive such a call? I certainly didn't match up with most of the pastors I had known. They were all dignified, voicing prayers on Sundays that were often eloquent, formal (and long). That wasn't me. As a kid of 15, I didn't see myself fitting the mold of the ministers who had come and gone from the pulpit of my small Baptist church. Yet, there was still that sense of call, of being nudged, led down a path that seemed shrouded in mystery. For a year, I sat with all this.

During the summer of my 16th year, I was working at a Boy Scout camp for the summer. My tent mate was named Tom, a year or so older, and an old soul. Tom was a spiritual person, raised as a Roman Catholic. One day, I decided to confide in Tom, to trust him with this sense of call, that had come to an unlikely guy like me.

Tom listened carefully to what I had to say. He didn't seem surprised. He asked: 'Do you know who Thomas Merton is?' I told him I didn't. He went on to tell me that Thomas Merton was a Trappist monk what had also sensed a call from God. He said that Merton also questioned his call, because he too didn't fit the stereotype of what a monk looked like.

Tom then reached under his bunk and handed me a copy of Merton's autobiography, The Seven Story Mountain. He said, 'read this and tell my what you think'. That summer I travelled in the company of Thomas Merton, read about his bohemian lifestyle in the 1930's and 40's and how that great mystery we call God, was at work in Merton's unlikely life. Calling him to leave that which he had known, graced only with a felt promise, that God would use this unlikely young man to be be both blessed and a blessing for others.

Imagine. If God could use someone like Merton, then maybe, just maybe, God could use someone like me. And, perhaps, someone like you?

On June 5th, several people will join me on Lake Cochichewick, to paddle with the wisdom of Thomas Merton. From kayaks and canoe, we will be guided by the wisdom of this Trappist monk and mystic. Who over the course of his relatively short lifetime, mentored countless people like me, through his scores of books and essays. As we paddle, we will listen three times, to a particular reading of Merton. Each reading will be interspersed with a time of paddling in silence, as we allow the monks words and wisdom to accompany us, speak to us, bless us.

Thomas Merton, Trappist Monk at Gethsemane Abbey, Kentucky

From a cloistered monastery in rural Kentucky, his writings from the 1950's - 1960's impacted a generation trying to understand and live out their faith in the midst of the Civil Rights era, the Vietnam War and Vatican ll which encouraged Catholics to learn with and from people of different faiths.

Thomas Merton was a bridge builder. Through his witness as a follower of Jesus, he reached beyond the boundaries of Catholicism and Christianity to embrace people of other religions and cultures as sisters and brothers.

I know this to be true. Because through his writings, he encouraged my 16 year old self, to be open to the movement of that great mystery we call God/Spirit. I want to thank my tent mate, Tom DelPrete, who reached under his bunk, and handed me his copy of The Seven Story Mountain. And with that book, (and a friend's kindness), everything changed.


With you on the journey ~ Kent Harrop

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