What do you give a monk on his birthday? Especially a Trappist monk? I mean, every single one of them has an acronym that means “of the strict observance” after his or her name. That sounds kinda stark. So I’m guessing no paper hats. And the balloon animals are probably a no go too.
So if those won’t work, then here’s a few ideas.
Read and Share His Poetry
From cutting edge forms like concrete poems to more traditional verse and poetic responses to Hopkins, Merton has something for everyone. The University of Dayton has a great collection of his poems online. And of course, there’s always the Poetry Foundation.
Enjoy His Photography
Did you know that he wasn’t just a monk and poet, but a photographer too? Bellarmine University’s Merton Center has a collection of his photos online. Have a zen moment with Merton and some branches and blossoms.
Just Don’t Be a Square
Merton doesn’t like the “squares” and neither should you:
There is something wrong with questions that are supposed to be disposed of by answers. That is the trouble with the squares. They think that when you have answers you no longer have questions. And they want the greatest possible number of answers, the smallest number of questions. The ideal is to have no more questions. Then when you have no questions you have “peace.” On the other hand, the more you simply stand with the questions all sticking in your throat at once, the more you unsettle the “peace” of those who think they have swallowed all the answers. The questions cause one to be nauseated by answers. This is a healthy state but it is not acceptable. Hence I am nauseated by answers and nauseated by optimism.
Visit La Caridad del Cobre
Okay, flying out last minute to Cuba might be a stretch for us, but Merton writes about his pilgrimage there in his autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain and his poem, “Song for Our Lady of Cobre.” If you can get on a plane, then don’t worry about being too serious. Merton’s own visit “was one of those medieval pilgrimages that was nine-tenths vacation and one-tenth pilgrimage.”
If you want to find out more about Thomas Merton’s life and poetry, then the Merton scholar, Robert Inchausti, is your guy. I would especially suggest Subversive Orthodoxy to get a feel for the poet’s work for peace, or Echoing Silence for some monktastic writing tips like this: