There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.
~from Thomas Merton’s vision at the corner of 4th and Walnut in Louisville, KY
When Fr. Louis Merton had his vision in Louisville on March 18, 1958, he realized that the Kingdom of Heaven is here and now. The idea that for a place to be holy it must be separated from the world vanished from his understanding. In that moment, he understood, as Fr. Richard Rohr titles his book on the subject of wholeness, that “everything belongs.”
Merton was able to see the divine within each creature, each setting and scene, as he experienced his revelation. He was a great spiritual leader of the 20th century and even if not very familiar with his work, most people remotely interested in the spiritual life have heard of Merton’s powerful influence in the life of the world. Do you believe his vision that the divine is within you? Jesus taught, “The kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:21) Maybe for the first time, Merton, at the corner of 4th and Walnut, knew in his heart the meaning of what Jesus was saying. Interestingly, and in sync with Merton’s vision, the NRSV translation speaks this passage as “the kingdom of God is among you.”
Merton was outspoken in his dislike for war (especially the Vietnam war) and in his death he joined the ranks of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy in that life-changing year in American history – 1968. It was a year where the theme of non-violence that Jesus and Gandhi and others have taught, was gaining momentum and achieving change.
Paradoxically, at the same time, all the bravery that worked for non-violence in the world was countered by a war many did not believe in.
I wasn’t yet born in 1968 and I have often wished that I might have walked or crawled on the earth at the same time as some of my heroes, some of the most powerful and loving agents for change that have ever lived: Martin Luther King, Jr., Thomas Merton, and Mahatma Gandhi. Remarkably but perhaps not surprisingly, these saints and martyrs who fought to end violence in the world all died violent deaths. Peace versus violence. Polar opposites. Paradox.
Science is proving the important role numbers play in creation. They are related to music, vibration, energy and time. They play a prominent role in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. My birth date and year add up to 11. 11 added together = 2. Two represents a split, conflict, paradox.
One is God. There is but one God. God is unity. The unity of God is above and beyond the space-time continuum. Merton understood this concept, especially after his vision, and attempted to communicate it to the world through his writing.
For the past 11 years, I have been studying dream work at the Haden Institute in NC. I have attended and keynoted at the annual Summer Dream & Spirituality Conference and graduated last year (March 2014) from the Haden 2-year Dream Leader Training program. In this intense program and through the summer conference I have studied dream work as a tool for spiritual transformation, trusting that each night, whether we remember our dreams or not, God is working in us to balance us and brings us one step closer on the journey to wholeness. In this work we believe that all dreams, no matter how violent, come in the service of healing and wholeness. In the dream world, everything belongs.
At the Haden Institute we practice dream work in a community, creating sacred space and instituting guidelines that insure this work is practiced in the safest of conditions, non-therapeutic and non-analytic. Dream work can be done trustingly in community when proper guidelines are followed.
What it teaches is that even the darkness, even the despicable, is part of our wholeness and that of the world. Nothing is separate and nothing can separate us from the love of God. It is this lack of separateness that Merton experienced during his famous vision. Perhaps one of the best principles that dream work teaches (based on the work of Carl Jung) is the concept of synchronicity, or meaningful coincidence. Synchronicity can be shocking, giving one goose bumps, or it can be quite silly (God does have a sense of humor, after all). For example, it seems almost ridiculous that the monastic name Thomas Merton was given was Fr. Louis. Fr. Louis, who had his life-altering vision in Louisville. Is it coincidence, or the Holy Spirit at work in a world infused with meaning?
The same level of meaning applies to numbers. As mentioned, my birth date adds up to conflict: I dream of the number 11 quite often. I believe that one of my calls in this life is to help others see the lack of separation that Merton experienced in Louisville. I have been prepared for this work through a spiritual crisis, a dark night of the soul, as well as a revival, a resurrection.
After experiencing deep emptiness following crisis, I began to come back to life through the study of the Enneagram (originally a Sufi tool for spiritual transformation based on human coping mechanisms and involving 9 types equaling the face of God).
In the same year that God synchronistically sent me to the first Haden Summer Dream Conference, I answered a call in my church bulletin to join the Education for Ministry (EfM) program: a four-year distance-learning course in Scripture, theology, philosophy, church history, ethics and theological choices from the Sewanee School of Theology.
Somewhere along the EfM journey, I was introduced to a poem by Merton called “In Louisville.” It’s last line, quoted at the beginning of this article, struck me where it counts. In EfM, and through extended reading, I had learned to understand that everyone is a divine child of God. I had learned to believe that the divine in everyone is like a diamond: Some people’s diamonds are more covered in the gunk of ego, lust for power, resentment, anger, fear, injustice and oppression than others’.
Studying dream work, I had learned that everything belongs, that even the most unthinkably grotesque images in dreams are part of a whole and can lead to redemption.
The most important thing I learned from both courses of study was the concept of non-dualism. There are not two worlds, but one world. The Kingdom of heaven is here and now and only when we embrace the concept that everything (and everyone) belongs, can we see it.
By the grace of God, Thomas Merton had a vision. By the grace of God, I was given what I needed to be transformed.