Have a question about the Thomas Merton Conference? Contact conference coordinators: Monica Mattioli
(716) 375-2187 firstname.lastname@example.org Julianne Wallace
(716) 375-7841 email@example.com
Breakout #1 on Friday, June 20 at 1:30 PM
Breakout #3 on Saturday, June 21 at 1:30 PM
Title: The Political Theology of Thomas Merton
Description: Merton broke ground as a monk by engaging deeply with the political events and movements of his day. His political views were fundamentally shaped by his theological commitments and his understanding of the monastic vocation, and in this session we consider Merton’s perspectives on race, war, and other important social issues. We will look particularly closely at occasions where Merton broke with others on the religious left, and consider how Merton’s distinctive political approach might offer a model of faithful political engagement for our time.
An Afternoon at Mt. Irenaeus
(this will be held Saturday afternoon from 1-5 PM)
Description: After a 35 minute ride, we will arrive at Mt. Irenaeus and almost 400 acres of wooded hilltops with trails and ponds, set aside for “prayer and peaceful re-creation.” Imagined as a place of solitude and community and named after Thomas Merton’s friend, Fr. Irenaeus, the Mountain began in our hearts during the turbulent 60’s when division and rancor as well as longings for peace and racial justice rocked even our Bonaventure campus. Encouraged by Naomi Burton Stone for over 20 years, and with the blessings of visits from Bob Lax and Br. Patrick Hart, we have continued to find our Franciscan/Merton way.
All Breakout Sessions
Title: On Campus Merton Tour
Description: The last stop of Thomas Merton in the world before entering into monastic life was the campus of what was then St. Bonaventure College. The layout of the campus, and the major buildings that he knew have, for the most part, remained intact since Merton’s time. These tours will begin in the main reading room of Friedsam Memorial Library (finished the year before Merton arrived) and proceed out and around the building, highlighting where Merton walked among the buildings and monuments that still stand today as a living archive.
Breakout #2, Friday, June 20 at 3:00
Title: Kenosis as Coming Home and Going Forth: Aridity and Transformation
Description: Threaded throughout Merton’s writings is his awareness of God’s invitation to kenosis. Whether he refers to this self-emptying as “the desert of contemplation,” “spiritual nakedness,” the shedding of the “false self,” etc., he ultimately shows us this that amidst this painful stripping away, kenosis is a continual summons to “come home,” realizing our identity in Christ. In embracing our “coming home,” God sends us forth with the joy of knowing God’s love in a deeper, transformative way – a way that exudes freedom and compassion.
This session is twofold: We will take time to look at the wisdom Merton brings us in the midst of aridity and transformation. This will help to set the foundation that leads us to an opportunity for individual reflection and communal prayer.
Day Trips to the Cottage (see schedule for details about times, there will be four of these trips that happen concurrently with the breakout sessions)
Title: A Place Apart: A Visit to the Lax Family Cottage
Description: During his time at Columbia University, Olean native Robert Lax invited his friends, Thomas Merton among them, to join him during the summer at a family cottage just outside the city of Olean. It was a simple and rustic place that would provide the space in which young men-friends were able to dream about their futures, conduct writing experiments, read some of the many books Fr. Irenaeus had loan them from the St. Bonaventure Library, enjoy long uninterrupted conversations, and have an occasional cold beer at the Halfway Inn just a short distance away. In many ways, that place became a “sacred space” as Merton discerned his calling and met some of the significant others that would become integral partners on his journey. Our visit to the cottage will including some readings from that period in his life and reflections on its significance for him in the next few years.
The breakout session will provide participants with an opportunity to visit the Lax cottage, review its significant in Merton’s journey and, for those who are interested, raise a short glass of beer in his memory.
Breakout #1 on Friday, June 20th at 1:30
Title: Merton and Photography
Description: Thomas Merton was close to becoming as significant a photographer as he was a poet. Widely recognized as a vigorously experimental man of letters, he also quickly mastered not only the craft of pictorial photography, but the art of seeing uniquely through the camera eye. Tough minded yet mysteriously beautiful, Merton’s photographs, made during his last several years, provide a rich vehicle for contemplative thought.
Breakout #2 on Friday, June 20th at 3:00
Title: Merton and the Technology of the Camera
Description: Merton’s love affair with the camera in his last years runs counter to the warnings about technology he declared during that same period. How are the two positions - art and technology - reconciled?
Breakout #4 on Saturday, June 21st at 3:00
Title: Lifelong Learning and the Search for the True Self: Implications for Higher Education and Civic Engagement
Description: Thomas Merton's connection to St. Bonaventure University was through his time teaching English before leaving for life as a monk at the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani. While leaving behind higher education in a formal sense, Merton entered into a religious life and community that was shaped profoundly by a passionate commitment to education and lifelong learning. From the time of his entry into the monastery until his untimely death, Merton offers insight into the practice of a reflective life in search of what he called the "true self."
For those who work in or are associated with higher education, Merton's life and practice offer a model for colleges and universities increasingly exploring their roles in broader communities through what is often referred to as "civic engagement." This break-out will explore Merton's writing about the search for the true self, the openness to learning, and the tension between contemplation and action as they relate to higher education's civic engagement mission to improve the lives of individuals and communities.
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