I am sad to learn that the Merton Institute for Contemplative Living will be ceasing its operations at the end of this year. You can read their announcement here. The Merton institute is an independent non-profit organization with a mission “to awaken interest in contemplative living through the works of Thomas Merton and others, thereby promoting Merton’s vision for a just, peaceful and sustainable world.” Among other initiatives, the Merton Institute ran a retreat center near the Abbey of Gethsemani, produced books and DVDs on contemplative living, and sent a weekly email featuring a contemplative quotation or two from Merton to its over sixteen thousand subscribers. The decision to cease operations arises from a very simple reason: the inability to raise the necessary funds to finance the organization.
Obviously, these are difficult times for all nonprofit organizations, so I’m not sure that we have to get overly worried that this represents a particular threat to contemplative spirituality. Other organizations, such as Shalem and Contemplative Outreach, remain actively engaged in their work to promote contemplation. Nevertheless, I think this is a somber day for the contemplative community and we all should consider what we can do to support contemplative resources like this one, before they’re all gone.
When I posted this news on Twitter, one of my friends replied, “I feel like I should do something. This is shocking and sad. A large resource for contemplation and action to disappear?” It’s a sentiment I certainly shared with him. So I replied, “We need to be creating contemplative resources in our own communities.” As much as it is important to support national organizations like Shalem or Contemplative Outreach (or Spiritual Directors International or the World Community for Christian Meditation), I think even more essential is making the effort to establish, or grow, contemplative organizations in every city and state. Think globally, and act locally.
I am currently in a discernment process with several other contemplative teachers in the Atlanta area to explore how to create an ecumenical resource for contemplative training and practice in our city (and yes, I’ll be posting more information about this when the time is right). I encourage everyone who loves contemplation to engage in similar processes of discernment in your own community. I’ll miss the weekly emails from the Merton Institute. But if we can all work together to strengthen the presence of sustainable contemplative initiatives in our local communities, then perhaps its passing will convey one crucial final gift.