Farewell to the Merton Institute

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.

Bruno Barnhart (1931-2015)
Emptiness and Non-Attachment
Five Things Christian Contemplatives can learn from Buddhists
Do You Need a Spiritual Teacher?
About Carl McColman

Author of Befriending Silence, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.

  • http://safiyahheals.wordpress.com Safiyah Naemah

    Wow! Thanks for sharing. It amazes me that oppressive religion and the medical field continue to prosper while agencies and companies like these fall by the way side. I do understand one thing. There is a time and a season for everything. God is clear about that and demonstrates it through the operation of the universe.

  • Mark

    Sad to hear the news. When Judy and I visited Gethsemani in September we stayed at a lovely little cottage at Bethany Spring Retreat Center, part of the Merton Institute. I suppose that will be shut down, too.

    • Carl McColman

      It’s my understanding that the Abbey is taking over Bethany Springs, so hopefully that will remain open.

  • http://gravatar.com/quinnainsley Quinn

    I have been following a contemplative path with only books for resources in rural Canada for the last two years. I’ve only this last week discovered you online, Malcolm, and the other national groups you mention in this post I heard of for the first time today!

    The dream of my heart is to establish a prayer retreat center/monastic community where the contemplative life can be explored and developed by those seeking it, and for those so called, 24/7 prayer and worship like King David established, (and St Comgall and the Moravians after him), the apophatic and the kataphatic both expressed and supported.

    Currently working on some projects to get that closer to reality…

  • Greta Reed

    I was so sorry to hear of the demise of the Merton Institute, especially since some of us spent a lovely long weekend at the retreat center, Bethany Springs, in June. What will happen to that center, and to their publications, which I was hoping to use?

    In sadness, Greta Reed

    • Carl McColman

      The Abbey is supposed to be taking over the management of Bethany Springs. You’d have to contact them directly to learn about the future of their publications.

  • http://www.facebook.com/danielle.castronis Danielle Castronis

    It is sad news indeed. Mysticism is needed more than ever in our very superficial culture. Without depth how wre we going to move forward in these times of rapid changes and complexifying global situations and relationships?

    An engaged mysticism is needed now.

    I would be interested a local exchange. I am a member of Enlightennext and we have a group in Atlanta. We are dedicated to the development of consciousness and culture.

  • http://www.hazelbrand.com Cynthia Hizer

    there are already lots of lovely, little places springing up to carry on this work in local contexts.

  • Margaretha

    Thanks and All blessings to Jonathan Montaldo.

  • http://Contemplative-life.org Mary Jo

    Contemplative-life.org is another great resource for contemplative materials.

  • tobias de la cruz

    The Institute failed for many reasons, the main ones were because of EXTREMELY poor leadership and lack of mission. In the past few years the employees were treated with anything but contemplative spirituality. It mission and living examples of contemplative action were as far from the writings and teaching of Father Louie as could be, and the monks were quite aware of this! There are many people who are relieved the Insititute closed , and that now the focus can be from the the Bellarmine Merton Center where people who truly understand Merton’s purpose and teachings can continue with programs. When an organization such as this appears on the surface to be Contemplative, yet lives the opposite, the fruits of their labors will come forth. As a good friend of Merton once told me, “Tom never would have wanted these kind of accolades in life!” Merton’s writings will live on throughout the world no matter what the fate of such a small business that did NOT live up to the true meanings of what this incredible man had left in his legacy. Let the truth be told!