The Glory of the World

gloryoftheworld

By Alissa Wilkinson

The Glory of the World—now running at the Brooklyn Academy of Music—is about Thomas Merton in the same way The Big Lebowski is about the Gulf War—almost inscrutably. Few plays about pacifist monks need a fight choreographer, a giant rhinoceros, a sprinkler, a ukelele, two air mattresses, and a remote-control helicopter.

The original story sounds almost as wackadoodle as the play, which took shape at the Actor’s Theatre of Louisville, Kentucky, home to the Humana Festival of New American Plays and near the Abbey of Gethsemani, where Merton lived.

On his way to work every morning, director Les Waters walked past a plaque that reads “On this site, Thomas Merton had a spiritual revelation.” And he got curious. He contacted the playwright Charles Mee about collaborating on a project to celebrate Merton’s one-hundredth birthday in 2015.

The result was The Glory of the World, which features a cast of seventeen men in a warehouse-like space who are holding a centennary celebration for the monk, who never appears on stage. They are men of all sorts, each toasting what they consider Merton’s “fundamental” quality: his Catholicism, his Buddhism, his pacificism, his communism, his contemplative life, his books, his scandals.

The production made its way to Brooklyn when it was spotted at the Humana Festival by former Episcopal monk Roy Cockrum, who won the $259 million Powerball in 2014 and has devoted the money to producing theatre. [Read more...]

A Place Where We Can Talk

By Brian Volck

2350462798_5608b3bbd5_m“Somewhere is better than anywhere.”
—Flannery O’Connor

In my sophomore year of college, Professor Karanikolas took a semester to tear apart my writing—which until then I thought quite good—and rebuild it into something worth reading. He returned many of my early essays with marginal comments like, “Oh my God,” and “You’ve made the best of a very bad business here.” But the reeducation process was a painful necessity if I was ever to become a writer, and I’m grateful for those many hard lessons.

One of my later essays that semester included a sentence (the content of which I’ve long ago forgotten) that, by itself, would have been embarrassingly trite. In the margin, though, the professor wrote in red ink pen, “You had to do a lot of writing beforehand to say this.” [Read more...]

A Jew Prays in Venice, Part 1

In Venice, in the Santa Maria della Salute church, in the presence of Madonna della Salute (Madonna of Health), I sang Debbie Friedman’s Mi Shebeirach, Jewish prayer for healing, quietly to myself.

Before entering the area of the church roped off for prayer only, I hesitated. Should a pretty good Jewish boy enter a spaced designated for Catholic worship?

My wife and I were near the end of our first trip to Italy. In the months leading up to the trip, I had been reading Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation, a book I had owned for years but had never read or had read only a little of, probably in my late twenties, and had forgotten.

Grounded in his experiences as a Trappist monk and drawing on his deep interest in Buddhism and other contemplative traditions, Merton’s essays on faith, detachment, egoism, dualism, God, and related topics awakened in me an interest in and openness to Catholicism that I had never before experienced.

“We do not detach ourselves from things in order to attach ourselves to God,” Merton writes, “but rather we become detached from ourselves in order to see and use all things in and for God.”

[Read more...]

Blow on the Coal of the Heart

candlesI light the first candle of Advent. We have no wreath. This is our first Christmas in the evergreen forests of Northern Michigan, and bringing branches inside seems redundant. Besides, there hasn’t been time. I’ve been coughing and wheezing since I caught a late September cold I can’t shake.

We have to wake before the weak winter sun rises to get our daughter to school. The roads are slick and icy and the commute into town takes twice as long as usual. There are parties and performances to attend and presents to buy and three family birthdays to observe.

The candle is an ordinary white candle, not purple or pink. I don’t know where to buy Advent supplies in town and I ran out of time to order online. [Read more...]

Thomas Merton: Contemplative Outlaw

On December 10, 1968, Thomas Merton stepped out of the shower in his Bangkok hotel room, reached to adjust the speed of a fan, and was fatally electrocuted.

In many ways, Merton foresaw his own death. And though he could never have imagined it exactly, it was filled with the kind of intent irony and poetry that his life as a contemplative monk/author/peace activist embodied.

As a Trappist monk, he was, by definition and order, cloistered. According to the Rule of Benedict, he was to avoid idle speech, and to live by the work of his hands. But as is well known, Merton struggled to stay silent and disengaged from the world. [Read more...]


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