Conversations » A Vow of Conversation
Some time ago I had the joy of spending a few days of retreat in Thomas Merton’s hermitage at Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky. I could hardly believe I was actually there sitting at his Shaker desk, looking out his window at the very sky he had seen, the trees, the deer and birds. All of a sudden those writings on nature gathered in When the Trees Say Nothing came to life and I sensed the intimacy he shared with creatures who were his neighbors in the gracious hidden world that was his home for the last few years of his life.
Though there were few of his own books on the shelves of his study, A Vow of Conversation was the one I reached for and kept handy as I rehearsed how profoundly Merton had influenced my way of being in the world. He had – since my encounter with his writings as a high school student – inspired nearly every significant turn I would take, and had informed my deepest commitments. Those days there in his small cinderblock house were for me a way of touching something of his quiet presence, offering thanks for the way the words he had written from his cultivated silence, had become lucid wisdom for me and for many – even as they continue to resound for generations still on their way.
At the end of my days there, I asked two of Merton’s good friends to come and witness a promise that wanted to be spoken in that place. It was a desire to be more conformed to the way of being that the founder of my community, the Congregation of Notre Dame, lived her life. Marguerite Bourgeoys, in imitation of Mary of the Visitation, wanted her sisters and associates to be women and men of dialogue: “conversant avec la prochain.” In a sense she wanted us to live that transformative practice of deep conversation – which Merton so faithfully embodied – in all its aspects: in our prayer, in our relationships, in our missions and ministries of world healing and building.
So in Merton’s tiny chapel, I shyly and clumsily murmured words I can hardly remember now. But I know it was to echo a similar desire to experiment with my own vow of conversation – of open, respectful, curious dialogue with my neighbor in whatever form – from divinity to the elements – and see what wisdom would arise from such sustained encounter. This page is a way of sharing where some of those conversations have led me and to invite you to your own practice of conversation that promises conversion in the wisdom of voices sounding all around. KD 10.25.09