While visiting Louisville, Kentucky, in addition to seeing the world’s largest baseball bat (at the Slugger Factory) and visiting where the Kentucky Derby every year leads women to wear the most amazing hats on the planet, be sure and find the corner of Walnut and Fourth Streets. A historical marker has been placed at this location by the state of Kentucky – but it is not commemorating some civil war battle or a historically significant event which is recorded in the history books for Kentucky’s school children.
Amazingly, and perhaps unique in all of America if not the world, this historical marker honors the site where a Trappist Monk stood on March 18, 1958, looked out at the people crossing the streets, saw in each of these strangers the imago Dei, and had an epiphany which has now been the focus for contemplation by Christians ever since. Listen to Merton’s words:
“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness. … This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud. … I have the immense joy of being [hu]man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now that I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.… If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed. …But this cannot be seen, only believed and ‘understood’ by a peculiar gift.” Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (New York: Image, 1968) 156-158.
When is the last time you felt like you were “walking around shining like the sun?” To me the two little words “if only” hold the key to how Merton’s epiphany could indeed put an end to war, hatred, cruelty, and greed. If only we could truly see others as bearers of the imago Dei, if only. I pray that this week each of us could live out “if only” on the streets where we walk!
Leave a comment, if you wish, regarding this post or how you found The Merton Prayer and why it is important to you. Thanks for visiting http://www.TheMertonPrayer.com!
2 thoughts on “If Only”
I think we should strive to establish the ordinariness of an insight that people walking by are in the image of God. Religion is at its best when it informs our pedestrian everyday lives.
What a fantastic insight — Thank you Dna for your comment! I am new at blogging and only now saw your August comment. Thank you for visiting TheMertonPrayer.com. -steven