I am fortunate to have met many extraordinary beings. Two of them are Jim Denman and Thomas Merton. Jim was a sangha member who had quite a history helping others through the criminal justice and mental health care systems. Thomas was a Trappist monk who wrote inspiring and progressive works on Christianity and Eastern Religions. Jim had a debilitating progressive illness and eventually chose a compassionate end to his life. Thomas was electrocuted in an unfortunate accident in his hotel room involving faulty wiring and bath water. He was touring and teaching in Southeast Asia where he met and connected with the Dalai Lama.
Both of these men had a profound impact on those who knew them. Both of their lives ended in uncommon ways. Jim and I shared an interest in Thomas’ writings. When Jim died, he left me a copy of a book dedicated to the legacy of Thomas Merton. One of the authors contributing to that book quotes Merton:
…I stand among you as one who offers a small message of hope, that first, there are always people who dare to seek on the margin of society, who are not dependent on social acceptance, not dependent on social routine, and prefer a kind of free-floating existence under a state of risk. And among these people, if they are faithful to their own calling, to their own vocation, and to their own message from God, communication on the deepest level is possible. And the deepest level of communication is not communication, but communion. It is wordless. It is beyond words, and it is beyond speech, and it is beyond concept. (from The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton)
Jim could not easily speak in his final years. He communicated much through silence and a disarming laugh. His presence, with all the rough edges, was a kind of blessing. I could feel his history and intention. This is why he comes to mind now. We all need to be communicating through a state of risk where our personal situation ceases to interfere with authentic listening. It is important to clear away the clutter of cultural conditioning and rediscover what we share in common. We need to hear, in the silence that connects us, the natural compassion of our hearts.
By the way, the title of the book Jim gave me: We Are Already One: Thomas Merton’s Message of Hope. Jim also included a bookmark printed with an ancient Celtic prayer.
A Blessing for Discernment
Find the place in you that is between the sun and moon
Between the darkness and dawn
Between the lightning flash and the thunder
The question and the answer come together there
Buddhas are everywhere …