The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life
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Thursday, June 23, 2011
Personal Reflections ... Photo ...

Back in the early 1990’s, after breaking up from a short but intense romantic relationship, I went through a period of fascination with monks, hermits and the contemplative spiritual life. It was a good time and it lasted more than a few years. In many ways it is still part of me today, even though I didn’t have it within me to join a religious monastic order, or live a truly eremitic life. But my life is still a good deal more quiet than most.

During my years of “quiet discovery / discovery of the quiet” in the 90’s, I became a big fan of Trappist monk and writer Thomas Merton, who lived as a hermit for the last decade of his life. Well, sort of, anyway. Merton still had a lot of human contact, and one of his secular friends, John Howard Griffin, got him interested in photography. I recently picked up a used copy of a wonderful photo book by Griffin published way back in 1970, just a few years after Merton’s untimely death on a trip to the Far East. It’s called “A Hidden Wholeness: The Visual World of Thomas Merton“, and it presents a fair number of artistic photos taken by Merton, and also photos of Merton by Griffin. Within the latter set are a series of shots, all black and white and quite wonderful, showcasing Merton’s living quarters (his concrete block ‘hermitage’ out in the woods of Kentucky). It gives a nice look at the day-to-day stuff like pots in the kitchen, the sink, his bedroom, a working desk, etc.

Well, I’m not anywhere near the spiritual or artistic caliber of Merton and Griffin. But these photos nevertheless inspired me to get out the camera and get a few “quotidian” shots around my own apartment and hermitage-of-sorts. So, here is my kitchen stove on a Saturday AM, with some cooking projects underway. And the cabinet shelf where I store my hats, gloves and scarves, ready to fight off any cold and inclement weather. In black-and-white, no less. But yea, Merton probably got by with a lot fewer hats, gloves and scarves than I do, and not nearly as much other junk on the shelves. It’s tough being a simple hermit in the 21st Century!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:16 pm      

  1. Jim, John Howard Griffin is someone who fascinated me since maybe the late 1960s or 1970s. He’s one of those who really got me interested in the stereotypes that whites held in those days.

    He took some medication to change the color of his skin, lived like a Black man for at least a year or more, wrote a book on his experiences–“Black like Me”. His book was most moving. He described just the ordinary, but terrible, inconveniences of life forced on Black people in the days of “separate but equal”: One that strikes me particularly was that to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water on a hot summer day, if one were Black back some 40 or 50 years ago, one would have to walk across town because there was only *one* “separate but equal” bathroom or drinking fountain for “coloreds”. For some reason, of all his experiences, that one stuck in my mind all these years.

    He later succumbed to the effects of the medication he took (which eventually wore off) due to the effects of that medication he took to change his skin color–if I remember correctly.

    I was very taken with him in those days–but for a different reason than yours. But that is not to say that your pictures are not really good ones. At first (before reading carefully) I wondered if you had captured Merton’s hermitage; but then I realized that it did look a little too “modern” to be Merton’s hermitage. (Did Merton have a gas stove?)

    And as to Merton, I can’t help but comment about his hermitage: He had that built by the novices at Gethsemene (sp?) when he was novice master. That was an easy build. The only hard part he had was getting his abbot’s approval, which was a different kind of “hard.” But Merton himself had little to do with building his hermitage.

    To this day I think Griffin was a brave man. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — June 25, 2011 @ 11:30 am

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