An excerpt from Sophfronia Scott’s The Seeker and the Monk: Everyday Conversations with Thomas Merton, appears in the March 24, 2021 issue of The Christian Century. The article, “After indignation,” is taken from the chapter “Hopeless Eyes on a Hopeless Issue” and features the author engaging with the writings of Thomas Merton on race:
Thomas Merton (Used with permission of the Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University)
I want to talk to Thomas Merton about race. One might doubt whether a cloistered White man who lived in Kentucky in the middle part of the last century would have anything useful to offer, but this particular monk knew that such a conversation is never about race alone. Talking about race means, among many things, sharing our fears and frustrations about our place in the world, about how people are treated, about a hope for better opportunities that never seem to materialize. In other words, it’s about dignity, respect, a shared humanity, and ultimately our hearts and souls. Racism is not just about White people treating people of color badly; it is about how the repercussions of that treatment reverberate for everyone, to the detriment of us all.
There is something so intuitive about Merton’s views that I think talking to him about race would be helpful. I have a hunch that he, unlike many White people, would be willing to go to the heart of the matter in a way that doesn’t focus on him.