Finding God in the Most Surprising Place

Where Trappist monk Thomas Merton had an unexpected revelation.

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Posted in , Oct 22, 2019

Thomas Merton's revelation

I wasn’t really on a pilgrimage. I was in Louisville, Kentucky, for work. A workshop with some of our writers for Guideposts. I got there on Friday afternoon and headed out for a walk. That was when I remembered I wanted to check out a spot downtown.

I wanted to see this spot because of an epiphany. Epiphany. It’s not a word we use a lot, certainly not one you’d associate with busy streets, neon signs, people hurrying about, looking for places to eat, to shop, to park. It’s a revelation, a God moment, an instance when the humdrum looks holy.

One of my favorite spiritual writers, one of great insight and genius, had an epiphany here in downtown Louisville on the corner of what was then Fourth and Walnut. Thomas Merton was a monk of a Trappist order and had left the world to find God in the solitude and rigors of a monastery.

Then one day he’d come into town to run some errands—all that mundane stuff we do—and he had an epiphany about the people, none of them particularly holy, rushing around him. As he later wrote:

“I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those 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…”

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He felt the strange joy of being “a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate.” If only he could share that. If only everyone else could realize it. “There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”

I found the spot where he had his epiphany. There is a plaque there and Walnut is now named for another famous person from Louisville, Mohammed Ali. But you wouldn’t think of it as a God place. No church, no altar, no cross, no singing choir, no holy incense. Just busyness.

And God. I stood there and smiled. I wanted to wave at everybody. Maybe I could sing that song “This little light of mine” to remind them that they were shining like the sun. That we all were—even if we didn’t look any brighter than the neon sign above.

I often have the urge to be like Merton and hole myself up with holy books and prayers and exalted Christian community. But after doing that for 18 years with impressive results Merton discovered that God was right here. In other people. Not monks, not priests, not nuns. People like us.

“You are the light of the world,” Jesus said. We all are. Walking around shining like the sun.

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