Reader and Writer on a Contemplative Retreat

This month I went on a short retreat at a Catholic monastery. For just a few days I slept in the rooms where monks had slept, walked the forested paths surrounding the monastery, ate meals prepared by the monks, and attended their prayers. The monastery is where Thomas Merton and Ernesto Cardenal had lived. I felt a writerly connection to the experience, as well as a spiritual connection.

In 2011, I met Ernesto Cardenal when he was reading in Denver. I was moved by the presence of his poetry, the ability his words have to attend to the moment. His poems were playful and tender, a mimetic balance between the essential qualities of life. Questions from the audience at the Museo de las Americas reflected Cardenal’s aesthetic, religious, and political activities. He fielded the questions as a poet, a priest, and as a respected political figure.

Thomas Merton also had some notoriety as a political figure due to his public denunciation of US involvement in Vietnam. But primarily Merton was spiritual. I first […]