I first came across the name of Thomas Merton as I was preparing for a talk at the Golden Sufi Center in Inverness, Northern California. I was going to talk about a beautiful Persian poem: The Conference of the Birds. For a long time this epic tale, in the elevating poetry and wise tales of Farid ud-Din Attar (Nishapur, Persia, 12th century), became a kind of bible to me. I was particularly taken by "The Story of Sheikh Sam'an". It's a love story. An impossible love story: an old Sufi Sheikh, for the first time in his life, falls head over heels in love with none other than a young Christian woman. What can be more impossible? It's a long poem. The longest among the didactic poems dispersed in the book. These are mostly the advice that the wise hoopoe delivers to the birds who are about to journey in search of the king of all winged creatures, the fabulous Simorgh.
As synchronicity would have it, just at the time, an article appeared
in the then-current issue of Sufi magazine: an article on Thomas Merton.
It was in this article that I read on Merton's belated love to a young
woman, a nurse who had looked after him as he was convalescing after
an operation. I was thinking: is there a similar moral here, that in
order to love God you have to first experience flesh-and-blood love?
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The sessions begin with a period of silence at 10am and the talk at 10.15am. Donations are welcome.