By JOYCE ROTHERMEL
This month we have a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the namesake of the Thomas Merton Center at a potluck lunch on Saturday, November 10 at noon at the Merton Center in Garfield. Our guest speaker will be Anchorage-based writer, Kathleen Tarr, who has recently published, We Are All Poets Here, the first book to delve into the intimate details about Thomas Merton’s journey to the wilds of Alaska in 1968. Kathleen Witkowska Tarr is returning to Pittsburgh, where she was born and reared. She is now considered a Merton Scholar.
Ms. Tarr will speak about her book, a genuine, authentic story about spiritual seeking in the midst of a chaotic, fragmented world. Tarr, a non-religious person herself, discovered Merton’s writing when she randomly purchased his autobiography, Seven Storey Mountain while attending her last semester of grad school in Pittsburgh. The Trappist monk’s ideas and life story transformed her. And when she returned to Anchorage, she began a tenyear journey immersing herself in Merton’s life, thoughts, and legacy.
Writing about the 50th anniversary of Merton’s journey to Alaska, Tarr says, “In the volatile year of 1968, with the country besieged by political upheaval,assassinations, campus protests, the Vietnam War, Cold War tensions and racial strife, Fr. Thomas Merton under the sponsorship of the new Archdiocese of Anchorage, set off for the peaceful wilds of Alaska for 17 days.” It was a late addition to Merton’s plans to travel to Asia. By the time he left Alaska, Merton wrote, “It would be folly for me not to consider Alaska as one of the best possibilities for a true solitary life, and I hope I can return here when I am through with Asia.” Tarr will be able to fill us in on the experiences Merton had in Alaska during those 17 days that brought him to this conclusion.
Tarr weaves the story of her own spiritual awakening in Alaska with Merton’s profound observations and reflections. She says, “In physically retracing Merton’s steps in Alaska and beyond, I reveal and reflect on what the extroverted monk saw and experienced—how our journeys are metaphorically connected, including mutual interests in Russian Orthodoxy and the restorative effects of nature.”
Tarr will be at the Thomas Merton Center in Pittsburgh to lead a potluck discussion and to give a short reading from her book on Saturday, Nov. 10 from noon to 2 PM. The event is open to the public. To register, call the Merton Center at 412-361-3022.
Joyce Rothermel is Chair of the TMC Membership Committee.
(TMC newspaper VOL. 48 No. 9 November 2018. All rights reserved)