May 25, 2017
by David Ryan

Wandering with Thomas Merton

When Pope Francis addressed Congress in September 2015, he took time to mention four distinguished Americans: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton.

Thomas Merton was a 20th-Century Catholic monk, mystic, writer, peace activist and champion of social justice. Although he was isolated in a monastery, he maintained an active correspondence with many notable people from around the world and his writings continue to influence people today.

As a monk and as a serious thinker, he resurrected a way of non-dualistic / contemplative thinking that had more or less been ignored since before the Reformation. Through his writings and studies, he opened doors to many other traditions. It was while attending a conference of contemplatives from different religions in Thailand that he was accidentally electrocuted by a malfunctioning fan in his bathroom at the age of 53 on December 10, 1968.

Exactly 27 years earlier, Merton entered the Abbey of Gethsemani in rural Kentucky on December 10, 1941. Although he wanted to devote his life to being a monk separated from the world, his superiors recognized his writing talents and encouraged him to continue writing. Among his notable works are Seven Story Mountain and New Seeds of Contemplation.

Earlier this month my, dog Petey and I had the chance to visit the Abbey of Gethsemani while on a road trip. Here’s what Petey and I saw while wandering around the grounds of Gethsemani:

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April 24, 2017
by David Ryan

Wandering Through the Mormon Landscape

As we all know, there is a certain amount of sameness and little to give a location a sense of place throughout much of country, especially in those areas built after World War II. It’s almost as if you could be blindfolded and dropped almost anywhere and not have a clue as to where you were when the blindfold came off. But if you were dropped into a Mormon developed community you might notice a difference.

You’ll see that the streets, even residential streets, are extremely wide and that the city blocks are very long. And if you check out  a map, or Google Earth, you’ll see that the blocks are perfectly square with exact north/south and east/west orientation.

A wide street in Provo, Utah

This is no accident. Long before Brigham Young led the Mormons to Utah in 1847, Joseph Smith (the founder of the Mormon religion) described the ideal Mormon town in an 1833 document called the “Plat of Zion.” His vision was to establish agricultural communities with urban aspects.

His plan called for 132 foot wide streets and 660 foot long blocks. The streets would be wide enough to accommodate irrigation ditches and transportation. Building lots would be large enough for a garden. Houses would be oriented to avoid looking directly onto a neighbor’s home. He wanted his followers to live in a town environment to make educating children easier and for members to have access to cultural events and church activities. The agricultural fields would be just outside of town and still readily accessible to followers. Continue Reading →