Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Conscience Matter, the play
Thomas Merton in front of his hermitage, 1966
Conscience Matter presents a day in the life of writer, priest, and Trappist monk Thomas Merton. The day is Thursday December 8th, 1966 when Joan Baez and her friend and fellow peace activist Ira Sandperl visited Merton at the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani near Bardstown Kentucky. At this time in his life, Thomas Merton (his Order name was Father Louis) was residing alone in his hermitage on the grounds of the abbey.
Joan and Ira arrived just after noon. The three of them took a drive, secured cheeseburgers (Thomas had a chocolate shake too), returned to the abbey, took a walk around the fields and trails, had tea in the hermitage together, listened to Baez’s recent Christmas album Noël, and then took a drive to Bardstown. They wanted to go further; to Ohio. It was Joan’s idea. She wanted to take Merton to see Margie Smith in Cincinnati, Ohio. Margie and Merton fell in love that previous April. They met while Thomas Merton recovered from back surgery. Margie was his assigned student nurse.
Conscience Matter refers to the abbey’s system of keeping correspondence confidential between priests and those they were advising; in the same way that the confessional is confidential between priest and the one confessing. Merton and Margie used the “conscience matter” label on the envelopes of their numerous letters.
Conscience Matter, a play by Tom Ryan, opens in Kansas City in the Fall of 2012.