October 19, 2013

On the afternoon of Saturday, October 19, the Washington chapter of the International Thomas Merton Society sponsored a lecture by Jim Forest on “Thomas Merton as I Knew Him.” Held in our school’s Reid Auditorium and attended by a crowd of about 75 persons, Forest said that although he had met Merton in person only twice at the Abbey of Gethsemani, the two had engaged in lengthy correspondence, from some of which he quoted toward the end of his lecture. This was followed by a number of questions from the audience and then a reception in the adjacent school library.

Jim Forest was born in Salt Lake City in 1941 and first became acquainted with Merton’s writings when he happened to pick up a copy of The Seven Storey Mountain while still in his late teens. He was then serving in the U.S. Navy and was at times assigned to jobs in the Washington area that allowed him to visit St. Anselm’s occasionally for short, private retreats. Influenced by Merton’s writings, but even more by the New Testament, he left the Navy as a conscientious objector and joined the staff of the Catholic Worker movement in New York City, where he worked closely with the movement’s founder, Dorothy Day. Discovering that she and Merton were in correspondence, Forest himself wrote to Merton and was invited to visit him at the Kentucky monastery in 1962, followed by a further visit two years later. As our country’s prosecution of the Vietnam War intensified, Forest was working as the Vietnam Program Coordinator of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. In 1968 he joined thirteen others in burning files from the Milwaukee draft boards and for this spent thirteen months in prison.

Twenty years later Forest was received into the Orthodox Church. He and his wife, Nancy, live in a small town near Amsterdam in The Netherlands, where he currently serves as the international secretary of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. Over the years he has written or edited nine books, including lives of Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton and works of Christian spirituality titled The Ladder of the Beatitudes and Praying with Icons.