Festival of Faiths Brings Merton-Inspired Talks to Louisville

Louisville’s Festival of Faiths is celebrating its 20th anniversary by taking inspiration from Kentucky-based monk and writer Thomas Merton, who would have been 100 years old in 2015.

“Sacred Journeys and the Legacy of Thomas Merton” is the theme for this year’s festival, which hosts distinguished speakers, artists and musicians from various religious and spiritual traditions. Each day starts with a group spiritual practice–a prayer or a meditation–followed by lectures, panel discussions, and music and spoken word presentations.

The Center for Interfaith Relations, which produces the festival, calls it “the Sundance of the sacred.”

Thomas Merton was a Trappist monk who lived for 27 years at the Abbey of Gethsemani, near Bardstown. His autobiography, “The Seven Storey Mountain,” is considered a classic of spiritual literature. Merton was known for his interest in interfaith dialogue, along with civil rights and social activism. He died in 1968.

New to the festival this year are short presentations called “Sacred Stories,” 7-minute TED-style talks in which all the speakers were asked to respond to a piece of Merton’s writing.

The Center for Interfaith Relations’ Mustafa Gouverneur said: “So the starting point is actually a passage from a letter, some correspondence of Thomas Merton, where he wrote, ‘Ask me not how I comb my hair or what I eat, but ask me what am I living for, in detail, and ask me what is preventing me from living that more fully.'”

Sarah Harris, managing director of the Center for Interfaith Relations, said the program was created with Merton in mind, but not in a literal way.

“It’s a festival that we believe he would have enjoyed attending, so it’s not necessarily this opus on the man himself, but perhaps more of living the kind of contemplative life that he would have encouraged,” Harris said.

Related Story

Ahead of Festival of Faiths, Louisville Pastors Reflect on the Millennial Generation and the Church

Along with the presentations, there will be two exhibitions of visual art: a collection of photos of Merton by his friend Ralph Eugene Meatyard, a Lexington-based photographer, and original paintings by Vian Sora, an Iraqi artist now based in Louisville.

The 2015 Festival of Faiths runs Tuesday through Sunday at Actors Theatre of Louisville. Festival goers can buy passes for the entire week, for individual days, or for individual programs.

You can find a schedule and ticket information here.

Tara Anderson

Tara Anderson is the arts and culture correspondent for WFPL News.