The title is a quotation from Thomas Merton, who also wrote: "The whole illusion of a separate holy existence is a dream". Thomas Merton and Martin Luther King both died in 1968. At the time they were planning to spend a retreat together, but
it never happened. There is an interesting essay bringing the two together Albert J. Raboteau: A Hidden Wholeness: Thomas Merton and Martin Luther King, Jr.. Please note that there is also an article about solitude on Interlog.
Merton's life demonstrates a relationship between writing and solitude. He was much of the time a hermit and produced 48 books.King, on the other hand, came from and brought to a peak the tradition of black religious protest. Two contrasting forms of marginality - two vantage points from which to criticise society: the contemplative and the prophetic.
Both these were men with weak points. The Time when King confronts his own weakness and hears a divine voice was a particularly significant moment for him: "Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth. And I will be with you, even until the end of the world." He reported: "...I heard the voice of Jesus saying still to fight on. He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone. No never alone." This relationshionship between action, aloneness and non-aloneness illustrates a central factor in the spiritual life. How we identify the voice that speaks to us may be a function of ourspiritual-cultural background. The experience, however, is common in one form or another to great figures in many religions. To me, the experience is what matter - more than whether we think it is Jesus or Tai Shih Chi or the angel of Allah.
There are "moments of grace" or kairos times. There are such for individuals when they are given direction and come to know their vocation and there are such for societies when a great spiritual challenge arrives at a time of possible transformation. Such moments may be seized or may be lost.
The two men came to a similar position of acute social criticism via completely different routes. Merton's solitude led him to a concern with the discovery of the "ground of his being" - a self-affirmation beyond the fear of mortality and contingency. King had a sense of Jesus at his side, never deserting him. I see parallels here with the self-power and other-power modes of Buddhism, respectively. King's God had a will and his light was "Thy will be done". Both accepted the idea that God is love (agape). Merton found God to reside in the most innocent part of himself. King found God ever at his side. Merton was a sage. King lived in a Pure Land. It is not surprising, therefore, that when Merton had an involvement with Buddhism, it would be Zen.
Both identified themselves with the down-trodden. This was their way of actualising the love that moved them. Both were people apart - yet one's apartness is not one's own.