Annual Retreat: Day of Reflection & Jazz Liturgy

Journey to the True Self: Merton & Jung

Saturday, November 3, 2018
9:00-4:00 p.m.

Merton and Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, Carl Jung, have both influenced our contemporary spiritual language for the inner transformative journey.  The retreat day offered guidance and reflection on the movement from the false to the True Self. Merton's entire legacy of prayer, meditation, contemplative life and social conscience can be summed up by the awakening of the True self in Christ. In the year of his 50th anniversary of his untimely death, we gathered to continue his passion for integrity for the True Self .

“I am not physically tired, merely filled with a deep, undefined vague sense of spiritual distress as if I had a deep wound racing inside me, and it had to be staunched”. Run to the Mountain: The Story of a Vocation,  The Journal of Thomas Merton, Volume 1: 1939-1941

“Faith incorporates the unknown into our everyday life in a living, dynamic and actual manner.  The function of faith is not to reduce mystery to rational clarity, but to integrate the known and the unknown together in a living whole, in which, we are more and more able to transcend the limitations of our external self”  Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation

"There is no light without shadow and no psychic wholeness without imperfection. To round itself out life calls not for perfection but for completeness; and for this the "thorn in the flesh" is needed, the suffering of defects without which there is no progress and no ascent."  - Carl Jung 

“Self-reflection or- - what comes to the same thing- - the urge to individuation gathers together what is scattered and multifarious, and exalts it to the original form of the One, the Primordial Man.  In this way our existence as separate beings, our former ego nature, is abolished, the circle of consciousness is widened, and because the paradoxes have been made conscious the sources of conflict are dried up.” - Carl Jung


Retreat Master:  Brother Don Bisson, FMS is, first and foremost, a spiritual director and is widely respected as a specialist in the training, formation and supervision of spiritual directors. A Marist brother based in Esopus, New York, he has graduate degrees in liturgy, spirituality, and transpersonal psychology, and earned his Doctor of Ministry at the Pacific School of Religion specializing in Spiritual Direction and Jungian Psychology.  With more than 70 live audio recordings available, Brother Bisson is internationally recognized for his lectures, workshops, and retreats on the interrelationship of Christian spirituality and Jungian psychology.

Br. Bisson’s soulful humanity makes him attractive to the hundreds of people who find their way to virtually everything he offers.  He is a man committed to “walking the talk.”  From this commitment comes a grounded wisdom and an authentic humility.  His gems of wisdom have been formed in the heat and pressure of the deep underground passage of his own healing journey in God.  Compassion for what it means to be human is the result, alongside clarity about the compelling call of the Spirit to “wake up” and participate consciously in God’s purposes in our world.  This waking up is not an achievement but a process that invites him–and us–into a transformation that is ongoing. 

Br.  Don Bisson’s CDs will be offered for Sale.  To view his repertoire, visit:

Jazz Liturgy

Jazz keyboardist Deanna Witkowski and her jazz trio provided a creative form of worship that enhanced the Retreat Day experience and our celebration of Merton’s legacy.  Emphasis was on Merton’s love of jazz, similarities between prayer and jazz improvisation to include Merton's writings in accordance with the overall Retreat Day themes:

  • Losing false sense of self

  • Just “being” - - moving past body/soul dichotomies

  • Intense degree of listening to and interaction with others

  • Developing reflexes to respond from our Center, rather than on a surface level.

  • Jazz as transformative; jazz as relational

We are extremely grateful to the International Thomas Merton Society for their generous Grant to defray the costs of this celebration. 

Thomas Merton’s deep love of Jazz music and the art of improvisation helped to energize his spiritual journey as explored by  Dianne Aprile in her article, “The Art of Spontaneous Invention”

Listen Now:  The Jazz Monk:  Thomas Merton as presented by Night Lights, a weekly one-hour radio program of classic jazz hosted by David Brent Johnson and produced by WFIU Public Radio. 


Deanna Witkowski

Winner of the Great American Jazz Piano Competition and a past guest on Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz, New York City based pianist, composer and arranger Deanna Witkowski has been heralded for her “consistently thrilling” playing and her “boundless imagination” (All Music Guide). Her 2017 trio album, Makes the Heart to Sing: Jazz Hymns, features twelve of her congregational jazz hymn arrangements along with a corresponding sheet music book. Her earlier releases include Raindrop: Improvisations with Chopin, a solo piano session that combines jazz, classical, and Brazilian music; three jazz quartet recordings; and the liturgical jazz release, From This Place.

As a 2018 Sacatar Institute Fellow, Witkowski will spend eight weeks in Bahia, Brazil this spring to begin research for her new project, the Nossa Senhora Suite. The suite will merge Afro-Brazilian expressions of the Virgin Mary with new jazz composition for Witkowski's jazz quartet, percussion, and four vocalists. Witkowski is also the recipient of a 2018 New York State Council on the Arts Individual Artist Grant.

Witkowski’s compositional catalog includes eighty sacred music originals and arrangements, including two jazz Masses. In tandem with her frequent work as a guest music leader in churches around the country, her work explores the intersections between musical improvisation and contemplative prayer. Related past performance/lectures include Moving with the Spirit: The Sacred Art of Jazz and Beyond Words: Improvisation as Prayer (2011 William H. Shannon Lecturer Series at Nazareth College) and Jazz and Proverb: A Musical Portrait of Wisdom in the Work of Four Female Artists (2013 International Thomas Merton Society biannual meeting). 

Witkowski is also an expert on the liturgical music of jazz pianist/composer Mary Lou Williams, and has performed her work at the Kennedy Center and Duke University. Her forthcoming biography of Williams will be published by Liturgical Press in 2020.

Interested in becoming a member? Thomas Merton NYC members are able to attend events as part of their membership. Learn more about membership.