Charles Van Doren, Lax Friend and Son of Lax Mentor Mark Van Doren, Has Died at 93

Charles Van Doren’s obituaries will all inevitably lead with his role in the quiz show scandal in the 1950s, but he was an erudite scholar who went on to do many worthwhile things. He was also a friend of Robert Lax and kind to me when I interviewed him for Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax. Among other things, he told me that Lax’s comforting note when the scandal broke meant more than any other he received. It was so precious to him, he kept it all his life–and sent me a copy.

If you read anything about him (such as on Wikipedia: be sure to read the later paragraphs too. Like all of us, he deserves to be remembered for more than one mistake.

Brother Patrick Hart, Merton Secretary and Lax Friend, Has Died at 93

photo from

Brother Patrick Hart was Thomas Merton’s last secretary and a beloved spiritual inspiration to many. Here’s an obituary for him from America Magazine. An editor of many Merton books, Brother Patrick wrote his own small book called Patmos Journal: In Search of Robert Lax, based on journal entries from a visit to Greece. Brother Patrick was 93.

Lax Friend and Biographer Sigrid Hauff Has Died at 77

German author and scholar Sigrid Hauff, who wrote an early biography of Robert Lax, died December 5, 2018, after what her family called “a short but severe illness.” She was 77.

Hauff and her husband Hartmut Geerken visited Lax on the Greek island of Patmos, developed several radio shows (in German) about him and invited him to give readings in Germany. Between them, they introduced Lax to thousands of listeners and readers in Germany and Austria.

In 1999, Hauff released A Line in Three Circles: The Inner Biography of Robert Lax, which included a comprehensive bibliography of his published and produced works. It was published in German and in an English translation available on Amazon.

You can read more about Hauff and her many scholarly and creative works (in German) on her webpage.

Robert Lax and Daniel Berrigan

An old Lax friend, Jose Rafael Revenga, recently sent this newspaper clipping of Lax (at 64) with priest and activist Daniel Berrigan in 1980 when the two were together at a Jacques Maritain Symposium.  According to the caption, the two people with them are poets Anthony Walsh and Therese Lentfoehr.  (Click on Lentfoehr’s name to read about her friendship with Thomas Merton and a listing of the letters they exchanged.)  It was for this symposium that Lax wrote his remembrance “Harpo’s Progress: Notes Toward an Understanding of Merton’s Ways.”

To learn more about Daniel Berrigan’s fascinating life, read Jim Forest’s new book, At Play in the Lion’s Den: A Biography and Memoir of Daniel Berrigan, published in November 2017 by Orbis Books.

Another book to look at is: Daniel Berrigan: Essential Writings, edited by John Dear.

Interview with Steve Georgiou, Editor of Lax’s IN THE BEGINNING WAS LOVE

For those of you who aren’t on the mailing list for the Robert Lax Newsletter, here’s an interview I mentioned in the August issue, with Steve Georgiou, who has written several books about Robert Lax and is the editor of Lax’s In the Beginning Was Love: Contemplative Words of Robert Lax.  It was conducted by Richard Whittaker, West Coast editor of Parabola magazine.

Video: Lax’s Friends, the Cristiani Circus Acrobats, in Action

“I knew right away that a big thing had happened.  I’ve never gotten over it.”

–Robert Lax on first meeting the Cristiani family of circus acrobats, who became his friends and inspired his thinking about life as pure act.  He later traveled with them through Western Canada, performing sometimes as a clown called Chesko.


Note from M. McGregor: Last week I stopped at the Ringling Brothers circus museum in Sarasota, Florida, where the Cristianis used to winter, and found this video of the Cristiani brothers performing back when Lax knew them in the 1940s:


A Lax Poem and a Children’s Book About Thomas Merton

In April 2016 I wrote about the luminous paintings based on Lax’s poetry done by a talented young painter named Abbey Ryan.  Lately, I’ve been corresponding with Abbey’s father Greg Ryan, who knew Robert Lax for many years.  Greg sent me this image of the kind of thing Lax often included with his letters:

Greg and his wife Elizabeth Ryan are the author and illustrator of a lovely new children’s book about Thomas Merton called The ABCs of Thomas Merton: A Monk at the Heart of the World.  It is a well-pitched and pleasingly illustrated introduction to Merton and his world for children age 6-10.  You can find it on Amazon.  Here’s the cover:

By the way, the featured image for this entry is a note Lax sent to Greg and Elizabeth when they were expecting Abbey, the “bright newcomer from the sky.”

7 p.m. this Friday, June 16: Thomas Merton Society Keynote Address on the Merton-Lax Friendship to be Live-Streamed

I just learned that my keynote address at the International Thomas Merton Society conference at 7 p.m. (Eastern time) this Friday, June 16, will be live-streamed.  The talk is titled “Harpo and the Clown of God: The Seven-Storied Friendship of Thomas Merton and Robert Lax.”

The other keynotes–by Scott Russell Sanders, M. Shawn Copeland, and Luke Timothy Johnson–will be live-streamed too.

To tune in, go to when it’s time for the talk and look for the blue box (where you’ll find the schedule too):

June 15-18: 2017 International Thomas Merton Society Conference Will Feature Presentations on Robert Lax

The 2017 International Thomas Merton Society Conference is coming up next week, June 15-18.  Because it is being held at St. Bonaventure University in Olean, NY, Robert Lax’s hometown, it will feature a number of presentations on Lax, including my keynote address, “Harpo and the Clown of God: The Seven-Storied Friendship of Thomas Merton and Robert Lax.”

The other keynote speakers will be: M. Shawn Copeland, Luke Timothy Johnson, and Scott Russell Sanders.

The other Lax features will be:

  1. a general session titled “Robert Lax: In His Own Words.”
  2. a showing of the Nicolas Humbert/Werner Penzel film “Why Should I Buy a Bed When All That I Want Is Sleep?” featuring a look at Lax in his Patmos home and reading his poetry.
  3. Lax’s Psalm with spoken word, dance and piano by Christine Bachich and Jacqueline Chew

Click here for registration information and here for a full list of conference presentations.

Decoding the Anti-Letters Between Lax and Merton

At the International Thomas Merton Society conference at Sacred Heart University in 2013, I gave a talk on the lifelong correspondence between Robert Lax and Thomas Merton titled “Decoding the Anti-Letters: A Whirling Dance of Wisdom and Wit.”  Last spring, that talk was published in The Merton Journal in Great Britain.  And now the Journal has made it available as a PDF online.  You can read it here.

I’ll be talking about the friendship between Lax and Merton again as a keynote speaker at this year’s ITMS conference, to be held at St. Bonaventure University in Lax’s hometown of Olean, NY, June 15-18.  My talk this time will be titled “Harpo and the Clown of God: the Seven-Storied Friendship of Thomas Merton and Robert Lax.”  You’ll find full conference details here.  I hope to see you in Olean in June!