IWSG: Saint Thomas Merton

InsecureWritersSupportGroupToday’s post is part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a blog hop hosted by Alex J. Cavanaugh.  It’s a way for insecure writers like myself give each other advice and encouragement.  Click here to see a full list of participating blogs.

* * *

A few years ago, a friend loaned me a book called Echoing Silence.  It’s a collection of letters, essays, and speeches by Thomas Merton, an American writer and Catholic monk.  That friend has since become my editor, and Thomas Merton has become one of my writerly heroes.  He’s changed the way I write, not by changing my writing but by changing the way I think of myself as a writer.

Even if you’re not religious, you may find some inspiration in Merton.  He saw being a writer and a monk as complimentary, or perhaps like two parallel roads leading to the same destination.  Anyone as intimately involved with writing — or any art form — as Merton knows there is something mystical about the artistic experience.  For some of us, maybe this is the only way to find God (or whatever religious term you’d prefer) in our lives.

While recently flipping through an old diary of mine, I found these notes summarizing Merton’s beliefs as presented in Echoing Silence.

  • Don’t waste time on monasticism if God doesn’t want you to be a monk.  If God meant for you to be a writer, be the best damn writer you can be and don’t let anything get in the way (not even religion) because that would get in the way of God’s plan for you.
  • When you write, give yourself up to God.  In other words, don’t do it to be famous but because it’s what God meant for you to be doing.
  • Don’t forget that you’re imperfect.  Thomas Merton himself didn’t think he’d get into heaven no matter how much he devoted himself to God.  We all make mistakes, both as writers and as human beings, so be humble about it.

The Catholic Church doesn’t recognize Merton as a saint, possibly because of that “not even religion” part or possibly because of rumors that his death was a suicide.  Saints are supposed to be roll models, and the Church doesn’t want to create suicidal roll models.  Regardless, what he has to say about the spirituality of writers and artists is worth reading.  It inspired me, and for that reason he is a saint at least in my own heart.

8 thoughts on “IWSG: Saint Thomas Merton

  1. I started watching The Tudors a while back and then quit. I should pick it up again. I liked the character of Sir Thomas Merton. He’s a very honorable fellow. I like the second bullet point especially. I think most people feel best when they are doing what they are meant to be doing. That can change as people change. It can also change as our motivations change. As you say, if someone starts out with an intention of simply having a story in their head and a love of writing, that is one thing. When the motivation changes to fame, it becomes impossible to be satiated. It is all in how we think after all…Sir Thomas Merton was a very smart man indeed.


  2. Very thoughtful post, James. And I loved what you wrote on my blog today – thank you. Wanted to tell you about a book, “Proof of Heaven,” written by a neurosurgeon who was all scientist and no mysticism, until he had a near-death experience himself. Very interesting reading. Just a thought….


    1. I find that when I’m deep in my writing, thoughts of what other people may think or what they might be willing to pay are the farthest things from my mind. If I can think of anything else, it is only that what I’m doing at that very moment is right.

      Thanks for visiting! I’m now following you on Twitter.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.