Thomas Merton and the Vocation of Writing

I came across this quote from Thomas Merton on Shirley Showalter’s excellent blog 100memoirs.com.  The quote pierced me as I considered Merton’s words about his “vocation of writing” as I consider my own vocation.

From Shirley: “For Merton, the question was, ‘How can writing help me in my quest for sainthood?’ Putting down on paper what he has become as he evolves spiritually is his goal: ‘It may sound simple, but it is not an easy vocation.’”

I suspect that Merton’s use of the word “sainthood” was a bit ironic, although I could be wrong. The breadth of his writing focused on becoming one’s “true self” which is found in God, as opposed to one’s “false self” which is not of God. In a very, very brief summation of Merton, (that does him little justice), he believed that deepening one’s relationship with God, becoming more like God, one becomes one’s truest self as envisioned and created by God.

So, for Merton, in his “quest” for his truest self was to write about his relationship with God, about prayer, about silence and solitude. That was his vocation.

He wrote:

“To be as good a monk as I can be, and to remain myself, and to write about it: to put myself down on paper, in such a situation, with the most complete simplicity and integrity, masking nothing, confusing no issue: this is very hard because I am all mixed up in illusions and attachments. These, too, will have to be put down. But without exaggeration, repetition, useless emphasis. To be frank without being boring: it is a kind of crucifixion. Not a very dramatic or painful one. But it requires much honesty that is beyond my nature. It must come somehow from the Holy Spirit.”

I am pierced by his commitment to write about all of it without necessarily having the answers before writing about it, or publishing it. I am pierced by his commitment to write about his illusions and attachments—the private parts of one’s soul. And, I am pierced by his trust in the Holy Spirit to write fully and honestly about himself and his life with God.

I am posting this quote on my printer within my sightline to remind myself of that to have a vocation of writing requires me to be as honest and open about my life which in turn requires a wholehearted reliance on the Holy Spirit.

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