Thomas Merton is my favorite spiritual writer. This now-dead Trappist monk and brilliant writer who lived a quiet and creative life of prayer at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, is one of the keenest theological minds of the 20th century. His thoughts and theology on creativity, the writing life, the restorative work of the Trinity and the kingdom of God on earth are elegant, weighty musings.
The best way I can describe reading Merton is this: Imagine Thomas Merton holding your head in a bucket under water for a few minutes. Suddenly, he pulls you up for air—a moment of brilliant clarity! You take a deep breath and then, he plunges you back down again! You don’t speed-read Merton. He has many thought-provoking thoughts on creativity and the writing life that I’d like to share with you today. I hope you find them as encouraging and insightful as I do. Read on…
All of Merton’s quotes below can be found in Echoing Silence: Thomas Merton on the Vocation of Writing.
The Creative Christian
The creative Christian is not a special kind of Christian, but every Christian has his own creative work to do, his own part in the mystery of the ‘new creation.’
Creativity becomes possible insofar as man can forget his limitations and his selfhood and lose himself in abandonment to the immense creative power of a love too great to be seen or comprehended.
On Artistic Vocation
The way for sacred art to become more “creative” is not just for the artist to study new and fashionable trends and try to apply them to sacred or symbolic themes. It is for the artist to enter deeply into his Christian vocation, his part in the work of restoring all things in Christ. But this is not his responsibility alone. This is the responsibility of the whole Church and everybody in it.
It is the renunciation of our false self, the emptying of self in the likeness of Christ, that brings us to the threshold of that true creativity in which God himself, the Creator, works in and through us.
If you write for God you will reach many men and bring them joy. If you write for men–you may make some money and you may give someone a little joy and you may make a noise in the world, for a little while. If you write only for yourself, you can read what you yourself have written and after ten minutes you will be so disgusted you will wish that you were dead.
Here are some of my favorite Thomas Merton books: No Man Is An Island and The Seven Storey Mountain, For those of you who have ever wrestled with the “Election vs. Free Will” debate, Merton’s incredible book about spiritual identity, The New Man, put that old dog to sleep for me in a powerful way. (All Amazon affiliate links help support Art, Life & Faith.)
Questions: Which quote from Merton stirs something in you? How do his thoughts challenge you in your walk with God and the creative work He has called you to?
I’d love your comments and feedback.