And sorry to have been away so long. On top of the many wonderful Christmas initiatives of our Toronto Pauline Book & Media Centre and our community, I became sick and am really just getting back on my feet. My entries for a few more weeks might be a bit sporadic as I “catch up.”
While I was sick, I started to read a marvelous book that I may have mentioned earlier: Echoing Silence: Thomas Merton and the Vocation of Writing edited by Robert Inchausti. It’s a collection of excerpts from Merton’s articles, essays, letters, and books about writing. The selections are divided into several sections. My favorites are: Writing as a Spiritual Calling, The Christian Writer in the Modern World, On His Own Writing, and Advice to Writers. There are also sections on poetry and his comments on other writers.
From this collection, it became easy to trace the journey Merton made in relating to his writing. From the initial idea of giving up writing as a monk (I too thought I had to give up writing to become a religious sister), he joyfully obeys when his superior tells him to write, but he worries that writing may distract him from his vocation as a monk. In later years, he accepts that an essential part of his vocation as a monk is to write, although he struggles with the discipline, the unflinching honesty, and the “nakedness” before others that it requires. The last excerpts show a simple acceptance of the gift writing is as part of his sacred vocation to share what he has been given.
I found Merton’s journey amazing and inspiring, perhaps because I feel that I share many of its movements. I didn’t used to think often about how I “relate” to my writing, but lately I’ve been finding it helpful. When I only look at how much I complete, then I focus on quantity instead of the inner truth, harmony, or “resonance” of a piece, and my work loses the additional layering it needs.
As I slowly return to my writing projects, my feelings slide all over the place–guilt for neglecting them, an overeagerness to complete them, a fear that I have lost the vision for them, or that I will be unable to concentrate enough to complete them, hope that I will at some point become “creatively immersed” in a project and regain momentum and clarity. That’s why reading some of these thoughts of Merton are so helpful. To oversimplify (one must really read this book for oneself), Merton describes the vocation of the Christian artist as the service of telling the truth. To delve back in to my writing, I simply need to focus on the truth, on what needs to be said.