Echoing Silence:
Thomas Merton on the Vocation of Writing.

edited by
Robert Inchausti

And Lax”s vision is a vision of the day when they will turn on the radio and somebody will start telling them what they really have been wanting to hear and needing to know. p. 3

[The two are rarely one and the same. Most want to hear that everything is good. That they”ve been doing exactly what they should be doing; that they needn”t change a thing. What they need to know is that if they”re not changing, they dying. JH]

And yet it seems to me that writing, far from being an obstacle to spiritual perfection in my own life, has become one of the conditions on which my perfection will depend. p. 14

One of the results of all this could well be a complete and holy transparency: living, praying and writing in the light of the holy spirit, losing myself entirely by becoming public property just as Jesus is public property in the Mass. p. 15

The artist enters into himself to work. For the “superior” soul is a forge where inspiration kindles a fire of white heat, a crucible for the transformation of natural images into new, created forms. But the mystic enters into himself, not in order to work, but to pass through the center of his own soul and lose himself in the mystery and secrecy and infinite, transcendent reality… p. 21

Unable fully to lose himself in God, doomed by the restlessness of talent to seek himself in the highest natural gift that God has given him, the artist falls from contemplation and returns to himself as artist. Instead of passing through his own soul in the abyss of the infinite actuality of God himself, he will remain there a moment, only to emerge again into the exterior world of multiple created things whose variety once more dissipates his energies until they are lost in perplexity and dissatisfaction. p. 22

Because of this tragic Promethean tendency to exploit every experience as material for “creation,” the artist may remain there all his life on the threshold, never entering into the banquet, but always running back into the street to tell the passers-by of the wonderful music he has heard coming from inside the palace of the king. p. 23

Most [people] are so averse to being alone, or to feeling alone, that they do everything they can to forget their solitude. How? Perhaps in large measure by what Pascal called “divertissement” – diversion, systematic distraction. p. 25

Thus words have no essential meaning.
They are means of locomotion.
From backward to forward
Along an infinite horizontal plane,
Created by the history which they
themselves destroy.
They are the makers of our only reality
The backward-forward working of the web
The movement into the web.

p. 32

The majority of men think they see, and do not. They believe they listen, but they do not hear. They are “absent hen present” because in the act of seeing and hearing they substitute the clichés of familiar prejudice for the new and unexpected truth that is being offered to them. p. 34

The true solutions are not those which we force upon life in accordance with our theories, but those which life itself provides for those who dispose themselves to receive the truth. Consequently our task is to dissociate ourselves from all who have theories, not in a spirit of negativism and defeat, but rather trusting life itself, and nature… p. 35

Our misuse of the word and concept of creativity has robbed us of a standard of judgment. We can no longer tell when an artist is expressing something human or merely screaming: we do not even try to interpret the noise, we just react to it one way or another, believing that the mere fact of having a reaction is somehow “creative.” p. 39

Most action painting is to me little more than a pleasantly intriguing accident, no more worthy of insult than praise. It is what it is. p. 40

The Negro spirituals of the last century remain as classic examples of what a living liturgical hymnody ought to be, and how it comes into being: not in the study of research worker or in the monastery library, still less in the halls of the Curial offices, but where men suffer oppression, where they are deprived of identity, where their lives are robbed of meaning, and where the desire of freedom and the imperative demand of truth forces them to give it meaning… p. 47

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