Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Writing... for God?

Mornings and I don't get along terribly well, so after hitting the snooze a couple of times I usually grab a book with the hope that if my brain wakes up, so too will my body. Occasionally it even works.

Having been greatly impressed with The Seven Storey Mountain, I was delighted to learn that Thomas Merton has written many other books. I'm currently reading his New Seeds of Contemplation. Therein he writes:

If a writer is so cautious that he never writes anything that cannot be criticized, he will never write anything that can be read. If you want help other people you have got to make up your mind to write things that some men will condemn. (p. 105)

If you write for God you will reach many men and bring them to 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 have written and after ten minutes you will be so disgusted you wish you were dead. (p. 111)

As to the first excerpt, I can only humbly assert that I have had no trouble making up my mind to write things which men will condemn. Merton does not say that one has done poorly if the only reaction is condemnation, so I count myself vindicated on this first point.

As to the second, I have long held that I write these things for myself, not in the sense that I alone draw satisfaction from them, but in the sense that having anyone read these musings of mine is a blessing over and above what I would expect, namely that no one would read them. In this sense, then, perhaps I am writing for God; insofar as I am a talented writer it is because of His grace, and insofar as my thoughts grasp at He Who is Truth I cannot in fairness credit myself.

Now, writing for God is a bit of a strange concept. I would never, I hope, be so vain as to expect that these poor words are worthy enough to be looked favorably upon by God. St. Thomas Aquinas famously intoned near the end of his life that after his vision of God, he could only conclude that everything he had written was as "straw" in comparison. And as anyone who has even casually visited the Summa can attest, if Aquinas wrote straw, I can only hope that some day I may write dust.

No matter what we write, no matter what we do, it will always be as straw compared with the glory of the Lord. But this does not give us permission to bury our talents in the ground. Instead, we must use what we have to further His kingdom with the understanding that though by all accounts God should count our works as nothing, He nonetheless looks favorably upon His children. It is a fact justifiable only by faith, but as Reese Roper once observed, just as a mother smiles upon her son's gifts of dandelions, God sees flowers in our offerings of weeds.

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