Somebody has suggested that I write my conversion story. I’m not sure about autobiographies as a genre. It seems to me that you have to assume that a good number or ordinary folks will cough up twenty dollars of their hard earned money just to read all about your life. Isn’t that about tops for egomania?

Nevertheless, I’m thinking about it, and am reading the great spiritual autobiographies to remind myself what to aim for. So I’m reading Confessions by some North African fellow called Augustine, and Seven Story Mountain by Merton at the moment. I’m also going to re-read Surprised by Joy and Newman’s Apologia.

The great thing about Merton is that he actually had a pretty interesting life. New Zealand artist father meets American artist mother and they live the bohemian artist life in Europe. The kid scoots back and forth across the Atlantic, has sophisticated friends in London and Paris, goes to private school in England and flunks out of Cambridge. In addition, Merton is not only very smart, but he’s much better read than I will ever be, and it shows. Finally, he’s a very good writer. His style is lucid, passionate, detailed and intellectual without showing off.

I’ll never be able to match him unless I exagerrate.

Seriously, Merton tells his conversion story with such clarity and beauty. Where did he get such style, such insights into himself and such a beautiful knowledge of the faith at the time of Seven Story Mountain?

Was he some sort of contemplative or what?

PS: If you’re interested in a well rounded view of Merton (who was a v. complicated guy) check out this essay from First Things sent in by David Gustafson.

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  • Well, he was “SOME sort of contemplative”–the kind (one of his acquaintances said) who “want[s] a hermitage in Times Square with a large sign over it saying ‘Hermit.'”But he did indeed write a great autobiography.

  • Jeron

    I love Merton, especially his early stuff. I haven’t read his Asian Journals yet.

  • If you like Merton you should check out the blog

  • Aahh, Fr. Dwight, the world of Merton is a deep and wonderful one indeed. The Sign of Jonas is great, the next one after the biography – then I’d suggest New Seeds of Contemplation and Thoughts in Solitude. Also The New Man for a little deeper look into the spiritual life. Good stuff.

  • I’ll never be able to match him unless I exaggerate.Well, Father, I’m sure if you recount your visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary revealing to you the actual Third Secret of Fatima and Jesus revealing to you the date and time of His Second Coming (year not included, some calculations required), it would be an instant hit. Add some wrestling with the Father of Lies and Prince of Darkness whole pondering your conversion and I think topping the best sellers list would be a cinch.So, Father, how about it?

  • Dr Alice von Hildebrand is not really one of Merton’s fans; she has a lecture about him which you can download (free to priests!) at You may find it interesting. In any event, she is a wonderful speaker.

  • Susan Johnston

    Dear Father, Please, please write your conversion story. Conversion stories are one of my favourite genres of spiritual writing; I’m a relapsed cradle Catholic who consistently finds the re-encounter with the Church profoundly moving. In his conversion story, Deacon Alex Jones speaks of converts as one of the Holy Spirit’s great gifts to the Church, revitalizing her, re-evangelizing her, stirring the cradle Catholics out of their sloth. So please write it, a longer version of the essay you wrote for one of the Patrick Madrid or a fuller one; there is a subtext of your conversion story in More Christianity as well (husband interjects here: “Tell him how much I liked More Christianity!”) and a book length version which included some of that theology as well would be a great gift and the source, I’m sure, of a good many blessings. And good luck with it!

  • I have posted on my blog a rebuttal of Von Hildebrand’s lecture on Merton. You will see that she was most inaccurate about many verifiable facts. Actually dgus, it was not an acquaintance who said this regarding Merton. I go into that on my blog if you would care to see what was actually said and by whom. And yes, he did write a great autobiography as well as a multitude of other books which are some of the best contemplative writings of the 20th century. Most of them come with an imprimatur. By the way, Father I am enjoying your blog immensely! God Bless – Here is the address to my blog-The rebuttal of Von Hildebrand is under February 2008 and is in 2 parts.