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.
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.