Timmy from ‘The Famous Five’, Thomas Merton and being yourself.

I have a dog called Timmy. Just writing it makes me feel amazed. All those years of reading ‘The Famous Five’ and dreaming of having a dog called Timmy, and when I was 40 my dreams finally came true.

Here he is.



Timmy is on the left. He is very big, and gentle, and kind.

And the sweet little  brown and white character on the right is Ben, but more about Ben another time.

This is about Timmy. Who is far too prone to raid the bin, and moults everywhere, but is patient and very good at loving and being loved by everyone. Who really helped my lovely, heart-broken father in law who came to live with us after he was widowed, just by sitting beside him and sharing his toast. Who has gorgeous eyes and a cold nose and a very waggy tail, and is one of this world’s optimists.

Who reminds me of something the writer and 20th century American Roman Catholic monk, Thomas Merton said. He said that animals and plants give glory to God just by being themselves – they are purely who they were meant to be – and so they are, in a sense, saints.

I love Thomas Merton’s spirituality. I love the fact that he changed his mind as he grew older, and wasn’t embarrassed to admit it.  He had a ‘wild’ life before his conversion to Catholicism, and then, typically, chose to continue that need to take everything to extremes and joined an extremely strict order of Roman Catholic monks called Trappists. Which is when he began to write in earnest, had a sort of breakdown because he was unreasonable to himself and to others in his piety, and emerged from it still a Trappist monk, but a more compassionate, more loving, often difficult and argumentative person, not always easy to live with, but always trying to be honest, and his true self. You can see his developing spirituality evolve through his writings, and you can see him grow from book to book and change from a rather pious Catholic writer to someone who became more and more open to the world, to other people, to other religions, whilst keeping and deepening his own personal religious faith. At the end of his life he was in very close dialogue with Buddhists, and, by then an influential writer, became very involved in marching against the Vietnam war. Monica Furlong wrote a fascinating biography of Thomas Merton, and many others have written about him, not least the brilliant former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, in his book  ‘A Silent Action’.

And I think it is lovely to think about what he said – that all we need to be, is just to be ourselves. To be unselfconsciously loved and loving in the way that a big old soppy golden retriever is. It is much more difficult, Thomas Merton said, for humans to be the true selves they were created to be, than for trees and animals. But it’s a good aspiration.

Which is why, trying to copy Ethiopian art, I painted this, not to offend anyone, but to remind me of what Thomas Merton said about holiness, especially in his book ‘New Seeds of Contemplation’, which, sadly seems to be only available second hand .


(I gave Saint Timmy a bone, but it didn’t come out very well in the photo.)

I’ll have to paint St Ben next!



6 thoughts on “Timmy from ‘The Famous Five’, Thomas Merton and being yourself.

  1. redpeffer September 26, 2013 at 6:54 am Reply

    You have such kind and resonant words in your Tweets, I knew your posts would be beautiful too. I really want a dog called Timmy but I fear it may alienate our cat! Thanks x

    • bridgeanneartandwriting September 26, 2013 at 3:44 pm Reply

      Thank you so much! Sorry I have been slow to reply. I’m new to this and have only just found out how to approve the comments! I’d love a cat, but Timmy is a bit scared of them, so I’ll have to borrow yours and you can share Timmy!

  2. Anne Clark September 26, 2013 at 8:45 am Reply

    Anne – this makes me think of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ amazing poem, As Kingfishers Catch Fire – do you know it? http://www.bartleby.com/122/34.html.

  3. bridgeanneartandwriting September 26, 2013 at 9:08 am Reply

    Thanks so much for quoting that. I had forgotten it and yes, I think that’s entirely appropriate! That is EXACTLY what Thomas Merton was saying, and I love it!

  4. Kyanite99 September 26, 2013 at 8:35 pm Reply

    Interested in your Catholic childhood. I was a very good, very quiet little girl, and when I came to make my First Confession I couldn’t think of any sins I had committed, so I made up some and got “Three Hail Mary’s and one Our Father” as penance.

    This went on for a long time until one day I was delighted to find that I had REALLY done something wrong that I could confess, so I started telling Father Dodd at great length, only to be cut short with a dismissive “Three Hail Mary’s and one Our Father”.

    I later learned that he gave everyone the same penance regardless of whether they were late for Mass or owning up to adultery.

    Sadly, I no longer have to invent my sins…..

    • bridgeanneartandwriting September 26, 2013 at 9:17 pm Reply

      That is such a shame. He doesn’t sound a very good pastor, to put it mildly. I was very lucky because I met some lovely, normal, kind priests when growing up, who tried to stop me being so scrupulous and worried. There is a really interesting and wise book which won lots of prizes called ‘God of Surprises’ by Gerard Hughes. It talks about our images of God and how people can say and think they believe in a loving God but actually their image of God is really that of a sadistic moraliser. Gerard Hughes says it’s far better to believe in no god than that one. I found that a very humane and liberating book.

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