Just for today


Dear Artist,

Just for today I’m going to try to make a better painting. We’re not talking Sistine Chapel here, just a piece of joy begun and ended between sunup and sundown.


“Snow Scene, Long Island”
watercolour, 1919
by Owen Merton (1887–1931)
Collection: Thomas Merton Center

Just for today I’ll be happy with it. As Abraham Lincoln said, “Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Today I’m making up my mind to be pleased.

Just for today I’m trusting in luck, intuition, chance and happenstance. Today I’m going to fit myself and my work around some of these minor miracles.

Just for today I’ll strengthen my mind. When I’m puzzled or have a problem I’ll consult trusted reference. Thought and concentration will be with me, if only just for today.

Just for today I’ll do something I don’t know how to do – for the fun of it; for the exercise. If and when I fail, no one may notice, and I’ll not say anything.

Just for today I’ll not find fault with anything or anyone, and I’ll not try to improve or regulate anyone but myself.


“Bermuda House”
watercolour, 1922
by Owen Merton

Just for today I’ll have a plan. I may not follow it exactly, but I’ll have it. While I’m at it, I’ll save myself from two pests; hurry and indecision.

Just for today I’ll put beauty, elegance, charm and character into my work. What I give to the world is also what the world gives to me. I need those things.

Just for today I’ll not think about what anybody else is doing. I’ll be sufficient unto myself, for while I may not be great, I am certainly great enough for today.

Just for today I’ll take some real time for a quiet time – a half-hour or so by myself where I can sit back and get a better idea of the big picture.

And looking at the big picture, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change and the courage to change the things I can. And the wisdom to know the difference.” (Reinhold Niebuhr)


“Harbour, Bermuda”
watercolour, 1922
by Owen Merton

Best regards,


PS: “Hurry ruins saints as well as artists. They want quick success and they are in such haste to get it that they cannot take time to be true to themselves. And when the madness is upon them they argue that their very haste is a species of integrity.” (Thomas Merton)

Esoterica: Yesterday a crumpled and worn “Just for today” came by mail – the gift of an alcoholic friend. It prompted me to write my own version of the A A tract. It’s estimated that 500 million copies of variations of the original have been circulated – which makes it one of the most valued texts of all time. I’ve always found that I can live with anything if there’s a time frame. What is it that you really want, just for today?

This letter was originally published as “Just for today” on August 19, 2003.

Artist Owen Merton, a New Zealander, along with his American artist wife, Ruth Jenkins, had 2 sons including Thomas Merton, monk and writer. Thomas wrote of his father, Owen, in his famous spiritual autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain. He also wrote, Thoughts in Solitude and No Man is an Island. A foremost spiritual thinker of the 20th century, his books are still widely read.

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“Perhaps I am stronger than I think.” (Thomas Merton)

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