July 31, 2010

Still reading Thomas Merton’s fine The Sign Of Jonas, and it continues to both inspire, humble, and hit where it truly hurts. Consider this entry from the 7th October 1949:

Spiritual joy depends on the cross. Unless we deny ourselves, we will find ourselves in everything and that is misery. As soon as we begin to deny ourselves, out of love for God, we begin to find God, at least obscurely. Since God is our joy, our joy is proportioned to our self-denial, for the love of God. I say: our self-denial for the love of God, because there are people who deny themselves for the love of themselves.

It is not complicated to live the spiritual life. But it is difficult. We are blind, and subject to a thousand illusions. We must expect to be making mistakes almost all the time. We must be content to fall repeatedly and to begin again to try and deny ourselves, for the love of God.

It is when we are angry at our own mistakes that we tend most of all to deny ourselves for the love of ourselves. We want to shake off that hateful thing that has humbled us. In our rush to escape the humiliation of our own mistakes, we run head first into the opposite error, seeking comfort and compensation. And so we spend our lives running back and forth from on attachment to another.

If that is all our self-denial amounts to, our mistakes will never help us.

The thing to do when you have made a mistake is not to give up doing what you were doing and start something altogether new, but to start over again with the thing you began badly and try, for the love of God, to do it well.

Makes you wonder what would happen if, at least to a small extent, people in this country would take Merton’s words to heart. A little less self-centeredness and narcissism, a little more self-denial. Talk about the kind of radical changes that would result.

Filed in: Religion & Culture by The Great White Shank at 00:04 | Comments (2)
  1. There are a few roads to the good kind of self denial. One is a life that primarily is focused on helping others. It doesn’t have to be on a grand stage. I need to get back on that road—-

    Comment by Keys — August 1, 2010 @ 5:59 pm

  2. Thanks Keys – I’m with you there. But it doesn’t even have to be a life that focuses on others primarily. It can be a life focused on God primarily and allowing the kind of charity Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians be guided by what you feel in your heart and soul.

    I’ve come to realize that there’s so much trash and refuse around my own back door that needs to be swept clean before I can get to that place where I can help others as God calls me to, not just because I feel guilty with all the riches I’ve beeen blessed with. To help others simply for the sake of helping others and at one’s own expense (or others) is like the woman who keeps taking in stray cats or rabbits until the house is overwhelmed with them – the intentions are all well and good, but how does it help in the grand scheme of things?

    I guess it’s all about finding that elusive balance beween our sense of calling and how to live that calling out. Thomas Merton wrestled with it throughout his life and make a “living” writing about contemplation and solitude, and where they lie in terms of our relationship to God and the creation we share with the created in all forms.

    Comment by The Great White Shank — August 1, 2010 @ 11:40 pm

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