There is a statement once made by Thomas Merton that, on its surface, seems shocking: “I have renounced spirituality to find God.” But when fully considered this may just be the logical expression of the next step in the evolution of our relationship with You. When I was a child I acted like a child, but now . . .
Without the right mix of prayer, thoughtfulness, and self-transcendence we indeed can become stuck at one stage of our growth and remain there. But when our aim is to draw ourselves closer to God each day in new, different, and ever-changing ways, we hitch ourselves to a dynamic shooting star that veers unpredictably through infinity.
I do not actually know what any one individual understands by the word “spirituality.” I am not even sure what I understand by it. Perhaps prayer, meditation, contemplation and writing all figure into it in some way. This, of course, is not bad at all. It is good to get to the “next step.” The next step, however, requires a renunciation of the self which still casts its aura over the elements of “spirituality.”
For the great saints it’s apparent that they found something beyond spirituality – something that so transcended self as to relegate their understanding of spirituality to irrelevance.
I have written to You in the past about grappling with aspects of this notion. The discovery of the Merton statement has caused me to revisit those thoughts. I think, as far as You’re concerned, it’s pretty much up to us what we do with our faith in You and the love generated by that faith. This is all You desire: belief and love. The latter indeed follows the former. It is us who invent, create, revise and renew the modes by which we do this. Spirituality is a human invention tinged with the grace of the divine. It is an effort You bless. But spirituality is never perfect because of those in whom it rests. We cannot totally annihilate self or else the relationship would be one of a pantheistic part to its whole – eliminating the unique, individual “me” I bring to the relationship; and that is what You love!
The true self is never eliminated, but I think when we succeed at eliminating all the false selves, we have accomplished the goal of spirituality and we can move on. This, however, is not to trivialize the chemistry of self- transcendence and Your grace that is needed for it. To get the effects of this mixture we experiment with the “ingredients” of spirituality: the praying, reading, meditating, etc. But when the formula bears the desired results, it urges us on to a next step, another level to our ever-seeking spirit.