In considering the things I do to draw myself closer to You spiritually it gives me great pauseto reflect on what took place one day to Thomas Merton at 4th and Walnut in Louisville, Kentucky. By his own account Merton was a man who dozed for nearly 20 years in a world of “renunciation and supposed holiness,” only at that moment, in a flash of enlightenment as he stood on that corner, to realize that the true self is a point of nothingness untouched by sin or illusion that belongs entirely to God and is inaccessible to the whims of our will; and it is this that connects us all. It is this that makes us belong to each other. It is this which prevents us from being alien to each other though we might be total strangers living totally different lives – lives of our own creation far removed from that center.
With this as a background I’m further struck by the truth that the words we say, think or write (like now) sometimes don’t mesh with what is in our hearts, at the center of our being. It is true that, over time, we become very good at putting on different masks for different people. Often we perceive what another needs or wants us to be and we comply. We treat You this way too, as though our being depended on how many coats of paint we can apply upon that point of nothingness beyond our wills. We do this to ourselves as well. We create the persona that suits our needs or wants and we become convinced that this is who we are. Our words and our actions convince us because that is what they are calculated to do. Who am I fooling when I say I am writing these letters to You? It is far more likely that I am writing them to build up a persona (a false self) that I have somehow come to believe You want to see in me. This makes my relationship with You, in my eyes, dependent upon what I do, or say, or write.
The fallacy is in believing in this dependency. In us, the true center is You. So, in writing to You it’s not important what I say, but rather what I hear. In all the things I do in our relationship it’s not about me finding You. It’s about letting go and allowing You to find me.
On that street corner many years ago Merton had a flash that brought this home to him. For that moment he was fully aware of his true being. Everything else he had so carefully cultivated was stripped aside.
So then, are we to give up the false selves we construct in our relationships with You, with others, with ourselves? It is both ironic and paradoxical that we must perceive and work around our inevitable false selves in order to arrive at awareness that they are false, and under them is a true self. It is the way of being human. If we might presume to characterize, in our own way, what You expect of us, I think it’s probably our will to overcome, in some measure, these false selves in order to provide a window for the true self to shine through – a window like Merton’s 4th and Walnut.
Everything about being born into this world, living here and sharing it with others encourages, supports and rewards selves which, essentially, are not true. But the fact is our true center cannot exist on this planet in any other way. No one here exists purely at the center of his/her being. But at our own 4th and Walnut we catch glimpses of it. It is our destiny beyond this life. It is union with You, our true self.