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In God’s Eyes

Thursday, August 4, 2016

True Self/False Self: Week 1

In God’s Eyes
Thursday, August 4, 2016

Yesterday, we looked at Thomas Merton’s explanation of the false self. What follows is part of his description of the True Self. Merton wrote this shortly after his transformative experience at the corner of Fourth and Walnut in Louisville (now Muhammad Ali Boulevard). At this intersection, Merton says, “I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness. . . .” [1] This is an experience of universal love, which I would define as recognizing one’s self in the other.

A bit further on, Merton writes, “Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes.” [2]

Merton—as well as anyone deserving of the title mystic—believes that God is always recognizing God’s Self in you and cannot not love it. This is God’s “steadfast love” (hesed) with humanity. That part of you has always loved God and always will. You must learn how to consciously abide there. As Meister Eckhart says, “The eye with which I see God is the same one with which God sees me. My eye and God’s eye is one eye, and one sight, and one knowledge, and one love.” [3]

There is a part of you that has always said yes to God, and that is the Anointed One, the Christ, the True Self that you already are. William McNamara called contemplative prayer “a long, loving look at the real.” [4] Within prayer you quite simply receive and return God’s gaze of love. God is recognizing God’s Self in you, and you are recognizing yourself in God. Once the two-way mirror begins to reflect in both directions, it will gradually move you toward a universal seeing. Once accepted in yourself, the divine image is then seen everywhere else too—and just as gratuitously.

Merton continues:

If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed. . . . I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other. But this cannot be seen, only believed and “understood” by a peculiar gift. [5]

This is the gift of a contemplative mind that has learned to “shed its thoughts about itself” (how the Desert Fathers and Mothers put it) and which enjoys a much broader, deeper, and more compassionate set of eyes.

Gateway to Silence:
You live in me; I live in you.

[1] Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (Image Books: 1968), 156.
[2] Ibid., 158.
[3] Johannes Eckhart, Meister Eckhart’s Sermons, Sermon IV, “True Hearing,”, 32-33.
[4] William McNamara as quoted by Walter J. Burghardt, “Contemplation: A Long, Loving Look at the Real,” Church, No. 5 (Winter 1989), 14-17.
[5] Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (Image Books: 1968), 158.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, True Self/ False Self (Franciscan Media: 2003, 2013), disc 2 (CD).

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