Skip to main content
Center for Action and Contemplation

Living in God

Friday, August 18, 2017

True Self and False Self: Week 2

Living in God
Friday, August 18, 2017

Guest writer and CAC faculty member James Finley continues exploring insights on the true self and false self that he gleaned from Thomas Merton.

In ways known only to God, the one seeking God in silence unexpectedly falls through the barriers of division and duplicity to discover, as Merton writes, that:

. . . here, where contemplation becomes what it is really meant to be, it is no longer something infused by God into a created subject, so much as God living in God and identifying a created life with His [sic] own Life so that there is nothing left of any significance but God living in God. [1]

This “disappearance” is the antithesis of loss of self. Rather it is an expression of the true self’s final consummation as a created capacity for perfect union with God. Thus, this disappearance is actually a manifestation of ourselves as radically one with God. The only self that actually vanishes is our false self, the separate self we thought ourselves to be. Within the context of this contemplative awareness, we actualize Jesus’ words: “He who loses his life shall find it” (Matthew 10:39).

Merton says the contemplative realizes that the ego-self is:

not final or absolute; it is a provisional self-construction which exists, for practical purposes, only in a sphere of relativity. Its existence has meaning in so far as it does not become fixated or centered upon itself as ultimate, learns to function not as its own center but “from God” and “for others.” [2]

This is why Christ came, that through him and in the Spirit we might find our fulfillment in union with the Father. Merton relates this contemplative transformation of consciousness to the whole of Christian life, saying:

This dynamic of emptying and of transcendence accurately defines the transformation of the Christian consciousness in Christ. It is a kenotic transformation, an emptying of all the contents of the ego-consciousness to become a void in which the light of God or the glory of God, the full radiation of the infinite reality of His Being and Love are manifested. [3]

Gateway to Silence:
I am one with God.

[1] Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation (New Directions Paperbook: 1972), 284.
[2] Thomas Merton, Zen and the Birds of Appetite (New Directions: 1968), 24.
[3] Ibid., 75.

Adapted from James Finley, Merton’s Palace of Nowhere: A Search for God through Awareness of the True Self (Ave Maria Press: 1978), 139-140, 144-145.

Navigate by Date

This year’s theme

The Prophetic Path

It can be easier to turn away from suffering than face it with an open heart. That’s why our 2023 Daily Meditations theme, The Prophetic Path, empowers us to not avoid or fear the pain of the world, but turn toward it with compassion.

The archives

Explore the Daily Meditations

Explore past meditations and annual themes by browsing the Daily Meditations archive. Explore by topic or use the search bar to find wisdom from specific teachers.

Join our email community

Sign-up to receive the Daily Meditations, featuring reflections on the wisdom and practices of the Christian contemplative tradition.

Hidden Fields

Find out about upcoming courses, registration dates, and new online courses.
Our theme this year is Nothing Stands Alone. What could happen if we embraced the idea of God as relationship—with ourselves, each other, and the world? Meditations are emailed every day of the week, including the Weekly Summary on Saturday. Each week builds on previous topics, but you can join at any time.
In a world of fault lines and fractures, how do we expand our sense of self to include love, healing, and forgiveness—not just for ourselves or those like us, but for all? This monthly email features wisdom and stories from the emerging Christian contemplative movement. Join spiritual seekers from around the world and discover your place in the Great Story Line connecting us all in the One Great Life. Conspirare. Breathe with us.