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Thomas Merton, Part II

Mysticism: Week 2

Thomas Merton, Part II
Friday, October 6, 2017

I learned the terms “True Self” and “false self” from Thomas Merton—words he used to clarify what Jesus surely meant when he said that we must die to ourselves or we must “lose ourselves to find ourselves” (Mark 8:35). Merton rightly recognized that it was not the body self that had to “die” (which much of Christian history seemed to believe), but the “false self” which is a substitute for our deepest truth. Our attachment to our small, separate, false self must die to allow our True Self—our basic and unchangeable identity in God—to live fully and freely. [1]

Merton beautifully describes the True Self in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander. I quote this lengthy passage because of the importance of this mystical experience for Merton and also because it is a classic example of unitive consciousness:

In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those 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, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. The whole illusion of a separate holy existence is a dream. . . . This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud. . . . I have the immense joy of being [hu]man, a member of a race in which God . . . became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now [that] I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun. . . . 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. 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.

. . . At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes of our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will. This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us. . . . It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely. [2]

There it all is in very few—but stunning—words!

Gateway to Silence:
We are all one with You.

References:
[1] See previous meditations on True Self and False Self by Richard Rohr, August 6-12, 2017, cac.org/who-am-i-2017-08-06/, and James Finley, August 13-19, 2017, cac.org/our-ultimate-identity-2017-08-13/.
[2] Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (Doubleday: 1966), 140-142.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self (Jossey-Bass: 2013), 38-39.

Image credit: 4th and Walnut Streets, Louisville, Kentucky, looking south, 1956.
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