God within, and Thomas Merton

God is in all Believers. Jesus said, “The glory that you have given me I have given them [the people who will believe as taught by his followers], so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you [God} in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” -John 17:22-23.

Thomas Merton put it this way:

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 so to speak His name written in us, as our poverty, as our indigence, as our dependence, as our sonship. 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 … I have no program for this seeing. It is only given. But the gate of heaven is everywhere.

I got that from Richard Rohr. Rohr changes “His” to “God’s”, an inclusive language change which improves it, but changing Merton’s “sonship” to “birthright” as Rohr does takes away the allusion to Christ’s teaching, that we are His brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of God.

How does that “point of nothingness” relate to what I call the “Real me”?

Possibly, mystic theory gets in the way. If that at the heart of the human being is God, it must be good and pure. Yet I feel the Sociopath may have a clearer understanding of that human essence, less mask or ego, than most people. I am not sure. I feel in me, it is pro-social, but not that it is, of necessity, in all people. Jesus’, John’s and Merton’s idea of God within mean that part is without sin.

In contrast are “the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will”. Merton did not fully identify with that “point of pure truth”, but with his mind and will, or perhaps ego. The point of truth is beneath that, needing discerned, not clearly seen. However having found the “pearl of great price” we must “sell all we have to buy it”, for it is “the Kingdom of Heaven”. So we get rid of mind, will and ego and operate from the Pearl, or the Treasure found in a field, the Light or the point of pure truth. Merton had a conversion experience in Louisville on 18th March 1958, wrote this in 1965, and may have come closer to that “pure glory of God” later.

For Merton it is a point of “nothingness and poverty”, which may be a rejection of worldly values- the “boasted pomp and show of the worldling’s fading pleasure”- or admitting that the ego is simply and merely wrong, all its devices and desires meaningless and worthless.

It is without illusion. It sees everything I am too frightened to admit.

And- it is God. “To see is to forget the name of the thing one sees,” wrote Paul Valéry. No better name than “God” is available, because the word is capacious enough to include everything any human has ever used it for. The light within is indescribable in that it is illimitable, undefinable, not proper to be restricted to a concept or understanding of what it is. It is simply itself.

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Merton’s understanding of the false self is moulded by his life. In New Seeds of Contemplation, in 1961, he wrote (again quoted by Rohr)

My false and private self is the one who wants to exist outside the reach of God’s will and God’s love- outside of reality and outside of life. And such a self cannot help but be an illusion... All sin starts from the assumption that my false self, the self that exists only in my own egocentric desires, is the fundamental reality of life to which everything else in the universe is ordered. Thus I use up my life in the desire for pleasures and the thirst for experiences, for power, honor, knowledge and love, to clothe this false self and construct its nothingness into something objectively real. And I wind experiences around myself and cover myself with pleasures and glory like bandages in order to make myself perceptible to myself and to the world, as if I were an invisible body that could only become visible when something visible covered its surface.

That could fit my Born Again colleague’s experience of conversion, from sexual promiscuity and drunkenness to an ordered life following the rules and beliefs of her church, including in Adam and Jonah as real people, but Merton’s acceptance of Catholicism was twenty years before his “conversion”.

Merton was born in 1915 in France, the son of an artist, and baptised Anglican. His mother, a Quaker, died when he was six, and he never accepted his father’s new lover. He was sent to various boarding schools, and dropped out of Cambridge University where he “drank to excess and indulged in sexual licence” according to wikipedia. He may have fathered a child there. He took a degree at Columbia University, and stayed as a postgraduate. He chose Catholicism, had a second baptism in 1938, and became a monk in 1940.

My false self was moulded entirely differently. I wanted to fit in. I was completely controlled, and in my thirties decided “It is time to rebel against my parents”- my understanding of life was taken from them, so out of date when I was born. I drank to excess a few times at university, but fell in with a few men who did not, served at the altar of the Episcopal cathedral, and enjoyed folk dancing.

I have not wanted “experiences, power, honour, knowledge and love” but to fit in, not be noticed, and to survive quietly. I thought myself worthless, only of value for what I could achieve. I had to pretend to be the notional worthwhile human being inculcated into me, miserable and stressed because I never managed it.

I find the false self better understood through Carl Rogers. It is the self-concept, the understanding of who I am, formed initially by the parents’ or parental figures’ conditional positive regard, then either by conformity or rebellion as the child grows. Rebellion is as unfree as conformity. Merton, from a comfortably wealthy family yet insecure after his mother’s death, would form a particular false self. Our false selves are idiosyncratic, dependent on circumstances, and whether we ever shed them may depend on luck.

My conversion experience was 14 February 1999. During 1998 I became aware of a “vulnerable bit” of myself and in February 1999 realised it was the “Real me”. I have spoken from that part of me, which I now call God, and now want it to control my life entirely. Yet still, much of the time, my consciousness is thinking from the false self or ego. Distress may shock me into Real Self. Entering the Now, being present to the present moment, I can only be in the Real Self.

Merton’s understanding in that paragraph that Rohr quotes may also be moulded by Christian understandings of those outside the church, in “the darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth”. Possibly, with a sufficiently blessed upbringing, one might never form a false self at all. Whatever, many people do.

I feel that my real self has been caring for my false self, as in the “footprints” story where when there is only one set of footprints, Jesus carries the man. It maintains the false self’s amour propre. It is where my motivation resides, so if I have maintained the false self’s illusions it has been the action of the real self, to help preserve my feeling of safety, which does not keep me safe.

This is my mantra:

I am here
This is
I Am

I change it to “We Are” in Meeting. It brings me back to God within.

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