Longing and Belonging

“Each of us has to look into our dark world, recognize the forces that bind us, the blind instincts, the compulsions which, though they give the illusion of power, freedom, adulthood, ensnare us. We have to fight our way free; renounce the Dark Powers, learn to judge and act from our centre. Only then are we human and personal. This work of self-knowledge is absolutely essential.”
-Ruth Burrows
Guidelines for Mystical Prayer

Who I am on the surface is not the true me. I’m not whom I appear to be. My exterior is only the person I think I am, and the guy I put on display for others to see. The real me is buried deep within – unknown to even me, unknown to all but God. I must cast off this projected exterior image, my false self, and discover my true self, the person I was created to be. That process of losing and finding is the stuff of sainthood. I’m living in a dense forest of unreality. Finding my way out is a difficult, confusing, scary task.

The key to find myself is finding God.

I can be transformed into my true self only through the Power of the One hidden in me. There is nothing I can do on my own. Even stripping myself of all that is not God will not bring me any closer to the reality of God. The only thing I can do is to respond to God’s call to enter into union with God.

I created my external self, not God. Out of the clay of my own egocentric desires, my own selfish, sinful actions, I molded the person I see in the mirror, the person who loves to flee reality. The real me, my true self, sleeps silently in the depths of my being, undisturbed by all my surface activity, waiting, patiently, to be awakened by God. My true self was created by God, made for God. And I cannot be my true self without knowing God. I am hidden in God. And God is hidden in me.

On my own I have learned something about God through reason and reading, but, as Merton writes in Seeds of Contemplation: “There is no human and rational way in which I can arrive at that contact, that possession of Him which will be the discovery of Who He really is and Who I am in Him.” Merton goes on to say: “The only One Who can teach me to find God is God, Himself, Alone.”

For most of my life before entering the empty church in Rome, I had been moving away from God, carried along on the tide I created. All along I had been fighting a Wind which had been trying to blow me in the opposite direction. My initial movement away from God was propelled by the influence of sin, and was powered by my ego and illusions. The habits acquired while traveling in the wrong direction have been hard to reverse.

The superficial, fictional me I see in the mirror is still far from the reality of God. The guy in the mirror is incapable of transcendent experiences. Only my openness to God’s call can put me on the path to becoming more receptive to the mystical dimension hidden within me.

This stuff doesn’t come quickly or easily, which is why we don’t bother with it. I devoted a few pages of The Sun and Moon Over Assisi to explaining Merton’s ideas on the true and false self stuff. Mostly I quoted sources who understood. I had deceived myself into thinking I understood. In truth, my mind kinda got it – but it was just another theory neatly tucked away in a dingy corner of my brain. Slowly, I am beginning to “see” it with different eyes.

Thomas Merton wrote so clearly about deep spiritual things that we think we get it. The fact is his understanding was hidden in his words, which only point the way, showing us the right direction. But we must walk alone. Only God can teach me how to find God. And that reality is why so many true contemplatives are so reluctant to talk about their inner life. They cannot teach us anything – aside from a few techniques to help us get started.

We know what to do. Find a quiet place. Sit. Be still, mentally and physically. And listen. Easy? No. The most difficult thing in the world. Nothing seems to be happening. Results take a lifetime. Maybe even longer.

Whether we admit or not, we are so far from God, it is beyond our ability to measure. Merton knew this, even after a quarter of a century as a monk. He knew he was far from his goal, and had miles to go. Perhaps he came close in Asia. Perhaps not. Only God knows.

Even when we resist it, the unfolding narrative of our lives is always striving to reach our full potential, to be fully alive in innovative and invigorating ways that transcends all our past experiences and understandings of life. Without realizing it, we have a perpetual propensity for creating new possibilities that will allow us the freedom from the rational cause and effect explanations to grow and evolve. Paradoxically, our personal evolution involves embracing the mystery of life rather than trying to solve it; it requires surrendering not conquering. All of creation is striving toward wholeness and union.

Life is a journey to that place in your soul where there is great love, tenderness, unity, feeling and forgiveness. Every step of the journey is fueled, for better or worse, by a deep desire within us, a desire we often do not recognize or understand. Many of our desires confuse and distress us. Of course, we desire God; but we also desire more tangible, earthly things. And we tend to separate our supernatural desires from our natural desires, and often the choice between the two is in serious conflict.

Each of us is, ultimately, alone on our journey through life. Each of us longs for something beyond what can be found on earth. Within each of us there is a loneliness and a longing.

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2 Responses to “Longing and Belonging”


  1. 1 Beth Cioffoletti June 25, 2011 at 7:04 am

    thank you, Gerry, for saying this with words. It all rings very true for me – all of it.

  2. 2 Frances June 25, 2011 at 9:03 am

    I loved this article…it said everything that I had been pondering in myself with my relationship with God. Trying to find that ultimate connection to him like I have never experience in my life. I found myself left with an even greater emptiness than I had before when I tried to find him with the wrong mindset or trying to connect in a spiritual way that was not in line with his word or his will. But this part of your article really helped me to clarity somethings a little better you said:

    Life is a journey to that place in your soul where there is great love, tenderness, unity, feeling and forgiveness. Every step of the journey is fueled, for better or worse, by a deep desire within us, a desire we often do not recognize or understand. Many of our desires confuse and distress us. Of course, we desire God; but we also desire more tangible, earthly things. And we tend to separate our supernatural desires from our natural desires, and often the choice between the two is in serious conflict.

    Each of us is, ultimately, alone on our journey through life. Each of us longs for something beyond what can be found on earth. Within each of us there is a loneliness and a longing.

    Because of this I can look at it a whole different way…with a fresh perspective, a fresh vision and a renewal of my relationship with the Father. Thanks for this article…I will keep it and always reflect back on what was shared here for the betterment of being who God created me to be by allowing him to be all that he is in me!

    May God bless you and keep writing, it blesses all those that read it with an open heart and mind.

    Frances


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