Not Having, Not Knowing

“In one sense we are always traveling, traveling as if we did not know where we were going. In another sense we have already arrived. We cannot arrive at the perfect possession of God in this life: that is why we are traveling and in darkness. But we already possess God by grace. Therefore, in that sense, we have arrived and are dwelling in the light. But oh! How far have I to go to find You in Whom I have already arrived!”
-Thomas Merton
The Seven Storey Mountain

It seems that lots of people today not only know God, but they also seem to possess God. They’ve got God in their pocket. I once rejected Christianity because, in part, Christians seemed to possess God. How is that possible? I mean, how can God be possessed? At best, all we can do, as Merton suggested, is wait for God. Once a year, during Advent, we’re reminded of that simple reality. But not long after the last Advent candle is lit, we forget…perhaps because we’re too busy returning Christmas gifts we don’t like.

I certainly feel as if “I have God” in my life. I can talk about God, share my experiences of God with friends and strangers alike, but I also must admit at the same time—and this is the really tough part—that “I do not have God,” that I too am merely waiting for God. It’s confusing. I have God and at the same time I don’t have God. I possess God and I am waiting for God. I know God and at the same time I don’t know God. When it comes to God, there must be, as Paul Tillich suggests in The Shaking of the Foundations, “an element of not having and not knowing, and of waiting.”

Thomas Merton, after all his writing, all his years as a monk, all his vast expenditure of energy on a wide range of actions on behalf of peace, civil rights, social justice, and inter-faith dialogue, realized that none of it brought him his own interior peace. Alone in his hermitage, he found the place where he could kneel in the silence and truly wait upon a mercy he had come to know by hard experience he could never bestow on himself. Thomas Merton was the guru of waiting.

Transformation is not possible where we, not God, are secretly in control, arrogantly pretending we “know it all.” Prayer brings me face to face with the ultimate darkness. Prayer challenges me to enter the darkness or turn away from it. In the darkness I am able to see my own insecurity. In the darkness I learn I need light from Someone else. I cannot provide light for myself. Light is a gift that needs to be received.

For the most part, the life of prayer is lived in darkness.


2 Responses to “Not Having, Not Knowing”

  1. 1 aliceny December 4, 2015 at 10:19 am

    Mea Culpa, Gerry.
    Thank you

  2. 2 krebsjoan December 4, 2015 at 9:25 pm

    Thanks Gerry. This was needed, precisely today. God? God? Who? And yet I bow…. yes, waiting in darkness – the darkness of unknowing. Patienza…..

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