Saturday, October 20, 2012

to be fully human


From Archbishop Rowan Williams' lecture to the Synod in Rome, October 10, 2012.  The full text is HERE.

" ... In his autobiography Thomas Merton describes an experience not long after he had entered the monastery where he was to spend the rest of his life (Elected Silence, p.303). He had contracted flu, and was confined to the infirmary for a few days, and, he says, he felt a ‘secret joy’ at the opportunity this gave him for prayer – and ‘to do everything that I want to do, without having to run all over the place answering bells.’ He is forced to recognise that this attitude reveals that ‘All my bad habits … had sneaked into the monastery with me and had received the religious vesture along with me: spiritual gluttony, spiritual sensuality, spiritual pride.’ In other words, he is trying to live the Christian life with the emotional equipment of someone still deeply wedded to the search for individual satisfaction. It is a powerful warning: we have to be every careful in our evangelisation not simply to persuade people to apply to God and the life of the spirit all the longings for drama, excitement and self-congratulation that we so often indulge in our daily lives. It was expressed even more forcefully some decades ago by the American scholar of religion, Jacob Needleman, in a controversial and challenging book called Lost Christianity: the words of the Gospel, he says, are addressed to human beings who ‘do not yet exist’. That is to say, responding in a life-giving way to what the Gospel requires of us means a transforming of our whole self, our feelings and thoughts and imaginings. To be converted to the faith does not mean simply acquiring a new set of beliefs, but becoming a new person, a person in communion with God and others through Jesus Christ.

"Contemplation is an intrinsic element in this transforming process. To learn to look to God without regard to my own instant satisfaction, to learn to scrutinise and to relativise the cravings and fantasies that arise in me – this is to allow God to be God, and thus to allow the prayer of Christ, God’s own relation to God, to come alive in me. Invoking the Holy Spirit is a matter of asking the third person of the Trinity to enter my spirit and bring the clarity I need to see where I am in slavery to cravings and fantasies and to give me patience and stillness as God’s light and love penetrate my inner life. Only as this begins to happen will I be delivered from treating the gifts of God as yet another set of things I may acquire to make me happy, or to dominate other people. And as this process unfolds, I become more free—to borrow a phrase of St Augustine (Confessions IV.7)—to ‘love human beings in a human way’, to love them not for what they may promise me, to love them not as if they were there to provide me with lasting safety and comfort, but as fragile fellow-creatures held in the love of God. I discover (as we noted earlier) how to see other persons and things for what they are in relation to God, not to me. And it is here that true justice as well as true love has its roots."

6 comments:

  1. I sometimes wonder whether it is mainly in that vast and painful gap between what we ascribe to spirituality and the reality of holiness where we can hope to find the way, the truth and the life..

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    1. I think so, J - that vast gap. It's all so mysterious this place where we find ourselves, sometimes feeling so dark. Whenever you think you've found something to hold onto, you have to let go of it. Even Rowan's words above seem to be trying to formulate some "way" or direction to the reality of holiness, when, in the end, there's probably nothing at all that we could do to attain it.

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  2. What you say is very important. In talking last week with Thomas Keating about inter religious dialog he made the same point not with respect to monastics so much but to how "the human condition" in everyone appropriates and misuses religion, any religion, for its own self-centered purposes.

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    1. it's important to remember that, I think - that we are always prone toward using whatever comes our way to boost the ego yet again.

      the best we can do is see it for what it is, and move on. sure does ground one in humility.

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  3. Merton says "All my bad habits … had sneaked into the monastery." I understand that and experience it. Years ago, when I joined the Lay Missionaries of Charity "LMC's", and I made personal vows of poverty, chastitiy, and obedience - I thought for sure that all my bad habits would miraculously be left behind. The Holy Spirit would come alive IN ME. There would be no more room for the iniquity of the fallen human self. I would be fully human. How naive I was, and am. Even Holy Orders is not an easy fix. To become "a new person, a person in communion with God and others through Jesus Christ" is a process. It takes time - years - it is our experience of God through relationships, with ourselves and others, processing all of it through prayer...

    It's hard to explain, but conversion is on-going. We never come to a place and say "I am there." If we do, then we are only fooling ourselves, for we fall only minutes later. Merton understood this well.

    God bless you Beth !

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    1. I think I've finally given up on being "perfect", Brian, but it's been a long time coming and I'm sure to trip up on it some more before I'm done. One of my good (and I think, holy) friends told me the other day that it was the very flaws of people that she had come to treasure and love so much. It's comforting to me to have a friend like that, as well as to know that God is like that too.

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When in the soul of the serene disciple

Photo by Thomas Merton When in the soul of the serene disciple With no more Fathers to imitate Poverty is a success, It is a small t...