Tuesday, June 26, 2007

the sanctuary of another's subjectivity

This week's reflection from The Merton Institute really speaks to me, so I am adding it to this collection.

"All through the Verba Seniorum [The Sayings of the Desert Fathers] we find a repeated insistence on the primacy of love over everything else in the spiritual life: over knowledge, gnosis, asceticism, contemplation, solitude, prayer. Love in fact is the spiritual life, and without it all the other exercises of the spirit, however lofty, are emptied of content and become mere illusions. The more lofty they are, the more dangerous the illusion.

Love, of course, means something much more then mere sentiment, much more than token favors and perfunctory almsdeeds. Love mean an interior and spiritual identification with one's neighbor, so that she is not regarded as an "object" to "which" one "does good." The fact is that good done to another as an object is of little or no spiritual value. Love takes one's neighbor as one's other self, and loves him with all the immense humility and discretion and reserve and reverence without which no one can presume to enter into the sanctuary of another's subjectivity. From such love all authoritarian brutality, all exploitation, domineering and condescension must necessarily be absent. The saints of the desert were enemies of every subtle or gross expedient by which "the spiritual man" contrives to bully those he thinks inferior to himself, thus gratifying his own ego. They had renounced everything that savored of punishment and revenge, however hidden it might be."

Thomas Merton. The Wisdom of the Desert. New York: New Directions Press, 1960: 17-18.

Thought to Remember

"Love demands a complete inner transformation-for without this we cannot possibly come to identify ourselves with our brother [and sister]. We have to become, in some sense, the person we love."

The Wisdom of the Desert: 18


  1. Love is what carries us along on the spiritual path. As we move towards our sense of God, and leave more and more of our self behind, we brave the elements with love leading the way.

    Merton's insights remain timeless.

    Love that is not borne of self
    Touches everything and yet nothing in particular.
    This all-encompassing love
    Frees us from the confines of self.

    Once set free we can travel,
    Protected from the harshness of life
    Carried along on the wings of love
    We consume ourselves in its wondrous flame.

  2. Thanks for this, Larry. A beautiful poem.



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