“We do not detach ourselves from things in order to attach ourselves to God, but rather we become detached from ourselves in order to see and use all things in and for God, nor can anything of His become an obstacle to our union with Him. The obstacle is in our “self,” that is to say in the tenacious need to maintain our separate, external, egotistic will. It is when we refer all things to this outward and false “self” that we alienate ourselves from reality and from God. It is then the false self that is our god, and we love everything for the sake of this self. We use all things, so to speak, for the worship of this idol which is our imaginary self. In so doing we pervert and corrupt things, or rather we turn our relationship to them into a corrupt and sinful relationship. We do not thereby make them evil, but we use them to increase our attachment to our illusory self.
Those who try to escape from this situation by treating the good things of God as if they were evils are only confirming themselves in a terrible illusion. They are like Adam blaming Eve and Eve blaming the serpent in Eden. “Woman has tempted me. Wine has tempted me. Food has tempted me. Woman is pernicious, wine is poison, food is death. I must hate and revile them. By hating them I will please God…..” These are the thoughts and attitudes of a baby, of a savage and of an idolater who seeks by magic incantations and spells to protect his egotistic self and placate the insatiable little god in his own heart. To take such an idol for God is the worst kind of self-deception. It turns a man into a fanatic, no longer capable of sustained contat with the truth, no longer capable of genuine love.
In trying to believe in their ego as something “holy” these fanatics look upon everything else as unholy.”
–Thomas Merton from New Seeds of Contemplation
I can’t recommend this book enough. At times it is a wrecking ball to the very core of your being and at times it picks up the pieces with an invitation to a quiet transformation. An invitation that lures you away from your ego or flesh, towards the divine spark of your true Self that is ever present and is who God has made you to be. This book is extremely demanding and humbling and at times, depressing. The road it points down seems long and dark, especially for someone such as myself. Then there are harbingers of hope. Later on in the same section as the above quote, Merton give us a picture of the transformation that awaits us:
“The only true joy on earth is to escape from the prison of our own false self, and enter by love into the union with the Life Who dwells and sings within the essence of every creature and in the core of our own souls. In His love we possess all things and enjoy fruition of them, finding Him in them all. And thus as we go about the world, everything we meet and everything we see and hear and touch, far from defiling, purifies us and plants in us something more of contemplation and of heaven.”