In the Near East, centuries ago successive cultures built new cities on top of earlier ones rather then spreading out. After burning down what was there they built on the ruins of the old. These ruins of ancient cities, which were built on top of another were called “tells.” Archaeological digs take place on these tells. Thomas Keating compares our spiritual journey to that of an archeological dig through the various stages of our lives, such as midlife crisis, adult life, adolescence, puberty, early childhood and infancy.
The digs are like “a series of humiliations of the false self” (Keating), giving us the opportunity to let go of our attachments to the false self. It creates space in our soul for the Holy Spirit to come in and bring healing. Psychological junk that has been warehoused in our soul is evacuated by the Spirit. As God invites us to greater self-knowledge, he often withdraws blessings and plunges us into darkness, spiritual dryness, and confusion. For many believers this is disconcerting. They see themselves failing. But Keating tells us, “instead of going away, God simply moves downstairs….waits for us to come and join him.” In this way we move closer to the Lord’s presence at the center.
Lately I have been struggling with a new awareness of darkness in my own soul. I don’t like the evacuating process. However, at this stage in my spiritual journey, I know that God is beyond this personal darkness at the center, calling me home. This allows me to endure the dry, dark times, even though it is unpleasant. If I am to grow I need to face what is really there. I have created an illusionary false self over many years, the result of all my spiritual improvement projects, to look spiritual. But it doesn’t match reality, the way life actually happens. Like Paul, I can say, “What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise…..I decide to do good, but I don’t have what it takes” (Rom 7:15 & 17 – Message).
A quote from Thomas Merton has been helpful. “There is no greater disaster in the spiritual life than to be immersed in unreality, for life is maintained and nourished in our vital relation with realities outside and above us. When our life feeds on unreality, it must starve. It must therefore die…..The death by which we enter into life is not an escape from reality but a complete gift of ourselves which involves a total commitment to reality.”
There you have it, men. I have to go through the death process, that is, “a series of humiliations to my false self”. Again I identify with Paul. Listen to the Message. See if you can identify with him. “Convinced that no human being can please God by self-improvement, we believed in Jesus as the Messiah so that we might be set right before God by trusting in the Messiah, not by trying to be good…..I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego in no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion of me. The life you see me living is not ‘mine,’ but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that” ( Gal. 2:16, 19-21). I simply say amen.