The following quote from Thomas Merton has stuck with me for many years. In these later years it makes more experiential sense. “Therefore there is only one problem on which all my existence, my peace, and my happiness depend: to discover myself in discovering God. If I find Him I will find myself and if I find my true self I will find Him.” David Benner in his fine book, “The Gift of Being Yourself” reflects on this truth. “Nowhere is the uniqueness of the Christian spiritual journey more apparent than in the Christian understanding of the self and its relation to God. The self is not God. But it is the place where we meet God. There can be no genuine spiritual transformation if we seek some external meeting place. God’s intended home is our heart, and it is meeting God in our depths that transforms us from the inside out.”
What I now know by experiential knowledge, I deeply desire for readers of this blog to also comprehend and know by experience. Benner calls it, “transformational knowing.” It is simply this – when I allow my real self to be loved by God, I am able to live from the center of my inner life (soul) and experience both the presence of God within and an acceptance of myself as deeply love by God. God meets me at the center. I visualize my soul as the center. It is not so much a place, but the awareness of the presence of God. I spend many years living “alongside of myself” that is, on the outside looking in. I thought of God more as an object outside myself, rather than being present within. As a result, I could not accepted my true self as deeply loved by God.
Paul’s prayer in Eph 3:17-19 has new meaning for me. “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the Lord’s holy people to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Like so many who write about the spiritual life, the experiencing of this love and its implication for my spiritual life, “surpasses knowledge.” I can only say that I lived for years with a head knowledge of God and a view of myself that was a product of my own making. I was fearful of both God and who I really was on the inside.
My counsel is to allow yourself to “sink” to the center to be embraced by love. Don’t stay on the edges looking in. There is the story told of the old man, who had lost his keys and was looking by the street light. A friend asked where he might have lost them. The old man replied that he had lost them in the house, but that he was looking outside because the light was much better there. Like the old man we tend to look outside where it is easier to search but the key is inside, in the dark.
The secret place where we encounter God is in our inner self. David Benner observes that as we look at God looking at us, “we see how deeply loved we are by God – in our depths, complexity, totality, and sinfulness – we dare to allow God more complete access to the dark parts of our soul that most need transformation. God precedes us on this journey, waiting to meet us in the depths of our self.”