Contemplation and the Divine Therapy - 3 - The Human Condition
None of us know until we have been through difficult problems and tragedies what we would do in a challenging situation. Once I attended a panel discussion of people who had suffered during the Holocaust and other barbaric oppressions oif this century. One woman on the panel had survived the holocaust, but her parents had been killed. She had started a humanitarian organization to prevent such horrors from being repeated and mentioned casually, "You know, I couldn't have started that organization unless I knew that, the situation just a little different, I could have done the same things the nazis did to my parents and the others in the concentration camps."
This woman, it seems to me, possessed true humility-the knowledge pf one's self that clearly perceives that with just a little change of circumstances, one is capable of any evil. The spiritual journey is not a career or success story. It is a series of humiliations of the false self that become more and more profound. These make room inside of us for the Holy Spirit to come in and heal. What prevents us from being available to God is gradually evacuated. We keep getting closer and closer to our centre. Every now and then God lifts a corner of the veil and enters into our awareness through various channels, as if to say, "Here I am. Where are you? Come and join me."
In the Near East, centuries ago successive cultures built new cities on top of the last ones. For some reason, people didn't bother using new space : they just burned down what was there when they defeated the enemy and built something new. The ruins of these ancient cities built one on top of the other are called "tells." The spiritual journey is like a archaeological dig through the various stages of our lives, from where we are now back through the midlife crisis, adult life, adolescence, puberty, early childhood, infancy. What happens if we allow that archaeological dig to continue? We feel that we are getting worse: we are just finding out how bad off we always were.
This is an enormous grace.
From a vertical point of view, our conversation begins at the place we are now in our relationship to God. First we clear off the brush, stones, and debris at the top of our interior "tell." Our agreement with the divine therapist is to allow the Holy Spirit to bring us to the truth about ourselves. This initial period of conversation corresponds to the springtime of the spiritual life, when prayer is easy, and we have great energy in pursuing practices of self-denial, various forms of prayer, ministry, and other forms of social service. As we begin to trust God more, we enjoy a certain freedom from our vices and may often experience a great satisfaction in our spiritual endeavors.
When God decides we are ready, he invites us to a new level of self-knowledge. God withdraws the initial consolations of conversion, and we are plunged in darkness, spiritual dryness, and confusion. We think that God has abandoned us, Because we don't enjoy the same emotional experiences as before, we think that God must have departed for the next universe and couldn't care less about us. This is especially poignant for people who have felt rejection in early life: now they feel they have been rejected by God, and that is the ultimate rejection. The dark nights are especially tough on them. But if they can wait them out, they will be completely healed of their sense of rejection for good when they rediscover God at a deeper level of faith.
Instead of going away, God simply moves downstairs, so to speak, and always for us to come and join him. Perhaps God wonders what the grumbling is all about. What makes us think of God has gone away? The divine presence can't go away. God is existence and fills everything that exists ( St. Thomas Aquinas); The Gospel teaches that Christ is present in the storm, not just emerging from the storm.
Some films are like the parables of the Gospel: they bring to our attention moral, social, and spiritual issues that we wouldn't otherwise learn about through the medium of ordinary words. I remember seeing the movie Love Story and for three days afterwards, I was in tears. The plot is simple enough. It concerns a young man and a woman who are totally in love with one another, live for each other, and are everything to each other. Then she is diagnosed with an operable cancer and in a few months is dead. The whole meaning of his life is wiped out.
In the last scene, we see the man after leaving the hospital where his wife died, waking slowly into the fog, which gets thicker and thicker. He sits down on a park bench. As the movie's theme song plays in the background, the screen just gets darker and darker. I realized that this was a parable of my experience after putting everything into seeking God and finding more delight in the embrace of God's presence in contemplative prayer. Then God seemed to walk out of my life, abandoning me in a church pew, so to speak. In the dark night's consolations on the spiritual journey, including the rituals and practices that previously supported our faith and devotion, fail us. Faith becomes simply belief in God's goodness without any taste of it. It is trusting in God without knowing whom we are trusting, because the relationship we thought we had with God has disappeared.
Here the great wisdom saying of Jesus comes to mind: "He who seeks only himself brings himself to ruin, whereas he who brings himself to nothing for my sake discovers who he is" (Mt !0:38), To bring oneself to nothing-no thing-is to ease to identify with the tyranny of our emotional programs for happiness and the limitations of our cultural conditioning. They are so strong in our culture that even our language reflects them. We say, "I am angry." But you are not angry: you just have angry feelings. You may say, " I am depressed; you have feelings of depression. It is not feelings that are the problem, but what we do with them that matters. The freedom to deal with them and to confront them with reason and faith is what makes us fully human.
Reference: The Human Condition : Thomas Keating
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