"Let no one hope to find in contemplation an escape from conflict, from anguish or from doubt. On the contrary, the deep, inexpressible certitude of the contemplative experience awakens a tragic anguish and opens many questions in the depths of the heart like wounds that cannot stop bleeding. For every gain in deep certitude there is a corresponding growth of superficial "doubt". This doubt is by no means opposed to genuine faith, but it mercilessly examines and questions the spurious "faith" of everyday life, the human faith which is nothing but the passive acceptance of conventional opinion.
This false "faith" which is what we often live by and which we even come to confuse with our "religion" is subjected to inexorable questioning. This torment is a kind of trial by fire in which we are compelled, by the very light of invisible truth which has reached us in the dark ray of contemplation, to examine, to doubt and finally to reject all prejudices and conventions that we have hitherto accepted as if they were dogmas. Hence is it clear that genuine contemplation is incompatible with complacency and with smug acceptance of prejudiced opinions. It is not mere passive acquiescence in the status quo, as some would like to believe-for this would reduce it to the level of spiritual anesthesia. Contemplation is no pain-killer. What a holocaust takes place in this steady burning to ashes of old worn-out words, cliches, slogans, rationalizations! The worst of it is that even apparently holy conceptions are consumed alone with the rest. It is a terrible breaking and burning of idols, a purification of the sanctuary, so that no graven thing may occupy the place that God has commanded to be left empty: the center, the existential altar which simply "is".
In the end the contemplative suffers the anguish of realizing that he no longer knows what God is. He may or may not mercifully realize that, after all, this is a great gain, because "God is not a what", not a "thing". That is precisely one of the essential characteristics of contemplative experience. It sees that there is no "what" that can be called God. There is "no such thing" as God because God is neither a "what" nor a "thing" but a pure "Who". He is the "Thou" before whom our inmost "I" springs into awareness. He is the I Am before whom with our own most personal and inalienable voice we echo "I am." ~ Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation
Merton is not suggesting losing reverence towards Scripture or faith in the God of the Bible but what he is saying here is to experience God we have to strip away from the layers of our consciousness preconceived notions that we have acquired and absorbed through our culture of who God "is". As our souls open up to the light and love of God the awkward silhouettes of our illusions start to rise forth and we must have the courage to let them pass by so that we leave our minds and souls empty of them, thus making room for the true knowledge and experience of God. Our faith is to be active, perhaps interactive is a better word to use. We are to interact with God and not just be passive, accepting truths and knowledge from others and not testing the validity of such claims by asking questions and experiencing the truth for ourselves.
It is not a comfortable process, in fact it can be quite painful and in some ways it can feel almost like we are losing our faith because we are stepping out of the complacency we have rested in for so long, cradled by the words and assumptions of man and plunging into the reality of God through our own experiences with Him, relying solely on the Spirit to guide us.
As he says, " It is a terrible breaking and burning of idols, a purification of the sanctuary, so that no graven thing may occupy the place that God has commanded to be left empty: the center, the existential altar which simply "is". "
I don't know about you, dear reader, but I seek with my whole heart to clear the clutter that rests buried deep beneath layers of subconscious at my soul's center and make my soul a wide and empty space, a space exclusively reserved for God to fill and dwell within it. What are your thoughts? I'd love to hear them!
Thank you for bringing us safely into a new day. We thank you for your love and compassion and for the wonders of creation that surround us. Every beautiful sunrise, every smile joyfully etched on a child's innocent face, every mountain gilded with glaciers and wildflowers sings out in praise to the God who creates and sustains all of life. Thank you!
Help us to open up our hearts to you more and more. May we see reality as it is, clear our minds and hearts so that we may experience you more fully and not be trapped and mired down in the illusions which distract us. Help guide us in our journey for we seek you above all else. We desire to delight in your glory. May we give you all glory, honor and praise.
In Jesus' name,