Sunday, March 22, 2009

MysticBliss: Merton on the Faith of Childhood

Eventually, these will grow
into these, my favorites.

At writing group this past week, we all ended up talking about matters of faith. Of course, in the same evening, we also talked about Martinis, our favorite parts of Austin Powers, and various bodily functions.

But it was the faith discussion that went on the longest.

So when this Merton quote came into my inbox, I thought it was fitting:

How many people are there in the world of today who have "lost their faith" along with the vain hopes and illusions of their childhood? What they called "faith" was just one among all the other illusions. They placed all their hope in a certain sense of spiritual peace, of comfort, of interior equilibrium, of self-respect. Then when they began to struggle with the real difficulties and burdens of mature life, when they became aware of their own weakness, they lost their peace, they let go of their precious self-respect, and it became impossible for them to "believe." That is to say it became impossible for them to comfort themselves, to reassure themselves, with the images and concepts they found reassuring in childhood.

Place no hope in the feeling of assurance, of spiritual comfort. You may well have to get along without this. Place no hope in the inspirational preachers of Christian sunshine, who are able to pick you up and set you back on your feet and make you feel good for three or four days-until you fold up and collapse into despair.

Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation

During our discussion, Mother Theresa came up -- a woman who dedicated her life to her faith and who for the last few decades never felt internal reassurance of that faith. Otherwise, she spent decades wandering around the dry and arid desert, but she believed anyway.

It makes me think of my own ego needs to go to a Mass and have it all be "good." I can't stand ignorant priests, for example. But the priest is just supposed to be a conduit and how dare I allow such a surface thing to get in the way of what is supposed to be a much more mystical experience.

Christ never said he died to ensure my comfort.

Spiritual growth is most often painful, when we are really working at it. We typically, being human (and a bit lazy), grow only in reaction to trial.

And this is what Thomas Merton is talking about.

How many of us, as soon as we became uncomfortable, simply left Christianity* for more exotic pastures? Pastures that had no "baggage" and therefore seemed "better."

(*Or whatever tradition you were raised in; this is not a phenomenon exclusive to people raised in Christianity.)

Perhaps if we spent as much time digging into our own faith traditions as we do digging into others', we would discover buried treasure -- treasure that had been there all along but we were too young to know how to read the map.


Emma said...

I enjoy reading about your spiritual journey. It's very different from my own, but of course you present it thoughtfully and colorfully. It's lovely to read!

I wasn't raised in any consistent faith tradition, though I spent an awful lot of time around many different sorts of Christians when I was growing up. You could say we were Christian, I guess, in that we faithfully (haha) attended church services (be they Mennonite, Catholic, Episcopal, etc.) every week for most of my pre-adult years.

And wow did I work to try and make that religion useful to me. I studied it, I tried new ideas, I tried old ideas, I created my own versions of Christianity. I did all sorts of things. I was always left with a feel of trying to jam my puzzle piece where it just wouldn't fit.

One day, I realized there was no reason for me to struggle so hard. I let it go and instantly (truly!) felt better, felt right. I never looked back and I know that was the right decision for me.

After that, I adopted what I call "fancy-free spirituality." I follow what feels true and useful, what manifests into love and compassion. It's pretty darn good. :)

maddie said...



deeply potent




the only way out is through:)