Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Secret of Our Identity - Thomas Merton

During my research and study for my sermon this coming Sunday on Mark 2:1-12 (“The Healing Power of Forgiveness”) I came across some quotes from Thomas Merton from his book New Seeds of Contemplation. In the midst of my message this week I spend a short time dealing with the issue of finding the healthy balance between our constant need to acknowledge the depravity of our sinful nature and at the same time embrace the joyful hope and victory of forgiveness we know in Jesus Christ. While I did not quote Merton in my sermon, his words here helped me think about sin in a more personal way, as wrote his reflections on finding our true identity in Christ rather than in our “false self.”

Every one of us is shadowed by an illusory person; a false self. This is the man that I want myself to be but who cannot exist, because God does not know anything about him. . . . My false and private self is the one who wants to exist outside of reality and outside of life. And such a self cannot help but be an illusion.

We are not very good at recognizing illusions, least of all the ones we cherish about ourselves – the ones we are born with and which feed the roots of sin. . . . A life devoted to the cult of this shadow is what is called a life of sin.

All sins starts from the assumption that my false self, the self that exists only in my egocentric desires, is the fundamental reality of life to which everything else in the universe is ordered. . . . I wind experiences around myself and cover myself with pleasures and glory like bandages in order to make myself perceptible to myself and to the world . . . but there is no substance under the things with which I am clothed. I am hollow, and my structure of pleasures and ambitions has no foundation. . . . and when they are gone there will be nothing left of me but my own nakedness and emptiness and hollowness . . .

The secret of my identity is hidden in the love and mercy of God.

Therefore I cannot hope to find myself anywhere except in Him. Ultimately the only way that I can be myself is to become indentified with Him in Whom is hidden the reason and fulfillment of my existence. . . . If I find Him I will find myself and if I find my true self, I will find Him.

But although this looks simple, it is in reality immensely difficult. . . . if I am left to myself it will be utterly impossible. For although I can know something of God’s existence and nature by my own reason, there is no human and rational way in which I can arrive at that contact, that possession of Him . . . that is something that no man can ever do alone. Nor can all the men and all the created things in the universe help him in this work.

The only One Who can teach me to find God is God, Himself, Alone.

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