We all have unconscious blind spots. I've written about them before here. Because of spiritual blindness, we often delude ourselves, forgetting that our attempt to grasp perfection and purity on our own merely strengthens our imperfections. Our resolve is rooted in and fed by a personal weakness that's already our problem. It's a sad Catch-22.
Thomas Merton (1915-1968), the Cistercian Monk, has much to say about our deep and unconscious habits and attachments which we can't recognize. I struggle with Merton, but I keep coming back to his writing, punch-drunk, reading a section 4-5 times before I start to get it. Sometimes I never get it, and then sometimes I'm overwhelmed with it's simplicity and audibly exclaim, "WOW!" One of those wow moments was Chapter 35, entitled "Renunciation" of his New Seeds of Contemplation.
Merton writes about the difficult and painful situations we sometimes encounter. We can't find our way out, and we can shut down because we only have faith in ourselves. For true faith is not knowledge or intuition, not ingenuity stimulated by good intentions, soothed by the approval of others. We may not realize this kind of faith is illusory when life is smooth, but any faith that's rooted in our feelings, our talents or our temperament is spiritually worthless when life falls apart.
When we find ourselves in darkness and are naked, alone, and out of ideas, we see the insufficiency of our greatest strength and the hollowness of our strongest virtues. When we have nothing to rely on, nothing in our own nature or in the world to support us, then we learn whether or not we live by faith. We can give up on faith, or we can renounce everything else and take the next step of faith into the darkness. I've been in that place. Not here at Bastrop Federal Satellite Camp, but I've been there. I know what that's like.
Merton writes, "It is in this darkness, when there is nothing left in us that can please or comfort our own minds, when we seem to be useless and worthy of all contempt, when we seem to have failed, when we seem to be destroyed and devoured, it is then that the deep and secret selfishness that is too close for us to identify is stripped away from our souls. It is in this darkness that we find true liberty. It is in this abandonment that we are made strong. This is the night which empties us and makes us pure."
There are other ways, less painful ways, to experience God's pure abiding love, but it is most often found in the midst of personal failure and despair. Hope is right there in that darkness.