We know that all things work for good
for those who love God,
who are called according to his purpose.
- Romans 8: 28
In today's video, Fr. Thomas shares the story of one of his struggles as a young monk. Over the course of years, he spent every free moment kneeling in the silence of the church, longing for a deeper relationship with God. Instead he was besieged with a mob of unholy thoughts and emotions. As is common when the darkness within begins to rise up into the light, he experienced physical discomfort, resentful thoughts, self-judgment, envy, discouragement and conflicting feelings. He even considered abandoning the monastery!
After a zealous beginning with God, he had come face to face with what the Work calls Pride and Vanity, "two Giants that walk before us and arrange everything for us beforehand. They are … very sensitive to anything that might depose them. They are cruel lords to serve."
- Commentaries, "Self-Love and the Universe," July 31, 1952, Vol. 5
Instead of moral failings, we might think of Pride and Vanity as the primary source of power — the engine — for the egoic-self system, the animating energies of self-love.
Nicoll continues, "Long observation of them does weaken them. But look for a moment at this: it is the quality of your love for the Work that determines your valuation of it and its power to change you. If this love is distinct from your self-love [ego protection], then your observation of the Giants will begin to weaken them."
Fr. Thomas has given us a beautiful example of perseverance and valuation. With no certainty of relief, he manifested love for God in action. He kept showing up, gaining in self-knowledge while all the while feeling a failure in his vocation. His willingness to accept the painful purification process led to transcendence. Similarly, our devotion to what is higher and our willingness to see and accept parts of ourselves that until now have been unacceptable turns out to be the water that melts the witch — or in this case, the Giants.
"We lose a particular idea of ourselves. We gain a broadening of consciousness. Thereby we reach a higher level of Being. This seems paradoxical. It seems paradoxical to say that if you will accept what you disapprove of you reach a higher level. People imagine that by increasing their sense of self-merit and virtue, they get higher. On the contrary, they descend. This is worth thinking about."
- Commentaries, "A Note on Self-Justifying," February 8, 1947, Vol. 3
This is Holy Week. It begins with Jesus riding into Jerusalem amidst cheers and exaltation. It ends with him stumbling toward crucifixion amidst scorn and derision. So it goes with us. Along the road of the spiritual journey, we surrender our glorious plans and our glossy pictures of who we are and what we have done or not done: our stories of how we've been wronged, our imagined specialness or brokenness, our convictions that we are better-than or worse-than anyone else.
In Open Mind, Open Heart, Fr. Thomas calls this interior purification a dynamism that "is a kind of divine psychotherapy, organically designed for each of us, to purify our unconscious and free us from the obstacles to the free flow of grace in our minds, emotions and bodies."
And ultimately, if we persevere on the journey, we "begin to trust God, to be content with [God's] action … and we begin to trust in [God's] love beyond our psychological experience."
"God is always one step ahead of us in this journey toward the center. Just as we think we have found [God], [God] slips out of our grasp. The worst thing that can happen to us is to settle in an oasis under a palm tree. Growth is the challenge of the Gospel. The great sin in the New Testament is to refuse to grow and to choose to stay as we are. The spiritual life is dynamic. The Spirit keeps inviting us to new levels of surrender, faith and love. The Divine Therapist continues the treatment in daily life. God brings people and events into our lives and takes them out again to show us other things we need to see about ourselves. Thus, contemplative prayer and daily life work together if we are willing, and mutually reinforce the therapeutic process … Humility and boundless confidence in God's infinite mercy merge, and the ongoing journey becomes whatever God wants it to be."
- Thomas Keating, Intimacy with God
Video Reflections: View the video excerpt "God is Totally on Your Side" This excerpt is about 25 minutes in length. You will find it and the transcript here.
"It seems paradoxical to say that if you will accept what you disapprove of, you reach a higher level." Have you experienced this?
Resources for Further Study:
- You may wish to read more about Pride and Vanity in the Commentaries, "Commentary on Vanity and Pride," November 27, 1943, Vol. 1, p. 357.
- The program archive may be found here.