Hitting Bottom

“I am… noisy full of the racket of my imperfections and passions, and the wide open wounds left by my sins. Full of my own emptiness. Yet, ruined as my house is, You live there.”

“No matter how low you may have fallen in your own esteem, bear in mind that if you delve deeply into yourself, you will discover holiness there.”

     A monk and mystic, a priest and poet, Thomas Merton was, in the mid 20th century, a voice for peace and justice from the confines of a Trappist monastery in rural Kentucky. Merton was also, according to his journals, a bundle of contradictions in his personal/spiritual life. Still, he wrote convincingly of the confounding God-presence that lies at the heart of each of us. His words quoted above are befuddling to those of us who have been burdened by the belief that if we are not flawless we are worth less. How can it be that the “ruined house” of our imperfect self is the dwelling place of God?  And how can it be that beneath our low self-esteem, there is a sacred self?

     Merton was painfully aware of his imperfections and passions and, like many of us, he felt the disconnect between his desire to become what he termed his “True Self,” and the condition of his failure to attain that ideal. But unlike many of us, he chose to affirm that holiness (sacredness) was more real than the racket of his imperfections.

     Former monk and psychologist, James Finley, who was guided by Merton for six years, reminds us that beneath whatever disconnect we may feel, there is a deeper wholeness/holiness that constitutes our soul.

                “…gazing long and hard, in a compassionate, honest, and vulnerable manner       

                 into one’s brokenness…one hits bottom…the bottom gives way to a yet deeper

                depth in which is granted an intimate experience of the divinity of ourselves as

                invincibly loveable and whole in all our fragmentation.”

      Both Merton and Finley invite us to delve into and identify with the dimension of our self that is sacred – unstained despite our “wide open wounds,” untainted despite our imperfections, and “invincibly loveable” despite our sometimes wayward ways. The felt sense of “emptiness” that can come when we look honestly at our faults and failings may feel as low as we can go, but we have not really hit bottom until we stumble upon the radical realization that beneath our flawed self there lies the divinity of our True Self.

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