My Catholic ladies’ book club is reading Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation this month.  I have mixed feelings about the book, but it does include some good thoughts, including some that I have found very helpful with the Lenten Lesson.  One of the best I’ve come across so far is this:

Be content that you are not yet a saint, even though you realize that the only thing worth living for is sanctity.  Then you will be satisfied to let God lead you to sanctity by paths that you cannot understand.  You will travel in darkness in which you will no longer be concerned with yourself and no longer compare yourself with other men.

That encapsulates the Lenten Lesson quite well.  Namely:

1.  To acknowledge that I am on a journey and in a process; I’m not there yet

2.  To allow God to lead me, with more trust and less resistance

3.  To not be so concerned with myself; to be less self-centered

4.  To not always compare myself with other people; to be authentically myself, the person God created me to be

To a large extent, I feel like I need to find myself, and to be myself.  And in order to do that, I need to be closer to God.  That’s another thing Merton talks about in this book: how we come to know ourselves through knowing God and shedding lots of false conceptions of ourselves.  I think that is very true for me.

Over the past several years, God has deconstructed and reconstructed me.  And rather than trust Him, I have also attempted to reconstruct myself as I see fit.  It has only distracted and confused me.  It has come to nothing.  Right now, I need to get to know how God has reconstructed me.  I need to explore and grow into the new structure He has given me.  I need to fulfill His vision of me.  I need to be a peace with myself, to feel more comfortable with myself.

I have been feeling rather in the dark.  At times I feel like the only thing I can do is put one foot in front of the other… inhale and exhale… and keep praying, even if I don’t feel like it.

Also today, a friend and reader “coincidentally” sent me an excerpt from Thomas Keating’s Intimacy with God:

At this point, the initial graces that were given to our rational faculties and emotions are withdrawn–a classic experience in the spiritual journey known as “the dark night of sense.” Our enthusiasm for various devotional practices and activities disappears because God no longer gives the grace that works through the levels of reason and emotion. God, too, seems to withdraw, to our great distress or consternation. Instead of being present during our time of prayer, God seems not to show up anymore; it feels as if God could not care less. This is especially painful if the former relationship was very satisfying, exciting, or consoling. The thought rises, “God has abandoned me!” When the dryness is extreme, Lectio Divina is like reading the telephone book and spiritual exercises are just a bore. We are irritable and discouraged because the light of our life has gone out. It took so many years to find God and now God has gone away. There is a constant temptation to think we have done something wrong, but we can’t figure out what it was. Our tendency is to project onto God the way we would feel in a similar deteriorating relationship with another human being, namely, hopeless. This judgment is most unfair to God. At this point a lot of people throw in the towel and decide, “The spiritual journey is not for me.”

As the transition to the next layer takes place, there may be a discouraging sense that all is ending, and in a sense, it is the end of our world: But our world is not the world; it is just one of them. God cannot possibly go away. It is true, our relationship with God, if we deliberately walk away, can be injured for a while, but God does not really leave us. If God did, we would just disappear or turn into a grease spot, since God is the very life of our being.

Creation is ongoing. What God has done in this situation is simply to “go downstairs” to a more intimate place on the spiral staircase, where he is waiting for us to join him at a new level of maturity and trust. If we are very quiet in the night of sense, St. John of the Cross writes, we may notice a delicate sense of peace and may even begin to enjoy the more substantial food of pure faith. As we let go of the level on which we formerly found satisfaction, we move to a deeper level of faith, which is far more reliable and much more strengthening for the journey.

I do feel like I need to quieten myself and delve deeper.  I said recently that I feel like I am at some kind of turning point, some kind of break-though point.  I feel a great deal of tension, a small touch of trepidation, and also excitement–the latter being a small testament that I do know that God wills wonderful things for me and for all of us if we just follow His lead.  I know the rewards of taking the plunge into deeper spiritual waters.  I know that “delicate sense of peace” that blooms from spiritual perseverance.

But there is still so much mystery and uncertainty.  No two lessons are exactly the same.  Knowing the good results doesn’t necessarily calm one’s nerves.  It still demands submission and a willingness to just… let… go.  It still demands a leap of faith, with the understanding that God might allow us to plummet and tumble and madly flap our arms for a while before He catches us.  I know that feeling too!

I still feel like I’m clinging to the cliff, peering into the chasm.  But I feel more and more like letting go.  If it will bring me nearer to God, and make me more myself, then I just have to do it.